The rising costs of energy, concerns over security of supply and greater environmental awareness are seeing many organisations take a serious look at the options that renewable energy can provide. This well established family firm specialising in the manufacture of hand-made bricks, located in the Chilterns Hills, is a good example of this.

The factory is proud of its history of using local materials and expertise to produce quality products that complement the local environment. Brick making, even when by hand, is a very energy intensive process with high inputs of heat required for drying and firing. The partners in the company could see that their exposure to high consumption of energy, particularly diesel, meant that their costs of production were less and less controllable. Coupled with an aspiration to reduce the carbon footprint of the operation, a radical solution was called for. It was also hoped that a commercial use for the significant quantities of waste wood and other materials arising from the operations of the factory and adjoining farm could be found.

Of prime concern was the drying process for the bricks which need to dry slowly over a number of days in order to prevent cracking. During the summer months this can take place out of doors in covered drying areas. During the winter the drying takes place in four large drying rooms with heat provided by customised diesel fuelled marquee heaters. The firm used the heaters to develop a sophisticated system of controls so that the temperature in each room could be controlled separately, however, although the system worked well, technically it was extremely costly and resulted in significant CO2 emissions.

The conventional solution would be to change the diesel fired heaters to gas fired heaters, however, the factory is situated some distance from the nearest connection to the gas grid so this solution was not an option. Mary Miller visited the site and, following a discussion with the owners, assessed the business case for the introduction of renewable and sustainable energy technologies.

The factory is situated close to a farm which forms the second part of the family business. The farm and surrounding woodland generates considerable waste wood and other biomass material. This meant that fuel for a biomass system could be very low cost or even free depending on the amount of processing the system required. Most biomass heating devices are boilers but the requirement here was for hot air. Mary identified a suitable system and arranged for the partners to visit the manufacturer’s Talbott’s, at their factory in Stafford. The system was to be installed in October 2008.

Blewburton Limited has a good track record in assessing renewable energy solutions to fit specific situations and continue to offer this service to clients around the country.