Written evidence submitted by CPL Industries (DHH0037)


  1. About CPL Industries

1.1.   CPL is the European leader in smokeless domestic fuels, based in Sheffield, with 600 employees in the UK. The firm operates over 40 depots across the UK and has manufacturing and sales facilities across the country, as well as in Ireland and South Africa.

1.2.   CPL was founded in 1973 from the non-mining operations of British Coal, and was privatized in 1995 through a management buy-out. Since then it has gone through a period of evolution, encompassing a range of industries from charcoal and activated carbon, to refractory repairs and renewable energy. CPL’s high quality, high performance products have become brand leaders in the market, with well-known names including Homefire, Phurnacite and Ecoal50.

1.3.   CPL’s main manufacturing hub is the modern briquetting plant based in Immingham, part of a the Humber region’s growing clean energy hub which aspires to be the world’s first net zero industrial cluster by 2040.

1.4.   Smokeless fuels are manufactured by CPL using a method that incorporates a percentage of renewable material (up to 50%) in each and every briquette. The presence of renewable material in the briquettes reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40% compared to coal, making the briquettes the most environmentally advanced on the market.

1.5.   In recent years, CPL has been a strong supporter of clean air objectives, and has worked extensively with the UK and Irish Governments to help deliver policy which better regulates harmful emissions resulting from solid fuels burning.

1.6.   In particular, CPL has had constructive engagement with Ministers and officials in Defra during the development stages of the recent legislation to phase out burning of traditional house coal and wet wood

1.7.   CPL’s manufacturing capability in both the UK and Ireland allows the firm to make a significant investment each year in research and development to ensure its products remain cutting edge.

1.8.   As part of this, CPL is making significant efforts to develop bio-fuels through the use of technologies such as Hydrothermal Carbonisation (HTC), as well as pyrolysis.


  1. Executive Summary

2.1.   CPL welcomes the BEIS Select Committee’s inquiry into the technological challenge of decarbonising heat, and wanted to highlight how in HTC, there is a UK-based solution to assist with delivering low-carbon heating.

2.2.   CPL are piloting a new waste to energy technology in Immingham which converts clothing fibres, food and green waste into a bioenergy solid fuel.

2.3.   This can be a key part of the green recovery, a circular economy solution for waste, and deliver economic opportunities via an eventual network of HTC plants around the UK, particularly in the north, so boosting the Government’s levelling up agenda.

2.4.   Pertinent to this inquiry, the low carbon solid fuel produced by HTC offers huge potential for the Government’s ambition to deliver decarbonised heat in homes, particularly homes or sectors that are difficult to heat with heat pump technology. Therefore we believe HTC should be included in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s upcoming Heat Roadmap.

2.5.   HTC could provide a route for supporting sustainable biomass under the next iteration of the Renewable Heat Incentive. As BEIS have noted previously, HTC is an example of an innovative technology which can assist with the Government’s ambitions of achieving long term heat decarbonisation.

2.6.   CPL is close to commercialising this technology, however there is a need for Government policy to better recognise and support HTC’s potential, especially given the recent legislation which excluded many sources of renewable biomass, thus risking deterring investment into such plants which turn waste stocks into a fully renewable solid fuel.


  1. About Hydrothermal Carbonisation (HTC)

3.1.   CPL’s HTC plant in Immingham on the Humber Estuary is the first of its kind in the country. The facility was developed in 2017 in co-operation with Nottingham University and supported by c. £2million in match funding from Innovate UK.  

3.2.   HTC is a waste to energy technology which converts clothing fibres, food and green waste into a cost-competitive, fully renewable bioenergy solid fuel, commonly referred to as biochar or biocoal. A thermochemical conversion process capable of converting 150 kilos p/h (the capacity of the pilot plant process is scalable to over 200kt p.a. per location) of waste to energy turns organic waste materials into renewable fuels, delivering circular economy objectives and producing a carbon neutral fuel.

3.3.   In four hours, HTC replicates natural processes of material devolatilisation and carbon densification of biomass feedstocks -- i.e. the coal formation process that takes thousands of years – by using a combination of elevated temperatures (180-250 degrees C) and pressures (23-25 bar) to catalyse the chemical transformation.

3.4.   The final product resembles hard coal (lignite) in both appearance and reactivity, and has a calorific value of around 18 – 27 MJ/kg (wood pellets have a CV of 15 – 17 MJ/kg). The final product, biochar, is considered a 100% renewable drop-in replacement for existing solid fuels.

3.5.   The characteristics of HTC mean that the technology has strong potential to reduce operational costs and scale to become a commercially-competitive product in the near-term. These include the removal of the energy intensive, pre-treatment drying processes as the process increases the fixed carbon content whilst decreasing moisture and volatile content, and the solid fuel hydrochar is hydrophobic and so has fewer storage requirements than raw or torrefied biomass. Additionally, HTC facilities are modular and deployment is scalable close to source or demand centres, so reducing the need for long-distance transport of waste-streams which have an economic and carbon cost.

3.6.   As part of the HTC pilot in Immingham, CPL has established a relationship with clothing retailers, including John Lewis, to acquire waste cloth fibre material for processing, which is helping to address the growing problem of large volumes of domestic and industrial cloth fibres sent to landfill sites each year. A waste-cloth feedstock can be used to produce both a renewable solid-fuel product and the recovery of terephlatic acid which is used in the polyester industry – a clear demonstration of how HTC can support circular economy priorities.

3.7.   CPL is operating a medium term contract with Severn Trent Water to convert digestate from food feed anaerobic digestion plants into biofuel. This provides compliance with anticipated regulation regarding the disposal of digestate and shows how HTC can work with other/existing technologies to produce renewable fuel.

3.8.   HTC has a preference for moisture-rich feedstocks, enabling it to non-discriminatorily process diverse waste-streams including green waste, food waste, co-mingled organic waste, sewage sludge, and organic waste. The ability of HTC to process a greater variety and range of waste materials means the production takes place without the need for an energy intensive thermal-drying pre-treatment, and consequently achieve a more favourable economic approach. Other technologies, such as Anaerobic Digestion and pyrolysis, are less versatile and higher in cost.


  1. HTC as a solution for decarbonising heat in homes

4.1.   The development of HTC will enable CPL to offer products to the market which maximise the use of waste products, and can be a key part of the green recovery which the Government rightly seeks in response to Covid-19.   

4.2.   HTC has the potential to assist the Government’s ambitions of achieving long term heat decarbonisation, and indeed HTC is rightly referenced as a technology in development which can assist with the challenge for heating building in the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) consultation document ‘A future framework for heat in buildings’, published in December 2018.[1]

4.3.   Almost two years on, CPL can now demonstrate that HTC is viable, and as the UK steps up its transition to net zero there is a need for clean and affordable solid fuels to become available for consumers that use solid fuels for both primary and secondary heating.

4.4.   BEIS is currently developing its policy framework for the long-term future of heat via a Heat Policy Roadmap on decisions about heat decarbonisation in the 2020s. The Department notes that a variety of technologies will be needed for this necessary transformation, and so as an emerging technology which produces a low carbon fuel, we believe that HTC should be included in this roadmap, and are keen to explore its potential further with the Committee and the Department.   

4.5.   One route could be via the Renewable Heat Incentive, as HTC could also provide a route for supporting sustainable biomass under the next iteration of the RHI.  Such an incentive should be targeted at second generation biomass produced from circular economy feed stocks.  This would support the minor adjustments needed to boilers to burn these higher heat fuels. Most importantly, it would support the commercial development of HTC production.

4.6.   Pressure has been increasing on the use of wood fuel within the RHI, however there is clear popularity of biomass under the RHI scheme with high levels of take up despite the lower incentives than competing technologies wood derived biomass fuels increasing in price due to pressure on the fibre basket (UK wood chip c.250% increase in four years). Energy use should be lowest priority for wood products to drive carbon sequestration and future RHI subsidy should focus on advanced production methods for solid biomass.


  1. A network of HTC production facilities

5.1.   CPL is close to commercialising this new technology, however the Government has recently introduced legislation which risks inadvertently harming its development by excluding many sources of renewable biomass, and thus deterring investment in such plants. Therefore CPL is calling for policy to support this new technology which delivers a circular economy solution turning waste into a fully renewable solid fuel.

5.2.   CPL’s vision is to develop a network of HTC plants around the country, providing a long term, large scale solution to food, clothing and other waste feedstocks, and providing an opportunity to assist with the UK’s heat decarbonisation challenge.

5.3.   Around seven million tonnes of organic waste are sent to landfill every year. This represents around 50% of all materials sent to landfill. Other treatment options for organic waste include open windrow composting, invessel composting and anaerobic digestion. All three treatments provide a recycling option for organic streams, however there is still a clear gap given the volume organic waste sent to landfill.

5.4.   HTC can help bridge a gap in management or organic waste as the process has been designed in a robust way such that it can deal with contamination and has the flexibility to take mixed waste streams.

5.5.   Support should be provided to Local Authorities interested in constructing HTC plants, which could play a key role in the Government’s desire to level up economic opportunities in the country, given the potential boost for jobs and skills, in addition to meeting long term circular economy objectives.

5.6.   Ahead of COP26, HTC is an innovative technology which the UK should harness in order to help produce cleaner fuels and lower carbon energy.


  1. Concluding remarks

6.1.   CPL Industries are happy to provide further evidence on request to set out the economic and environmental potential of HTC to help the UK meet the challenge of decarbonising heat in the coming decades.

6.2.   CPL would also welcome the opportunity to meet with the Select Committee to discuss this submission in greater detail.


November 2020