Gavin Prentice from Agrico on potato powered biofuels and the future of the circular economy for farmers.
I’m Gavin Prentice, a technical procurement manager at Agrico UK, and part of my job is to procure potatoes and particular seed tops, to sell for consumption. I also work on the technical side, to aid and help our growers best grow our varieties.
Why is sustainability important to you either as an individual or to the wider business?
I studied sustainable environmental management when I was at university. And it just so happened that I have fallen into the agricultural industry from that, as it is very much a forward-thinking, sustainable green industry.
Part of the reason I joined Agrico was to be part of the project to supply potato feedstock to Celtic Renewables, a spinoff company from Edinburgh Napier University where academics and industry representatives have come together to find a solution to displacing fossil fuels.
They are taking core by-products of two major industries within Scotland (whisky and potato) and putting them together in a fermentation distillation process to create biofuel, which is primarily acetone, butanol and ethanol.
This also produces hydrogen, CO2 and wet animal feed, which is very nutrient-rich.
At Agrico, we wanted to be involved in this project to show the potato industry in a green light and to try and help overall sustainability within Scotland. This will be the first plant of its kind within the UK and possibly even in Europe.
Is this about trying to establish a circular economy and reducing the waste in the sector?
Yes, absolutely, in the long run. The bioethanol produced could then be used to fuel farmers tractors.
What discoveries did you make while working on this project?
When I came on board at Agrico, our in-house scientist was already collaborating with the academics at Napier University. We started to help as a feedstock supplier and then undertook various pieces of work, like product or waste mapping to find out how many tonnes of potatoes were created as a by-product from either consumption or for seed.
And we found that it was forty thousand tonnes – which gave us the confidence and the confidence to use potatoes as a feedstock supply into this process!
From the very beginning, we worked to help Celtic Renewables understand and engage with the potato industry, to give them our expertise on how the supply works and the sustainability behind it.
What benefits do you see developing from this project, further down the line?
Well, it’s a good way of repurposing what is essentially a by-product, into revenue. Usually potato waste becomes cattle feed. But through this process, there will be both fuel and a wet animal feed generated at the back end, which will then again feedback into the circular economy. And yes it’s a way of honing by-products to produce something saleable to both help Celtic Renewables, the future of the industry and Agrico together!
What would be your advice to another SME, thinking of taking on a project like this one?
It’s a case of looking at and exploring the different ways to become sustainable, trying to be renewable. Whether that’s using by-products from the potato or distillery industries or pursuing different streams and asking different questions. It’s about thinking outside the box and trying to find people that you can work with to think about these things and how you can bring it to life.
Responding to the climate and nature emergencies requires action from all businesses and organisations. Here we look at the first steps to make sure your business supports the transformation to a greener and more prosperous Scotland. Find out more.