Brownfield Briefing

Tackling remediation emissions

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Courtesy of Brownfield Briefing

Organisations commissioning regeneration projects now have the option to substantially reduce the carbon emissions associated with any remediation project, while offsetting the remaining carbon impact of these works, says Joe Teer, operations director of QDS.

QDS introduced a carbon neutral remediation (CNR) service earlier this year triggered at this particular time by the fact that we, like other contractors, have been advising clients for some time on the relative emissions of different remediation approaches and selecting lower emission solutions wherever possible. However, it became increasingly apparent that first and foremost clients want to retain approaches that deliver site remediation to programme and budget, yet also want to consider emissions issues.

As we began to look into the issues associated with reducing emissions it became clear that it was important to remain focused on the issue of CO2 emissions and not to get too drawn into the larger, more complex arena of sustainability in general which has a much broader scope that includes social and economic factors as well as environmental ones.

Andy Barton, sales manager, summed this up: “Clearly this is a very complex and highly emotive issue which easily gets too large to grasp if you don’t remain focused. Time and again responses to consultations on the issues associated with emissions either led to a broader discussion on sustainability in general, or indicated that the only way forward was seen to be to adopt less intense remediation approaches, or stated a desire to wait for clarification on the uncertainty that is rife in this area before deciding how to move forward.

“QDS was clear on two things, firstly we wanted to provide a solution that worked for all our technologies, and secondly we wanted to offer the market an approach now, accepting that uncertainty may mean the approach evolves with time. QDS recognises that the priority remains to offer clients solutions that provide certainty and confidence, but also with a reduced carbon footprint. Emissions are something we all need to act on now, rather than just talk about.”

The goals detailed in CLR11: 'to find solutions that identify and deal with risks from contamination in a sustainable way,' were understood, and we continue to develop a range of technologies that both meet this vision but also provide the intensity often necessary to meet clients’ demanding programmes and provide confidence.

Previous experience

A recent example of this is the use of surfactants, with ERM, on the award-winning Delauney project, which allowed intensive targeting of a chlorinated DNAPL source in a ‘sustainable’ manner through reuse and recirculation of the surfactant solution. However, despite such advances it may well be some time before a full range of such technologies are available to remediation contractors. So, one of the significant challenges facing the industry now is how to apply today's range of technologies with reduced emissions.

The determination to find an approach that worked for all of QDS' technologies helped solidify the strategy. CNR through a combination of emission reduction and offsetting was considered the best way of maintaining client confidence in timely programme completion and balancing the carbon emissions on projects with a full range of technologies.

Systems are in place on our sites to reduce emissions through, for example, construction of modular systems and selection of materials to focus on reuse on multiple projects, automated systems with remote controls to minimise site visits, use of solar/wind power to run low power backup systems, such as alarms and telemetry systems, the use of biofuels in site plants, recycling of recovered tars/oils and regeneration of spent granular activated carbon. All these approaches are standard to most projects but with the CNR option as well, this can be taken a level further.

But this still leaves the project with a carbon footprint that isn't practically possible to reduce further. Even the use of biofuels does not fully reduce the energy supply-related emissions, given the energy used in processing the fuel. Ultimately we took a view that, given that they felt they had done as much as was practically possible to reduce emissions, the next logical step was to use offsetting, to compensate for the remaining emissions.

Three challenges faced us for packaging a suitable offset option: how to calculate your emissions in a transparent way, where to draw the line and how to select and ensure the credibility of the offset provider. There has been considerable discussion surrounding the issues associated with calculating the emissions for a project, with a number of advanced tools now available to help with some of this process, including most recently the ROCC system by Atkins.

Calculating emissions and offsets

Rob Naylor from QDS said: “As a contractor we found it reasonably simple to calculate the emissions for the main emission streams such as fuel use. However what was more challenging was where do you stop. For instance, do you allow for the emissions produced in manufacturing the non-consumables used on the project, or do you discount this, based on the repeat use that will be obtained from these materials on subsequent projects?”

Once the calculations are complete, balancing emissions to net zero by investing in carbon offset projects is the next step. Historically the offset provision industry has had many critics and certainly there have been some dubious providers.

However Jim Hayward, project manager at QDS, points out: “There is a settling of the carbon offsetting industry in general, which now makes it a much more desirable time to look into the carbon offset arena that it was, say, five years ago.”

These industry changes make us more secure that carbon equivalent emissions are balanced against credible projects and schemes, and with reports such as ENDS Carbon Offsets 2009, questions and concerns can be addressed with greater confidence. A single offset provider was chosen to work with, and only gold standard projects will be invested in.

We will learn more about the carbon offset market as it evolves further. It is certainly changing for the better and now might just be the time when we can truly see the dawn of routine carbon neutral remediation projects. The key thing is not to lose sight of current drivers in our industry and to accept that what we are able to offer now may not be perfect but it is at least a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how these issues develop over the next few years.

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