Heating from household rubbish

Any technology that is able to prevent household rubbish going to landfill and turn that rubbish into useful, cheap energy seems to have a lot going for it. Successful trials could see the HERU system making an appearance in UK homes in the next few years.

A new energy saving system that delivers hot water via the burning of household rubbish – everything from nappies to milk cartons, coffee cups to food waste – is currently undergoing trials. Developed by UK inventor Nik Spencer, the HERU (Home Energy Resources Unit) is a washing machine-sized unit which takes household disposable items, including plastics, and then uses patented heat pipe technology to heat them within a chamber in the absence of oxygen (allowing pyrolysis to occur). After burning, the resource becomes a charcoal like substance and oxygen is added back in, releasing oil and gas which is then captured and cleaned so it is safe to discharge.

Gases produced are saved and can then be used in a domestic boiler, while the hot water produced is stored in a standard hot water tank. A single cycle of the HERU can produce a 30°C temperature rise for around 70 to 120 litres of water a day, equivalent to a full bath. After eight hours operation, the small amount of ash that is left in the unit – about a teaspoon full – can be flushed down the drain.

The trials have been co-funded by Worcestershire County Council and will see the HERU tested at three sites with three distinct types of ‘fuel’: Hillers Farm Shop (commercial food and packaging), Rugby Borough Council (domestic housing resources) and Wychavon District Council (office materials). Lasting approximately ten months, the units will be monitored remotely in real time in order to assess progress around energy efficiency, usability and qualification criteria for the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Founder and inventor Nik Spencer comments: “After hundreds of hours of rigorous testing at our engineering facility, where we basically tried our best to break it and find its weak points, it’s exciting to now test the HERU in real-life scenarios, and the data and feedback we get from these trials will mean we can take the final steps in bringing this innovative product to market.”

Fuel saving
As well as being an innovative greentech solution, it is claimed that the HERU can also help users save up to 15% on fuel bills, assisting in the fight against fuel poverty for those most in need.

Nik calculates that it is possible to save huge amounts of carbon if waste material was able to be incinerated at home instead of transporting it to larger sites.  “This disruptive technology is providing a completely new way of stopping waste arising,” he argues, “putting the decision to generate energy and reduce energy bills back into the hands of households and businesses.”

As well as the production of cheap energy, one of the key benefits of the HERU is that it disposes of household rubbish that might otherwise have ended up in landfill. The unit doesn’t burn metal or glass, which require much higher temperatures to break down, but if those items are added accidentally no damage will be caused.

With financial support for the trials coming from Worcestershire County Council’s Low Carbon Opportunities Programme, Ruth Corrall, Programme Manager, comments: “Our business support programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, aims to help innovators bring low carbon, clean technologies to market. We were therefore delighted to support the development of the HERU in its trial phase. We hope that the trials will be successful and to see this technology adopted in homes and businesses very soon.”

If all goes to plan, it is hoped that production of the HERU system could begin next year. It is thought that the units could be available with an estimated price tag of £3500.


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