SECTOR FOCUS: Knowsley firms lead the way in the green economy

Although not always easy to define precisely, the UK’s ‘green economy’ is worth an estimated £42.6bn a year, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Published at the end of March this year, the ONS figures are to the end of 2019. And they also show the number of people employed full-time in the low carbon and renewable energy sector stood at 202,100.

Exports of goods and services by businesses active in the UK green economy were estimated to be £7bn in 2019, the majority of which was from the export of goods and services in the low emission vehicles sector (£4.2bn).

With a major Government push towards a low carbon economy in the next few years the sector is likely to get much bigger. Here in Knowsley, and across the Liverpool city region, there are already a significant number of businesses and organisations operating in the green sector. We have highlighted five of them below:

Clarke Energy

Green energy is a hot topic and not always well understood. Clarke Energy in Knowsley was pioneering alternative sources of energy long before it was fashionable.

Based in Knowsley, back in the 1990s Clarke Energy was designing and installing systems that recovered gas from waste and landfill sites and converted it into renewable energy. It remains the market leader for such systems, accounting for 80% of the UK market.

Photo: Tropical Power, Gorge Farm Biogas Plant, Lake Naivasha, Kenya

However, today, its primary focus is the design, installation and maintenance of combined heat and power (CHP) systems for a range of customers including businesses, hospitals and universities. Its systems provide a combined 7.2 gigawatts of power across 27 countries, including France, Australia, India, the US, multiple African countries and Bangladesh.

The company also provides gas peaking stations that support the intermittency of wind and solar power.

Clarke Energy is now part of the global KOHLER Company but still operates as a standalone business. Group business development and marketing director, Alex Marshall, said the company is always at the forefront of the latest green energy technology.

He added: “Out of the 7.2 gigawatts of energy we provide across the world, 1.4 gigawatts of that is wholly renewable. Our CHP systems use gas, so they may be natural gas-based, but they deliver carbon savings compared to a system that is operated from the grid.

“There is also a lot of talk about power generation hydrogen. Again, that is an area where we are already involved. We have several projects generating energy from hydrogen produced by furnaces in South Africa.”

The business is also involved in energy storage, using batteries or ultracapacitors, and it is also focusing on what is called “grid balancing”. Alex explained: “You look at the wind turbines in Liverpool Bay, or solar panels, they are providing renewable energy. But the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.

“Balancing the grid so it provides enough power at the right times is a big challenge. What we call peaking stations can address this problem. They will use natural gas to fill the gap when the grid supply doesn’t meet the demand and can be powered by renewable fuels in the future.

“We are at the forefront of the green economy in Liverpool city region. Clarke Energy is a business that employs 300 people in Knowsley and 1,300 across the world.”

Roberts Recycling

An estimated 336,000 tonnes of clothing ends up being chucked in the bin in the UK every year with the danger that much of it will end up in landfill.

However, three brothers are pushing back against our throwaway culture with their Huyton-based clothes recycling business, Roberts Recycling. Simon, John and Paul Roberts launched the venture more than a decade ago as an offshoot of their family demolition firm.

Roberts Recycling collects old clothing from special collection points, often on behalf of local charities, including Alder Hey. The clothes are then packaged up in warehouses in Merseyside and Newport and transported to places such as Eastern Europe and the Middle East where they will be re-used.

Simon explained: “The UK is one of the worst in the world for wearing clothes and throwing them away quickly. Consequently, there is such a high demand for what we do. It has two benefits – it means clothes get reused by people who need them and it avoids the environmental damage of landfill.”

The business gets paid by the tonne for the clothes it sends overseas and raises money for the charities. Roberts Recycling is the recent recipient of a Queens Award for Industry and was a finalist in the National Recycling Awards.

“We export around 300 tonnes of clothing a month,” added Simon. “Only a very small percentage is rejected. Pretty much everything we send over is reworn. And we are also now working with high street retailers to recycle customer returns and excess stock.”

Liverpool John Moores University

For companies and organisations looking to improve their sustainability, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) is the gateway to a number of initiatives designed to support their efforts.

LJMU has teamed up with other universities, including the University of Liverpool, and in places such as Lancaster, Brighton and Portsmouth, to offer the benefit of academic expertise to companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

They include the Low Carbon Eco-Innovatory which helps organisations reduce their carbo footprint through new research, technology or looking at processes. Another, ECO-i North West, offers support to develop ideas and innovations, access funding and take them through to commercialisation.

And a third, Clean Growth UK, helps firms get access to research funding from sources such as innovate UK. LJMU’s Tony Seasman is the leader of the Clean Growth UK project. He says all three projects offer invaluable support to businesses and organisations looking to become more sustainable.

One Knowsley-based business that has benefited from a number of LJMU projects is Beverston Engineering, which manufactures engineering components for a wide range of sectors. Tony said: “We have done some great work with Rod Wah from Beverston.

“A company may come to us and ask us to assess their carbon footprint. We can look at their technology, their processes and their supply chains to see where they can become more efficient. And we can open up routes to funding so they can take their own ideas forward.

“We do a lot of testing and validation of new products on behalf of a range of businesses. We are also working with housing associations to help them retrofit homes so they are more energy-efficient.”

Environmental Waste Control (EWC)

“Waste is always there and it always has to be dealt with,” says Gareth Marshall, operations director of Knowsley-based Environmental Waste Controls which offers its commercial waste disposal service to clients in the North West and across the UK.

“Companies are now much more aware than they used to be about their environmental impact and how their waste is disposed of,” he added. “So it means we are operating in a growing sector.”

EWC employs 70 people and has 15 vehicles, including various types of waste collection vehicles. It has clients across multiple sectors including manufacturing, distribution and hospitality. It has various national contracts with companies and authorities including Howdens Joinery, Eddie Stobarts, NHS and Johnson Controls for managing their waste streams and recyclates sites across the UK.

The company also works with local authorities, providing management of waste at household waste recycling centres. Gareth said: “We have a zero-to-landfill policy for the disposal of waste and most waste goes to facilities that use it to generate energy.

“We started our own carbon reduction journey by using compactors to reduce the number of journeys our vehicles need to make. Now we can offer customers a full service where we can assess their carbon impact and give them solutions for reducing said impact. We also have our own recycling facilities on site here in Knowsley.

“We often employ staff members onto manufacturing sites where they can control where people are putting their waste and ensure it goes into the right bins. During the pandemic the NHS has seen a big increase in waste due to the use of offensive waste related to COVID-19 and we have been helping to meet the demand for the disposal of that waste by providing compactors.”

Go Green Office Solutions

There was a time when if a company or organisation was relocating offices or replacing their office furniture, it would be the norm for the old furniture to be dumped in a skip outside.

While those days may not be completely gone, that practice is disappearing fast and it is businesses such as Go Green Office Solutions which are driving this transformation. Based in Fazakerley in Merseyside, the firm says it has never been busier.

Go Green, which has now opened a second showroom at Columbus Quay on Liverpool’s waterfront, will go into a company and design its new office space. They will then supply and install the new desks, chairs and other equipment which will be from ethical sources only where the carbon footprint is kept to a minimum.

Director Shane Hanley said: “Once we have installed the new office equipment, we will take the old stuff away and upcycle it, giving it to charities or SMEs across the North West. Equipment that isn’t reused will be recycled – we pledge 99.9% no landfill.

“Despite the pandemic we have seen record business over the few months. An increasing number of businesses are seeing the value of what we do and we expect demand to keep growing in the coming months.”

Go Green works across the UK, and in Ireland, although the Irish operation has been disrupted by the post-Brexit changes to the UK and EU’s trading relationship. The business employs eight people full-time as well as sub-contractors.

“Our typical customer has an office for 20 to 80 people but we deal with bigger-sized offices too. Big corporates no longer want to be seen just dumping their old equipment in a skip. They need to show they are looking to reduce their carbon footprint and that they are a responsible business – we can help them do that.”