First of a kind waste-to-DME facility in the UK: Providing solutions for off-grid decarbonisation
Dimeta recently announced that a first-of-a-kind £150m Renewable & Recycled Carbon DME production plant will be built in Teesside, as the first of up to six plants the company is establishing across Europe and North America.
Sophia Haywood, Head of Advocacy and Communications, explains the decision for investing in the UK first, why a level playing field for renewable fuels is critical, and giving off-grid energy the transition to Net Zero it deserves.
In the UK, there are over 2 million rural off-grid homes and businesses which need a just transition to Net Zero. For many of these applications, hydrogen and electrification will not be suitable due to geographical, technical and affordability reasons - therefore there is a clear need for alternative solutions.
To address this, the LPG Industry is transitioning to ‘drop-in’ renewable liquid gases, such as bioLPG and Renewable & Recycled Carbon DME, ensuring that LPG boilers offer a long-term, cost-effective pathway to Net Zero. It is the UK LPG industry’s ambition to offer 100% renewable energy solutions by 20401 and have collectively already invested2 over £300m into sustainable solutions.
Renewable & Recycled Carbon DME is a safe, clean burning, sustainable fuel that can support the decarbonisation of off-grid energy.
It can be made from a variety of feedstocks, such as waste, biomass or biogas, and can offer up to 85% emissions reduction compared to oil and diesel. It can also achieve over 100% emissions savings when carbon capture is used.
DME is chemically similar to LPG and can be ‘dropped-in’ to existing LPG supply chains in a blended form. This means that it can be used by homes and businesses in their existing appliances, stored in tanks and cylinders, and used using today’s infrastructure and skilled workforce – saving costs and make it easier for citizens to adapt.
It can also be used as a 100% renewable fuel, for example in industrial applications with high temperature heating, currently fuelled largely by oil.
Developing a plant in Teesside
Dimeta is targeting the development of up to 6 Renewable & Recycled Carbon DME production plants within the next five years – the aggregate investment is expected to be up to $1bn. The first plant through project developers ‘Circular Fuels’ will be in Teesside, which will be operational from 2025.
Approximately 220kt of waste will be converted into 50,000 tonnes of DME – the equivalent of 25% of the UK’s LPG domestic heating market. The construction will create 250 jobs, with 50 jobs for the local area once operational.
Dimeta decided to build in Teesside, as it is the UK’s largest and most connected industrial zone. It also means that we have the opportunity to tap into the carbon capture and sequestration currently under development there, which would enable our DME to be negative carbon (with GHG savings of over 100%).
Another factor for investing in Teesside is that the UK has one of the fastest decarbonisation trajectories, but the solutions available for off-grid areas are limited. Therefore, there is a huge opportunity for the UK to be a leader in renewable liquid gases such as DME, tackling some of the hardest to decarbonise buildings, as well as delivering a solution in line with the circular economy.
However, the industry needs a clear and stable policy environment to support project development and investment. Without this, the UK will be held back from realising the carbon reduction outcomes it so clearly wants to see.
Recognise the role for renewable liquid gases
Ensuring a level playing field for renewable fuel production is critical. At present, many funding schemes and policies are not technology neutral – they generally focus around hydrogen, heat networks or electrification. This limits innovation and development of solutions which are needed for the homes, businesses and industries, where these solutions will not be possible.
While some might argue, why support a sector that sounds niche? You might be surprised to hear that the global LPG market is the same size as the aviation fuel market3, yet does not receive significant subsidy or additional support – however has already made significant progress in producing and acquiring sustainable fuels.
Recognising the role for renewable liquid gases, which can help the hardest-to-treat sectors, in the upcoming Low Carbon Fuels Strategy and Biomass Strategy would enable the industry to accelerate its transition to Net Zero.
Don’t force a ‘one size fits all’ approach on rural homes & businesses from 2026.
The current government strategy for decarbonising off-grid heating is a ‘one size fits all’ electrification approach, which isn’t fit for purpose. The ‘off-gas grid regulations’ under consultation would see rural homes and businesses having little choice but to install a heat pump if their heating system fails after 2026. It does not consider the needs of rural consumers, or the complexity of heating rural properties, often due to their age, fabric or heat demand.
Think tank Localis found that these proposals do not provide sufficient time to scale the market, carry out electrical network upgrades needed or give realistic choices to customers4 . To address this, Localis advocates that government should support a mix of low carbon heating technologies, including renewable liquid gases and let consumers pick solutions which are best for them.
Without a doubt, electrification is going to play a key role in decarbonising buildings, rural and urban, but it is not a silver bullet. This is a phrase that is widely understood, yet not enacted. Policy makers must create a level playing field for Net Zero solutions and recognise the benefits of renewable liquid gases in the off gas grid regulations, in order to deliver a just transition for rural areas.
1Liquid Gas UK, 2040 Vision (2019)
2Liquid Gas UK, LPG Industry Census (2022)
3In 2022, the aviation fuel market was 60bn gallons, the equivalent of 181m tonnes. The global LPG market is over 200m.
4Localis, Reaching rural properties: off-grid heating in the transition to Net Zero (2022)
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