Two schools in Nottingham are using biofuel-based CHP schemes to achieve the highest level of carbon reduction seen to date in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in the UK. The BSF programme aims to rebuild or renew nearly every secondary school in England, incorporating a very high sustainability agenda driven by central government and the local authorities concerned.

The group LowC Communities has designed renewable energy centres to achieve the low carbon delivery at both the Big Wood and Oakfield schools. Research undertaken by LowC suggested that around 65-70% of the actual carbon footprint of schools is typically derived from electricity consumption, so the approach taken was to develop a method of renewable CHP which would deliver a substantial portion of the heating and electrical requirements of the schools.

The LowC pure plant oil CHP units installed in Nottingham will be fuelled by rape seed oil produced from the Nottinghamshire-based Phoenix Fuels, which is made up of a group of farmers who grow oil seed rape as a break crop in rotation between their other crops. The business has its own crushing plant in the county, which can produce 3 million litres of pure plant oil and 6,500 tonnes of pelleted/briquetted biomass feedstock.

The operation of the CHP units delivers between 60% and 70% of the electrical requirements of the schools, around 80-90% of their heat requirements. The cost of operation is in the region of 30-40% lower than traditional grid supplies (gas and electricity), owing to the attractive revenue streams from surplus electricity sales, and the sale of green certificates (Renewables Obligation Certificates or ROCS).