An innovative start-up that plans to convert muck heaps into biomass fuel for power stations has been selected as a finalist for a £5,000 award.
Equi Energy Ltd, the brainchild of equestrian model Amber Zakrzewski, is one of the five shortlisted companies for this month’s Shell smarter futures awards.
Amber’s eco-friendly business idea came about from working on yards, where she felt there should be a better solution for muck heap disposal — one that could be more affordable to horse owners as well as using the 7.4m tonnes of muck Britain’s 994,000 horses produce each year.
“My background has nothing to do with energy, but as a horsey person I was aware how much it costs to have muck heaps removed and that there was room for offering the equestrian world a service that made better use of them,” she told H&H.
“The UK’s clean air strategy is a topic that’s in the spotlight and although the ammonia emissions from horses aren’t as high as other animals, there is a lot of muck heap waste that just sits rotting in the countryside.”
While some power stations burn raw waste, such as highly-calorific chicken manure, others use biomass fuel pellets which are made from plants. The pellets are created by extracting moisture from the material before compressing it into an energy-dense form and the process can be used for horse manure.
“Typical biomass fuel is made of wood, and while it is classified as renewable energy and counts towards net zero emissions, there is controversy over where these power plants are getting their fuel from,” Amber explained. “In some cases, as much as 90% is being imported from as far away as North America.
“Fuel harvested from the other side of the world means a lot of emissions are involved in the entire process and if we could replace a portion of that with pellets from manure produced in the UK, it would be a step in the right direction.”
While her research into costs is ongoing, she is hoping that the collection of manure is a service she could offer to horse owners for free.
“When I did my initial research, a lot of yard owners said they were happy to support the idea even if costs were the same as they paid currently if they knew the muck heaps were going to the renewable energy sector,” said Amber, who started the business last September.
“I would love to be able to offer it cheaper in the first instance, because of the value muck heap removal has to us if we can sell it to power stations. Once we have done more laboratory research, we’ll have a better idea of whether we need to charge.”
Amber hopes to launch trial runs in equestrian-dense areas such as Newmarket and believes she could be selling horse manure biomass pellets to the energy sector within the next six-12 months.
“If I win the award from Shell, it will be put towards testing to ascertain how calorific the pellets are, which will mean we can put a more accurate price on how much we can earn from them,” she said.
“We’ll be testing various options — muck heaps of only shavings or only straw as well as yards where horses graze compared to racing yards where horses are fed high-energy concentrates.”
The annual manure output from 14 horses is needed to power 100% of the electricity needed for the top international
Amber plans to establish her own processing plant, and initially use contractors for collection, but envisages having “our own electric trucks” in future.
“Potentially, there’s also an option to use the moisture that’s taken out of the muck and recycle that as well for use in organic farming,” she added. “It’s something I’ll be putting more research into.”
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