14034 reasons for environmental technology verification

20th November 2015


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Author

Lee Walker

With a new standard for verifying the performance of innovative environmental technologies imminent, Rick Gould examines progress and how it will benefit sustainability

With a new standard for verifying the performance of innovative environmental technologies imminent, Rick Gould examines progress and how it will benefit sustainability

This year has proved a busy one for the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), with publication of the revised 14001 environmental management-system and 9001 quality standards. The environment and sustainability profession eagerly awaited 14001: 2015, which was finally published in September, and now another standard, produced by the same ISO technical committee, is nearing completion, with publication likely next year.

ISO 14034 - environmental management; environmental technology verification (ETV) - describes how assessment bodies are to verify the performance of innovative environmental technologies (EITs). Although development of the standard has been overshadowed by the revision to 14001, the emergence of 14034 coincides with significant developments in ETV.

Proving performance

According to the European commission, EITs have a crucial role in Europe's sustainability strategy. Many challenges, such as developing a circular economy (the commission's new package is imminent), might only be solved through innovation. Yet, for producers of novel technologies, the challenge lies in gaining both acceptance and investment to bring products to market. Overcoming these hurdles tends to be easier for mature technologies.

Many technologies in established markets are supported by standards and official approval schemes. The EN 61400 series of international standards includes specifications for the performance and testing of wind turbines. Accredited bodies use the 61400 series to test and certify the machinery to provide investors and buyers with assurance and confidence in the products.

However, EITs are not sufficiently established to have stimulated the development of standards and the type-approval or certification schemes to assure them. Indeed, research by the commission found that, in the field of environmental technology, investors, specifiers and buyers of products have a low appetite for risk and prefer to rely on older, established and often certified technologies rather than take a chance with something new.

Even if supporting evidence, such as case studies and independent test reports, backs an EIT, investors and buyers are likely to put their money elsewhere unless the technology has an official seal of approval. This situation - whereby a viable and useful EIT never gets off the ground due to lack of financial support, either from backers or buyers - is often referred to as "the wall of death" for manufacturers, in particular those that are small or medium-sized.

ETV can provide manufacturers with the independent and credible evidence they need to convince buyers and investors that a product, in the words of the Ronseal slogan, "does what it says on the tin".

One scheme for all

ETV is the objective and independent confirmation that an EIT performs exactly as the manufacturer claims or meets the specifications set by a third party. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency launched the world's first ETV scheme in 1995 and other countries have followed. The different schemes have created a problem, however: namely, a lack of mutual recognition due to differences among the many ETV programmes.

In the mid-2000s, the European commission was displaying a strong interest in ETV, seeing verification as a means of promoting EITs as part of its approach to sustainability, but also with the aim of harmonising schemes globally. The commission's AdvanceETV project was established in 2008 and over the next four years the project team tackled the harmonisation challenge in two ways. First, the commission and other countries - initially including Canada, the US, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines - set up an international working group (IWG) to develop a harmonised approach to ETV. Under this, one of the AdvanceETV teams worked closely with the IWG to produce an embryonic, international standard, which became the starting point for 14034.

Second, the AdvanceETV team developed a generic verification protocol (GVP) for ETV, which is a standardised process. The GVP also describes the structure and governance of a European ETV scheme and adds provisions for quality assurance. To guarantee future compatibility, the AdvanceETV team ensured that the embryonic international standard developed with the IWG mirrored the core processes described in the GVP. After completing the project in 2012, the commission set up a pilot ETV scheme, using the GVP as a framework (see panel, below).

The commission decided that, to meet its dual objectives of credible verifications and mutual recognition - embodied in its motto "Verified once, accepted everywhere" - quality assurance would be crucial. So the verification bodies involved in the three technology areas in the pilot programme had to be accredited to ISO/IEC 17020 (see panel, below). This specifies the competence required of bodies performing inspection and ensures the impartiality and consistency of inspection activities. In addition, laboratories involved in testing EITs were required to be accredited to ISO/IEC 17025, the standard on the general requirements for undertaking these activities.

From pilot to standard

Since the pilot programme began in 2012, 13 organisations have been accredited as verification bodies, four of these in the UK: Water Research Centre, the National Physical Laboratory, the Building Research Establishment and the European Marine Energy Centre. By August 2015, there were more than 50 verification projects in progress, with the first three verification statements published earlier this year. One of these is a novel process that significantly increases the efficiency of anaerobic digestion (see panel, below).

A draft international standard was published for public comment in June and the final version of 14034 is likely to be published in 2016. So far, the standard mirrors the GVP. It also includes specifications for a verification plan, guidance on applying the standard, and explains how 14034 works with the accreditation standards, namely ISO/IEC 17020 and ISO/IEC 17025.

If ETV plays an important role in bringing innovative EITs to market, 14034 could serve as the glue that binds it to sustainable development.

Requirements for the EU ETV pilot programme

The technology must:

  • Be "innovative" - the European commission defines this as presenting a novelty in terms of design, raw materials and energy involved, the production process, use, recyclability or final disposal.
  • Be ready for market - that is, ready for commercialisation or
    already commercially available.
  • Be excluded from the scope and application of existing regulations and standards for design and performance requirements.
  • Fit in one or more of the three technology areas: water treatment and monitoring; energy technologies; and materials, waste and resources.
  • Have demonstrable potential to meet the needs of users and to perform according to legal requirement.

Technology areas in the ETV pilot programme

Areas of technology

Technology group examples/illustrative technology applications

Treatment and monitoring of water

Water quality monitoring for chemical contaminants and contaminants containing microbes, such as probes, test kits and analysers.

Wastewater treatment, such as separation techniques, electrochemical methods, biological treatment, for contaminants containing either or both microbes and chemicals.

Industrial water treatment, such as purification, filtration and disinfection.

Resources, materials and waste

Recycling industrial waste and by-products
into new materials.

Recycling of construction waste into
building materials.

Recycling farm waste and by-products for
non-agricultural uses.

Techniques for sorting and separation for solid waste, such as reworking of plastics, mixed waste and metals, and recovery of materials.

Biomass products, including health products, bioplastics and biofuel.

Energy technologies

Heat and power production from energy sources deemed renewable, such as sea, geothermal and wind.

Energy gained from reuse of side products or biomass, such as third-generation biofuels and combustion technologies.

Generic energy technologies, such as heat pumps, micro-turbines and heat exchangers, and those for distributing and storing energy.

Industrial processes and buildings that use energy efficiently, such as thermal envelope, heating and energy-efficient windows.

Boosting anaerobic digestion

Humans have exploited anaerobic digestion (AD) for more than 1,000 years, but the methods have been rediscovered in the past 10 years. As a technique, AD has all the potential hallmarks of a sustainable, low-impact process, turning a constant source of organic waste into biogas for renewable energy and a wet-digestate that farmers can use for conditioning land. When AD is married to modern technology, scientists and engineers can boost the efficiency of biogas production. However, the limited use of the liquid-digestate by-product has constrained AD's growth.

In 2011, UK waste and resources body Wrap commissioned research to look at new markets for the liquid digestate from AD (bit.ly/1KFsti4). The researchers, Hannah Rigby and Stephen Smith from the department of civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College London, concluded that the main outlet for liquid digestate was agricultural application to land. They said technologies to further process the digestate and use the by-products ought to be investigated further. The new substrate technology concept (NSTC) from JS Trading in Denmark does exactly that. The NSTC process involves:

  • A screw-press separating a large proportion of the liquid from the solids in the digestate. The remaining solids, which contain about 65% water by mass, are dried in a rotating drum heated by burning wood pellets. As it dries the digestate, the process strips ammoniacal-nitrogen through evaporation. The heat from the
    kiln is then recovered and fed into two nitrogen strippers. These are used to treat the liquid fraction of the digestate and the strippers remove ammoniacal-nitrogen from the liquid. The air containing the ammoniacal-nitrogen from the dryer and nitrogen strippers is passed through an absorber containing sulphuric acid to produce a fertiliser rich in sulphur and nitrogen. The remaining liquid is fed back into the digester vessel, which increases the efficiency of the AD process. As the NSTC recovers heat - and since the liquid returned to the AD vessel is already warm - the energy that would ordinarily be required to maintain the temperature of the vessel is reduced.

ETV Denmark, which tested and verified the technology, reported a net energy reduction because of the increase in efficiency and heat recovery. As well as producing a fertiliser from a by-product, the remaining dried solid-fraction would be suitable as a medium for growing mushrooms, whereas the raw digestate would not. ETV Denmark published the verification statement in May (bit.ly/1WhLbZd).

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