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Case Study: GENeco

In this video we talk to GENeco, which process biological and other waste with anaerobic digestion into fuel and fertiliser.
Have you ever wondered what happens to your food waste after you toss it in one of those bins? We are here today at GENeco to find out exactly that. What are those processes that turn your food waste into energy? So in essence, what we do within GENeco, we run the facility here at Bristol sewage treatment works, which is responsible for treating the sewage from a population equivalent of around a million people and we convert that into sewage sludge and a final effluent. So we have an organic waste business that brings in over 600,000 meters cubed of industrial waste from around our region and further afield and we process that again to produce valuable by-products.
As well as that we have a number of satellite sites around our region that produce sewage sludge that is also processed here. Historically much of that material was not treated in the most sustainable way that was possible and over the years we’ve developed a number of techniques that have enabled us to run the operations on this site, not as a sewage treatment works but indeed as a factory. And that is a factory that is producing widgets or valuable products that have some use and so all the by-products that we process from this site are converted using different technologies and rubber digestion being one, which takes the sewage sludge and converts that into biogas, which we then convert into electricity.
In addition to that, our latest investment has been in a, what we call a, Gas to Grid facility which is a technology that purifies the gas further to enable it to be injected into the National Grid. In addition to that, a few years ago we decided that there was another problem and that was there was a significant amount of food waste being generated that was being sent to landfill. And our thoughts were that actually the anaerobic digestion technology was a perfect technology to convert the organic matter in the food waste into biogas and converting that into again electricity or bio methane.
And so this facility here is able to treat up to 40,000 tons of food waste that is collected from very sustainable local councils, both Bristol council here, but also Bath and North East Somerset, who have worked with the local population to segregate the food waste from inorganic waste and for that to be collected and then to be treated here. And this then produces another valuable by-product which we call digestate.
So this is the treated slurry that comes out of the digestion assets and we have worked with the farming community to demonstrate that there is a huge value associated with the digestate, of which there is around 250,000 tonnes that is recycled to agricultural fertiliser and it’s the nutrient content, both in terms of nitrogen and phosphate, that is incredibly valuable for the farming community. And that is sold as a product to the farming community now, which helps the farming community themselves become much more sustainable by reducing the amount of inorganic fertiliser that they then have to apply. And this approach that we’ve adopted really does demonstrate the circular economy at work.
So this started seven years ago when the board approached me to to see whether I was able to help in realising their vision about becoming much more sustainable. And I think there were a number of things, I think it was really quite brilliant of the board to be so visionary in what they wanted to do and to see happen within the wider group, but at the same time I guess it was looking back now quite courageous of me to kind of take on the responsibility of trying to translate their vision into reality. And at the time, if I’m brutally honest, we didn’t have the details associated with how we were going to transpose that vision into business objectives.
But I was incredibly fortunate in a team that was very focused, we were able to change the culture within GENeco to focus on these new objectives that we were looking to deliver. And the creativity of the team in some of the things that they’ve done, has just been quite remarkable. So I think for me it’s been providing the team with the space and empowering them to deliver the creative ideas that were clearly needed to to take this very, very challenging objective that was set and actually making it a reality.
I’m always terribly positive in life and in business and I think that’s incredibly helpful. There were times where we we faced huge challenges, whether there were cultural challenges, or whether there were technical challenges, but you just have to sit down with the team, not let it get to you and just work up the solutions. And we’ve done that, that’s our underlying philosophy, we’re not afraid of getting things wrong and that again is a very important thread within the business that, look, it is OK to get things wrong.
I think it’s being courageous, I think it’s not accepting the status quo and being prepared to take risks and it’s important that those risks are in some way measured, but being prepared to do that and having support from the leadership within the organisation is incredibly helpful. The board and our shareholders have been incredibly supportive and they remain supportive and thought leadership that we have provided not only internally within the wider group but also externally has just been quite amazing and it’s helped others to implement similar change, within their respective fields.

GENeco tackles two local problems at once. The first is the need for reliable energy supplies, the second is waste generated in Bristol.

Food waste, sewage from Bristol and other biological waste is processed at their plant with anaerobic digestion being used to transform the waste into biogas fuel. This energy supply is then added to the national gas distribution network. Much of the remaining solids can be used as agricultural fertilizer.

The company, part of Wessex Water Group, has grown out of Wessex Water’s desire to become far more sustainable. We speak to Mohammed Saddiq, GENeco managing director, who as an ‘intrapreneur’ strongly motivated by sustainability, helped champion and shape a vision within Wessex Water, and subsequently worked with a talented team to make it a reality.

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