Case studies

THE COMPANY APS Salads is one of the UK’s biggest tomato growers, supplying leading supermarket chains with high-quality tomatoes all year round. The challenge: a constant demand for CO2 and heat APS Salads needed large amounts of CO2 at their 12.5 ha nursery in Kent to increase crop yield and quality. “The five elements you... more >

The background P3P was approached by AssetGen Partners, a specialised investment fund, to collaborate on a ground-breaking 10MWe waste-to-energy plant at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The plant reached financial close in February 2015, and when completed in 2017, it will be the largest installation of its type in the UK. “P3P did two things for us. The... more >

THE COMPANY

APS Salads is one of the UK’s biggest tomato growers, supplying leading supermarket chains with high-quality tomatoes all year round.

The challenge: a constant demand for CO2 and heat

APS Salads needed large amounts of CO2 at their 12.5 ha nursery in Kent to increase crop yield and quality.

“The five elements you need are heat, light, water, nutrition and carbon. If you have them, you get more sugar, and so better tomatoes,” says Phil Pearson, Group Development Director at APS Salads. “The piece of that jigsaw that I was always struggling to get enough of was CO2.”

Buying in large quantities of CO2 is expensive. And it wasn’t their only requirement: they also needed variable amounts of heat, depending on weather conditions.

In line with the company ethos, and the demands of customers, any solution would have to be sustainable and low-carbon.

The solution: a state-of-the art CHP energy centre

P3P funded, designed and built a gas-fired CHP (combined heat and power) energy centre for APS Salads.

The state-of-the-art design used two 7.5-MW Rolls Royce gas engines, the first such installation for a UK horticulture site. It recovers both heat and carbon dioxide, with excess power fed into the National Grid. Total construction time was just 10 months.

They started from what I wanted – and that really got my interest. From that meeting, we never looked back.

Mark Denham, MD, AssetGen

A tailored CHP solution

Big benefits for business

  • 100% cleaned-up CO2 used in growing process
  • 90% energy efficiency
  • 10% increase in crop yield
  • Lower energy costs

And from the very beginning, the solution was tailored to the company’s needs.

“It wasn’t a case of ‘you have to have what suits us’”, says Pearson. “They started from what I wanted – and that really got my interest. From that meeting, we never looked back.”

APS Salads now gets exactly the inputs of heat and CO2 that their crop needs.

A 5.6m litre thermal storage tank is heated for approximately 12 hours a day, and releases heat over a 24-hour period. Requirements for heat can fluctuate greatly from day to day, so teams from APS and P3P monitor the status remotely and fine-tune accordingly.

“The grower can relax – he doesn’t have to worry about buying energy in a variable market. He can just concentrate on what he’s good at,” says Pearson. “Which means we get more tomatoes, better tasting tomatoes, with a better shelf life.”

The benefits: lower costs, increased yield, improved sustainability

APS Salads has seen yields increase by 10% while energy costs have decreased. In benchmarking tests of production against competitors, they come out significantly ahead.

100% of cleaned-up CO2 is used in the growing process, reducing the company’s carbon footprint in line with their sustainability objectives. The CHP solution delivers 90% energy efficiency, far ahead of the figure for conventional gas (49-52%) or coal (38%) power stations.

The project was so successful that APS Salads has extended it to two other sites.

“We’re in our third project in almost as many years,” says Pearson, “so that says a lot about the working relationship between our two companies. It excites me actually. We’ve got all sorts of interesting things that we’re doing together.”

The P3P experience

P3P has worked very closely with APS Salads throughout the project, and continues to do so on a daily basis.

So how would the company rate the experience? Phil Pearson takes up the story.

“When you go through these big projects, there are always challenges and difficulties and things that don’t go quite according to plan, because you never know at the beginning what you’re going to find,” he says. “Working with P3P, you always find a solution and you find it in a very timely manner and you move on. And that’s really important.

“By working with P3P, I’ve been able to install a system that I couldn’t have afforded myself from Day 1. They’ve enabled me to have the technology I need to grow crops to the highest possible standards in the UK and become one of the leading growers in the country.

“It’s amazing the number of people I work with who say ‘I’ll take that away and come back to you next week’. With Julian Harris and the P3P team, they say ‘we’ll do that, shall we?’ and we agree on it and it’s done. And we move on to the next subject. It’s brilliant.

“That’s how we’ve been able to do what we’ve done in such a short space of time. It shouldn’t really be possible to develop three energy centres in three years – but that’s exactly what we’ve done.

“I’ve done all sorts of projects in my career. The partnership that you have is measured in many cases by how you deal with the challenges. When it goes right, anybody can do it. It’s when it goes wrong that you really see how good people are.

“When there’s a problem, we often deal with it in a phone call. Occasionally we’ll have a meeting, but we’ve never gone past the one-cup-of-coffee meeting to deal with any problems.

“Julian works fast, makes decisions and moves on. I’m able to do exactly the same on the other side of the table. And with the two of us working together, we just get things done. It’s fantastic.”

Cutting-edge CHP design
  • Largest CHP installation for UK grower
  • 2 x 7.5MW Rolls-Royce engines
  • Fast 10-month construction time
  • Captures heat and CO2
  • 5.6m litre thermal storage tank
  • Excess power fed into grid

The background

P3P was approached by AssetGen Partners, a specialised investment fund, to collaborate on a ground-breaking 10MWe waste-to-energy plant at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The plant reached financial close in February 2015, and when completed in 2017, it will be the largest installation of its type in the UK.

“P3P did two things for us. The first was to supply us with working capital to do the development, to allow AssetGen to take the project through to financial close,” says Mark Denham, MD of AssetGen. “That was enormously helpful, because without that we wouldn’t have been able to do it – and that was capital at risk. It’s an extremely risky thing to do, as you have no guarantee of close. If you don’t reach close, those funds are lost. It takes a lot of faith, knowledge and understanding.

“P3P are also one of the funders of the project, working with a pension fund. They act as the general partner, managing the fund on behalf of the investor.”

The solution: a state-of-the-art waste-to-energy plant

P3P worked closely with Bouygues Energies and Services Limited, who are responsible for the engineering and construction of the site, as well as Fichtner Consulting Engineers and two feedstock suppliers (Biffa and Powerday) to create a financeable project.

Bouygues have designed the plant using core technology from Biomass Power Limited, a UK supplier. As a gasification technology, it’s ROC (Renewable Obligation Certificate) eligible. It uses refuse-derived fuel (RDF) – essentially, a high concentration of biomass, or organic material – which is gasified to produce electricity.

The plant will be the largest ‘merchant provider’ in the country once it’s finished: privately funded and operated, buying feedstock from independent suppliers, and feeding enough clean energy into the grid to meet the demand of approximately 7,000 homes.

Cutting-edge 10MWe biomass energy plant
  • Reached financial close February 2015
  • Due for completion in 2017
  • Uses 90,000 tonnes of refuse-derived fuel per annum
  • Qualifies for Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC)
  • Backed by the Green Investment Bank
  • Designed by Bouygues
  • Largest merchant provider in UK

The process: rigorous attention to detail and a solid business case

Biomass plants are more complex, take longer to build, and have a much higher failure rate than gas-fired ones. So creating a credible, financeable project is crucial.

“There are many components. Obviously you’ve got to get a funder, it’s got to pass through an investment committee, and you’ve got to get due diligence done,” says Mark Denham. “Then there’s all the legal work, the feedstock contract and the construction contract. They’re tough to put together, they take time and require a level of understanding of risk.

Julian Harris has been quite significantly involved, and has been a big support in going through the project and getting it to financial close. He’s been very active, as has Mark White, who produced the financial model for the project. P3P were very hands-on.

“Ultimately it was our project, but P3P had faith in us and brought their considerable expertise, knowledge and skillset to bear. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

“We were one of very few biomass projects last year to actually achieve financial close. Judging by the number of people who’ve asked me to speak at conferences to tell them how we did it, I’m assuming that not many people have.

“The problem is that the rewards are good, so you have a lot of small companies who get planning consent, and try to put it all together. As a result, there are a lot of casualties along the way.”

Working with P3P

The waste-to-energy plant is currently under construction, with a scheduled build time of 22 months. When completed, it will consume 90,000 tonnes of refuse-derived fuel per year that would otherwise have to be sent to a landfill site.

So with the project now under way, how would AssetGen’s Mark Denham rate P3P’s involvement?

“I’ve had a great experience,” he says. “Julian and I get on very well. There’s a good level of mutual trust, and it’s been a good experience. I appreciate it that in the early days they put a lot of faith in us that we could deliver. I value their views on any future projects that we discuss with them.

“They’re a small and dynamic outfit. They’re not a big organisation, but they’re a proactive one, and they’re great to work with. They don’t mess about, say it like it is and get on with things. If they decide to do something, they stick with it and get on with it.

“We have a very positive and strong working relationship. They’ve been very supportive and a great help.”

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Revolutionary CHP energy centre for one of the UK’s largest tomato growers

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