BlogNewsQ&A with Nik Spencer, founder of the HERU

Q&A with Nik Spencer, founder of the HERU

In this question & answer session, we chat with Nik Spencer, founder of the HERU, to get an insight into how things are developing with the HERU, details of a commercial unit, where we can see the HERU and the most challenging resources it can handle. 

What updates are there with the HERU?

Our latest V5 unit recently arrived from our manufacturer, and we were overwhelmed with the quality. Each of the previously prepared sub-assemblies have been fitted and the unit is now at Brunel University having the newly designed control system fitted and tested. Three further units (V5 mk1’s ) will go in to manufacture in April ready for field trial installation in July.


Is the development of a commercial unit a new thing?

Yes and no. Yes, it’s a new development publicly but the plan has always been to ensure the benefits of the HERU are felt for customers across both domestic and commercial markets. We are all impacted by our relationship with the resources around us, whether you are a homeowner or coffee shop proprietor, so it felt only right that we should work in both arenas.


Who will commercial units benefit?

The technology in the commercial unit CERU (Commercial Energy Resource Unit) will initially be of interest to companies with corporate and social responsibilities to reduce carbon and use more efficient energy sources while dealing with packaging like food contaminated resources, drinking straws, coffee cups, bottle tops and cold drink paper cups – all of which are very challenging and costly to recycle. Uneaten food, for example, is around 70% water and very expensive to collect and process into energy, but it is perfect for the CERU.

While dealing with these challenges, the CERU will benefit those have a requirement for hot water for cleaning, public toilets or producing hot water to make hot drinks.


Can you remind us how the HERU/CERU works?

It works using low-temperature pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the decomposition of matter in the absence of oxygen.  In nature, an example of this would be if you took a dinosaur and a tree and bury them in the soil, with no oxygen, and add the heat from the earth’s crust and a few million years and it will produce oil, gas and char. All the HERU does is speed up this process using heat pipes (which inject heat right into the resource) to between 5 and 7 hours.

The HERU heats the resource to just 300 degrees centigrade, so not much higher than your conventional oven. If you left a bread roll or a chicken in your oven at 300 degrees it would eventually become char releasing tiny amounts of oil and gas, and we capture both. The HERU cleans the oil so it is safe to discharge into the sewer like washing dirty clothes or a frying pan in a dishwasher cycle and it utilises the gas that’s been produced for use in your domestic boiler.  

With the same footprint as a washing machine, the HERU connects to the water main and drainage and runs off a normal 13-amp domestic plug. The system is incredibly energy efficient, with every 1kWh of electricity consumed to power the unit generating 2.5kWh of heat energy. It generates this 2.5kWh of energy at 47% moisture, meaning the dryer the resource you place in the HERU the better the energy recovery, for example, best practice would see you drying garden trimmings before placing in the HERU or emptying the sour milk down the drain and then placing the bottle in the HERU.


Where can we see the HERU?

We’re welcoming guests all the time to our facility in Worcestershire (so do contact us if you’d like to visit), but if that’s out of your way, we are at the Cleantech Innovate show on March 20th in London.


Is the HERU looking at foreign markets?

The HERU is a British innovation and a piece of British engineering excellence, but its application is as global as the problems we face, particularly if we continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.

We’ve had interest from the office of the New York Mayor through to the Australian Government, so yes, we are actively discussing the HERU operating in other countries.

We can’t continue to use fossil fuel to collect and process resource in the same way (especially when you consider the inefficiencies with food being made up of around 70% water and garden trimmings around 50% water). This type of system makes for huge energy loses through processing performance before delivering energy back to the home through power lines (that are also under pressure and inefficient) while omitting vast tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere and gasses released from landfills.

This is a global issue, every country has the same issues it’s just some countries have better processing than others but all countries collect the resource for onward processing. The collection of these resources poses another huge issue, which is a major elephant in the room, and that is around Health and Safety, where we place collection people in busy uncontrollable environments every day on our streets. This, I believe, has to be more important immediately than financial savings and carbon reduction.


What are you working on at the moment?

We are very close to beginning tests on the new V5 HERU.  Any learnings will be carried forward to the 3 x V5 mk1’s units that will begin manufacture early April in readiness for assembly, testing and install for field trials in July.

We are also seeking 15 early adopters for installation in Spring 2019. We’ve have sold five of these already so have another ten to place.

We are in discussions with manufacturing facilities in the UK to produce the HERU, with an extensive program underway to engineer the HERU for mass production to drive costs down through automated and robotic production. This type of development is significant for the long-term future - remember the cost of new video players or washing machines or vacuum cleaners? It's through mass production do they become easily affordable. The story’s exactly the same with new developments like the first TELSA car – those costs were initially mindboggling.

In addition, we are working towards the CE marking for the HERU, aiming for Spring 2019

We are also preparing for the Innovate Clean Tech show on March 20th 2018.


What challenging resources have you tried in the HERU?

Nappies are a particular challenge and were a major test. Born to retain moisture,  the nappies and their contents are super valuable resources with high energy content. The heat pipe technology allows the nappy to fall anywhere in the chamber and for it to be still exposed to 300-degree heat - this was a major breakthrough.

Deodorant spray cans can also be difficult for conventional processing, but not for the HERU.  It simply melts the plastic pressure on the can releasing the gasses for a controlled combustion, the plastic elements are turned to char and are then combusted leaving a clean metal container for recycling. The HERU is also fitted with a pressure relief valve set at 0.07 bar which is extremely low (much lower than the water pressure in your tap) so any pressure build up in the system simply pushes the water out of the HERU to the sewer making it very safe.

Coffee cups can be a challenge for other processes but the HERU loves these - plastic and paper are all great sources of energy.

Pringles containers are tricky to recycle because it’s very difficult to get the fibre element off the aluminum and the base is steel just to add a further twist. The HERU simply removes the fibre and plastic elements through pyrolysis and combustion of the resulting char leaving clean aluminum and steel for recycling.

We don’t recommend putting batteries and electric items in the HERU but we have, of course, tested them with no negative effects.  We do, however, recommend you recycle these using points suggested by your local council.

Q&A with Nik Spencer, founder of the HERU