Cashing in the chips

A family-owned landscaping company in East Yorkshire is turning a low-value by-product – wood chippings – into a higher value source of fuel, using a novel production process developed with the technical and financial support of the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC).

Hull-based Landplan, which currently employs more than 20 staff, has successfully applied for a £36,000 capital grant from the BDC. The grants form part of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme for small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) that the BDC runs to stimulate the growth of greener and more environmentally friendly forms of production in Yorkshire and the Humber.

‘’Landplan approached us with a problem and an opportunity,” says BDC’s Dr Fabien Deswarte. “Their landscaping work generates significant levels of waste wood which they were selling-on as a relatively low-value by-product, due to its high moisture content. The owners of the business were exploring ways of converting this material into a higher value product and came to us to see if we could help.”

Having visited the Dunswell site, and talked to the directors of the business, founder Alan Russell and his son Joe, it was clear that there was both the potential and the appetite within the company for a greener approach to by-products that would also be commercially beneficial.

Fabien elaborates: “Landplan had already invested in a test bed drier before they came to us and were deciding between different designs. Through our ERDF programme we were able to do some robust modeling of the options for drying the wood chips to find the most efficient and cost effective method for their needs.”

As a result of the scientific and technical analysis undertaken by BDC, Landplan were able make to an informed decision about the best drying method, and felt much more confident about making a substantial investment in the new drying process.

“This was a big decision and a big investment for us,” said Landplan Managing Director, Joe Russell, whose company is investing £400,000 in the new technique. “The technical and scientific help provided by BDC has been crucial in turning our ambition into a reality.  The matching financial support of the ERDF grant – which helped us develop the prototype and prove that it worked – gave us the confidence to invest and take the project forward to full commercialisation.”

“The BDC’s modelling showed that one system would take weeks or months to dry the woodchips, while the other would take days. We are now achieving the desired moisture content in just three days, and producing a high-quality product that is selling at top rates, and winning us new business”.

The Biorenewables Capital Grant Scheme (BCGS) supports SMEs in the purchase of key pieces of equipment to undertake innovative proof of concept for bio-based projects through funding from ERDF. The grant can award funding for 64% of a project; so for instance, firms could receive up to £32,000 towards a £50,000 piece of equipment.

Landplan’s Joe Russell says: “As far as we know, this process for drying woodchip is unique to our business, and our collaboration with BDC and the supporting the capital grant scheme, is bringing that technology closer to reality.”

And what are the benefits? “A new market for our business, job creation for the area, increased turnover for the company, and a new product: a carbon neutral fuel from a by-product,” he added.

Fabien concludes: “We were able to help take an idea and develop it into a full scale commercial process. We supported a company in finding a smarter way with a by-product; we refined the solution; we helped finance a prototype to show it worked; and then carried it to full production.”

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