September 2017
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Investing in a Sustainable Future
CENTRE STAGE

For businesses everywhere, sustainable practices and environmental protection are no longer an option but an essential part of doing business in the modern world. Swire News explores how the group is committed to investing in new industries that are themselves part of the environmental solution.

John Swire & Sons (Green Investments) Limited's Chief Executive Officer, Andy Hunter.

John Swire & Sons (Green Investments) Limited's Chief Executive Officer, Andy Hunter.
Swire has long been mindful of its responsibility to the environment and the need to minimise the environmental impact of its business activities. Each day, a huge range of environmental initiatives takes place across the group's operations. Nevertheless, the Board of John Swire & Sons felt the need to do more. Some years ago, Swire began making minority investments in a number of companies operating within the evolving "green" industrial sector. More recently, Swire has begun to take controlling interests in companies that have sustainability at the heart of their operations.

However, some of these companies do not fit naturally within the established divisional structure of the group, so it became expedient to form a new entity, John Swire & Sons (Green Investments) Limited ("JSSGI"), a wholly owned subsidiary of John Swire & Sons Limited, for the development and commercialisation of these green investments. JSSGI is also responsible for all potential acquisitions within this sector.


Andy Hunter, Chief Executive Officer of JSSGI, explains the rationale behind setting up the umbrella company: "Within Swire, the sector is highly specialised and at the time we established JSSGI, it was still in its infancy. To stand a chance of success it was likely to need a centralised and co-ordinated approach. Most importantly, we wanted to ensure our intention of creating a commercially viable array of operations was given a focal point that could prove Swire's dedication to sustainability, both to the outside world and within the group."

At present, JSSGI operates within two distinct geographical as well as green industrial spheres. In the United Kingdom, Argent Energy Limited, acquired in 2013, manufactures renewable biodiesel from waste fats and oils. In the United States, Purestream Services, LLC focuses on the treatment and efficient use of wastewater. Swire first acquired a minority stake in Purestream in 2014, and purchased all of the outstanding shares last year, so it is now a wholly owned subsidiary.

Argent's new Stanlow facility

Argent's new Stanlow facility

Argent's new Stanlow facility (left and centre)Argent's new Stanlow facility (top and bottom)

Biofuels: transforming liabilities into assets

Since 2005, Argent Energy has been at the forefront of supplying biodiesel and alternative fuels to companies with fleets of heavy goods vehicles and buses. Based in Motherwell, Scotland, Argent's production output offsets well over a quarter of a million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year, which is the equivalent of removing 180,000 cars from Britain's roads over the same period. But it is Argent's sheer production capacity which is most impressive. The Scottish plant can now produce 55,000 tonnes of biodiesel a year. A second, larger, plant has just been commissioned at Stanlow in the North West of England. This new investment is capable of generating more than 90 million litres of fuel, all of which comes from fully renewable sources.

As Jim Walker, Argent's Managing Director, explains, the concept of using renewable fuel as an alternative to fossil fuel is not as new as it may seem: "People have been using diesel from renewable sources since the first development of automobiles. Indeed, the first Mercedes-Benz was designed to be run on peanut oil," he says. What is innovative, however, is the way Argent utilises waste products for its raw material, or "feedstock", rather than using feedstocks such as rapeseed, soya and palm oil, that have important primary uses in food production.

A natural cycle

Argent Energy has pioneered a process that renders feedstock with a high Free Fatty Acid (FFA) content suitable for mainstream biodiesel production.

Argent Energy has pioneered a process that renders feedstock with a high Free Fatty Acid (FFA) content suitable for mainstream biodiesel production.
One abundantly available raw material comes from the waste fat and oil found in the sewer systems. "Our facility at Stanlow has the distinction of being the only plant – not just in the United Kingdom, but globally – to convert sewerage oils into high-quality biodiesel," says Jim Walker. Material with a high Free Fatty Acid ("FFA") content has traditionally been considered unsuitable for biodiesel production, but Argent has pioneered a unique FFA reduction process which enables the company to transform contaminated feedstock into a product that mimics the properties of diesel fuel, but does not involve the use of any petroleum products whatsoever.

The approach has not been without its challenges. Walker explains: "We have worked closely with a range of regulators to create the legal framework necessary to permit novel waste treatment like this, and we lobby national and international governments constantly to get them to recognise the sustainability of our products."

Fortunately, the success outweighs the challenges. As well as garnering a number of national and international awards, this imaginative approach to sewerage oil recycling has led Argent to team up with the London water utility company, Thames Water. Argent removes a range of waste that regularly clogs up the city's sewer systems and converts it into biodiesel, which is then sold to London bus companies. "It's now true to say that London's buses are running on London's waste," says JSSGI's CEO, Andy Hunter. "And it resolves a problem for the United Kingdom's capital by turning a liability into an asset. If Argent can do this in London, then the potential exists to replicate this solution globally."

Wastewater: treating some of industry's dirtiest waste products

Learn more about Purestream’s AVARA technology.
Learn more about Purestream’s AVARA technology.

Accelerated Vapour Recompression Water Treatment Systems (AVARA) are designed for the removal of dissolved solids from industrial wastewater for reuse or discharge.

Accelerated Vapour Recompression Water Treatment Systems (AVARA) are designed for the removal of dissolved solids from industrial wastewater for reuse or discharge.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in the United States, Purestream has been dealing sustainably with the problem of wastewater since 2010, from its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, and new offices in Texas. Initially established to focus on the treatment of wastewater for discharge and reuse in the oil and gas industry, the company has expanded its operations to cover utilities, mining, food processing and municipal wastewater. "We know that water is the most precious resource on the planet," says Neil Richardson, Chief Executive Officer of Purestream, "and it is our responsibility to protect, reuse and replenish it."

Purestream has harnessed innovation to bring several firsts to its industry, including developing the world's only mobile, fully-automated water treatment system. This unique system, called IGF, treats wastewater that contains high levels of total dissolved solids and suspended solids, so that it can be reused for industrial applications or discharged to the environment. "It was always the intention to broaden the range of Purestream," Andy Hunter elaborates, "and the company is about to launch a number of innovative technologies designed to either minimise water usage or reduce truck movements in the onshore oil and gas industries".

The recent move to West Texas allows Purestream to perform maintenance at the country's most active onshore oilfield, without the expense of having to return equipment to headquarters in Utah. The company is also on track to recycle 15.75 million litres of oil and gas production wastewater a day – which goes a long way towards relieving the pressure on water resources in Texas.

Neil Richardson, CEO of Purestream (centre) and Andy Hunter, CEO of JSSGI (third from left) with some of the Purestream and JSSGI team, on site at an installation in Texas.

Neil Richardson, CEO of Purestream (centre) and Andy Hunter, CEO of JSSGI (third from left) with some of the Purestream and JSSGI team, on site at an installation in Texas.
The oil and gas industry aside, Purestream has been helping companies much closer to home. It is collaborating with James Finlay, a leading supplier of tea and coffee extracts in the United States, and one of the Swire group's key operating companies in the food and beverage market, to solve a unique water discharge problem – removing solids from tea production wastewater.

Purestream has also worked closely with Argent to treat challenging waste streams resulting from biodiesel production. "Collaboration between Argent's in-house experts and our solutions-based engineering team has resulted in us identifying, collectively, low-cost, efficient waste stream mitigation and waste energy recovery opportunities. We are confident that we will be able to utilise our experience, expertise and technology to add value to other Swire companies." says Purestream CEO Neil Richardson.

Investing in the group's future

Given that both Purestream and Argent bring a new dimension to Swire's sustainability activities, it is hardly surprising that these companies have engaged with other group operations in a number of ways. These include trialling renewable fuels in The China Navigation Company's shipping fleet, and the aforementioned collaboration between Purestream and Finlays. "While JSSGI's remit includes evaluating potential investments, inevitably if opportunities are presented which we believe could have a significant application in the wider group, then they get far more attention," says CEO Andy Hunter.

The message is clear: the very existence of JSSGI signifies that Swire is wholly committed to being at the forefront of initiatives and businesses which have sustainability as their core value. Not only is this the right way forward for any progressive company, but strategically it is increasingly making sound commercial sense for these core values to be interwoven into the fabric of the group as a whole.
Swire News - September 2017
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