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21st January 2021

When I first joined an AD company a long time ago I heard frequent reference to tea; it came from hushed voices round the water fountain, it was as if some magical force was involved that solved the world’s problems. So, I kept my head down, determined to understand the mysteries of this great secret remedy.

Now the reality of these things is a little less fanciful, but in no way less magical. T.E. (I heard it as Tea!), rather than being the lifeforce of any company (although actually the Marches team do like a good strong cup of coffee as well!) actually stands for ‘Trace Elements’.

Now here comes the tricky science bit, when you have low trace element contents in the anaerobic digesters it can cause microorganism instabilities and as a result low biogas production and overall process instability.  Cobalt in particular is a limiting factor for growth and activity of the little methanogenic critters. Alongside Cobalt, several other elements such as nickel, selenium, molybdenum and tungsten are considered essential trace elements for biogas microorganisms. Right, that’s the biology lesson over! Now personally I don’t profess to understand the complexity of what’s going on in the digesters, but I know someone who does, well not someone rather a whole group of the team at Marches.

So, if you have a digester that’s not really performing as once it did, it just might be that you need some magical elixir, and the Marches biology team will be just the folks to help. They can do some tests and work out exactly the ones you need, although I’m not positive, it’s unlikely to be Lapsang Souchong!

6th January 2021

So here we are in a rather cold and wet part of Shropshire, the only evidence for our past over-indulgences being a slightly snug trouser band and a rather exciting credit card bill.

And so we start to look forward to 2021 and what it will bring. If this blog had been written last January, I doubt very much the words ‘pandemic’ and ‘lockdown’ would have appeared even though word was out from China about what they were facing. In hindsight the evidence was there but not many people had fitted the pieces together.

So, from Marches side we are continuing to work with our customers, progressing their engineering conundrums and attending to operational matters, as well as looking forwards to developing our international contracts in the US, Europe and further afield. But what we are really looking forward to is having face to face chats with our customers, when social distancing is no longer a health and safety necessity and not having to resort to online meeting rooms. Although Teams and Zoom have been vital at keeping communication lines open, they are just not as good as sitting down with someone and having a ‘brew’. So as 2021 develops and the hope of the vaccines become a reality, let’s hope that things can return to some semblance of normality and we can look forward to that pot of tea!

21st December 2020

 

As December marches forwards to 2021 and we say goodbye to the enigma that has been 2020, we have a time to contemplate the year we have had, glad that we have all come through, one way or another.

Normally at Christmas we have a night out on the town in Ludlow; now for those of us who do not think of ourselves as ‘foodies’ Ludlow is not only a beautiful Georgian town but also one of the food capitals of the UK. As readers flock to Hay on Wye and theatre buffs to the West End, so Ludlow is legendary for those who savor a tasty morsel!

So once a year we dress up to the nines (well perhaps not Keith and Mark-see the photo above for the evidence), we start early in the Ludlow brewery and then head to one of the plethora of fantastic eateries in the town center. In other companies where I have worked the Christmas do is one of the things you know you have to go to, and it hangs over you for most of the year. But the Marches Biogas do is different, for one thing everybody goes (and I mean everybody!) and it’s a jovial affair, with lots of bonhomie and good cheer. The main event being the awarding of Marches Biogas ‘Oscars’. For some companies these would be a dry affair with serious awards, ours is kept firmly at the silly end of the scale with my favorite category being ‘the smelliest lunch eaten in the office’!

The younger members of the team then go to a club and the more gentil members adjourn to the bar and put the world to rights.

So this year, with great reluctance we have decided that we can’t do it for reasons everyone is familiar with. As a result, we are going to postpone until we can do it safely with the kind of gusto that the event requires….when as Mark so eloquently put it, “when the words ‘social’ and ‘distancing’ have become uncoupled’.

So finally for 2020, all the team at Marches Biogas would like to wish all our customers, suppliers and website visitors a very Happy Christmas and may we all have a fantastic 2021!

15th December 2020

Optimism – it’s an easy word to say but in these ‘interesting times’ (as people keep calling 2020), sometimes more difficult to feel and express. As readers of the blog will know we like to keep these positive and at the moment of course there is negativity around, however we want to look to the future, and well with - optimism. And there is cause to have an optimistic view of the future of AD. Due to fantastic lobbying by a number of industry bodies including ADBA and the REA (if you are not aware of what they do look them up, they work tirelessly with an almost religious geal to proclaim the benefits of AD to the Government and other key industry stakeholders) we now have visibility of the support the industry will receive after the RHI scheme comes to an end.

The Green Gas Support Scheme (GGGS) has been announced by BEIS and will be administered by OFGEM. It will be funded by a supplementary levy on licensed gas suppliers and will come into force from April 2022 (although those putting biomethane into the grid will be able to claim from Autumn 2021) and will last for four years before a further scheme is put in place. A key eligibility criterion will be the sustainability of the feedstock. Like RHI biomethane producers will be paid on a tier system but the scheme will work with other existing support mechanisms such as ROTC, which supports Biomethane in transport. BEIS have not yet said what the exact levels of support will be but have indicated that the full details of the scheme will be communicated in the Spring.

Now the details, as with any government support will be complex, but as anyone attached to the industry knows, without support for AD build projects they will become fewer in number. One of the difficulties with AD projects can be the timescales involved, especially getting planning and then having everything else ready to go. However, with projects coming down the tracks, the industry now knows what’s coming, and let’s be clear, this support is crucial for the industry to flourish and to allow projects to keep going.

What’s more it will not only give UK projects the clarity to move forwards but also allow the AD industry (and Marches!)  to export our world beating services around the globe. So, we at Marches Biogas would like to thank ADBA and the REA for all the work they do and to allow for a little more optimism to spread into 2021!

 30th November 2020

We have some brilliant news, that we have signed our first major international project!

Now, Marches Biogas benefits from being located in a beautiful part of the world with clients in stunning locations which means that we are some of the luckiest people in the world to work where we do. When we all joined Marches, we probably felt that working in a great part of the British countryside would be the limit of our ambition with no complaints from anyone. It was clear like any company we had to expand our customer base and start talking to new people and potential customers and to do this we have been a bit more ‘out there’ than perhaps we have been in the past, the revised website, the social media posts and well, this blog. However, we assumed this would just mean more of the same, AD plants in the countryside and sewage works here and there (for the uninitiated sewage works also tend to be in beautiful river valleys – if you are not familiar, they can be surprisingly interesting places with nature just round every bend – honest!).

However, to our surprise we have received a steady stream of international enquiries through the door, from carbon capture-based AD in the USA, plants bottling biomethane in Asia to pig slurry projects in the Mediterranean.  Our latest big news is we have now signed a contract with GESS RNG Biogas for the outline design of up to 5 AD facilities and a commitment to agree a five-year deal for the design of 75 (yes seventy five!) plants across the US and Canada.

As well as this fantastic news we have been looking at some really interesting and diverse schemes and what we have found is that as we have covered all types of UK projects in the past, we can offer something pretty unique, a service that we can stand behind with genuine experience to back it up.

As a result, we are now signing up clients beyond this green and pleasant land; perhaps not what we expected, buts it’s clear that Ludlow is not the only beautiful part of this world. So perhaps we can help not only in the green agenda locally but also further afield and in a very small way help keep the world as beautiful in the future as it is today.

18th November 2020

 

Having just done a piece on Keith it is only fair to do one on Mark (and to let you in on a little secret they both hate it!). As illuded to before Mark and Keith are the driving force behind the company, where Mark looks after the support side of the business. Like Keith, Mark always has a smile on his face and might seem to be the quieter of the two but is always there with a dry comment that always goes to the heart of the matter. Outside of Marches, Mark is doing up a Georgian house where his long-suffering wife Liz is hoping one day it will be complete (he’s the one on the left in the photo supporting the oak lintel) as well as also cheering on the mighty Bridgnorth rugby team - North Midlands Cup Winners 18/19 he will have you know!

Mark’s a trained mechanical engineer with a BSc from Preston Poly, from which he joined the family business becoming the highest academically qualified pipefitter in the midlands and had some great times installing draught relief plants in the south west over several summers.

He then joined Purac as a proposals engineer in their Minor Works department again spending a lot of time in the south west, then moved through project management and discipline lead positions to head up tendering for the water division with a £1M per week target for order intake. Purac became Enpure and in their diversification into municipal solids waste and subsequently gasification had some interesting times with a whole new supply chain.

When the Enpure name was resurrected by Korean giants Doosan Mark joined an initial 12 strong team to start the re-build and had to travel a little more globally with a particularly memorable conversation with the office whilst in Saudi that started with “Whilst you’re in the middle east…” and ending in a whistle stop visit to Oman on the way back.

So eventually after all this globetrotting Keith gave him a call and asked if he liked to join him in Marches in a wonderful part of the world, that we know as Ludlow. He jumped at the chance and has been with us ever since.

So what’s clear is that the managers of Marches love engineering and if you see a tired looking Mark you will know why he’s just thinking about all the future projects Liz has for the house, ponds, summer house, pizza oven, etc.

11th November 2020

We thought it might be a good idea to use this blog to introduce some of the characters behind the Marches Biogas curtain. In the past people tended to think of Russell when they pictured the company, but although he is still very much involved in the business as technical advisor, it’s Keith and Mark that are the dynamo’s behind the scenes, managing the business on a daily basis.

Keith always has a smile on his face and is invariably upbeat. To say he loves his job is an understatement, always willing to explain a concept using bodily contortions normally reserved to a man of half his age.  He’s keen to be involved with everything going on, especially engineering discussions, and always wants to make sure things are done just so.

As you would expect, with being the joint managing Director of Marches, he knows his AD having started with Biwater Treatment back in 1989. One of his first jobs was involvement and site cover for a new AD facility in Jersey at Bellozane sewage works. Keith progressed from there, building up an impressive CV. After 2 years overseas managing a major project in Sri Lanka, Keith moved to Wessex Water, where not only was he fundamental to their dryer business he also found time to marry Emma from the PR department. Overseas called again so soon after joining Purac (which later became Enpure) Keith and Emma headed off for 2 years in Chile, managing the construction of a major sewage treatment works.  Keith’s son was also born out in Chile which presented some interesting challenges in addition to the job. Keith’s more recent roles have included Engineering Manager for Imtech Process, Design Manager for Biogen Greenfinch where he oversaw the successful design and delivery of six new food waste plants. Keith joined Marches Biogas in 2018, bringing to the company a wealth of useful experience and many contacts. Keith is always keen to think through all the designs that we put out to our clients, drawing on all that experience to make sure things are done correctly.

Now you would have thought when Keith leaves the office thinking about engineering would be the last thing on his mind, well how wrong you would be. There is a certain car manufacturer that used to make cars not far away in Blackpool, for which Keith very much has a soft spot (with several in the garage at home). So just a hint, if you want to make a quick getaway from the office don’t bring up the subject of TVR’s or you will see that smile, some brilliant gesticulation and an inability to get away for more time than you think possible…..

4th November 2020

So here’s an early warning; this blog is about engineering standards. When Keith and Mark suggested the topic a sharp inhalation of breath took place and followed up by a suggestion to speak to the two design managers to get some info. Steve ‘B’ and Steve ‘C’ are the Design Engineering Managers here at Marches, so I organised a team’s discussion and almost immediately afterwards received a document outlining some of the key factors used when designing installations for clients.

As not someone who usually works in this area of the business, I thought it might be like getting blood from a stone, but how wrong was I! What came forth was a list of the types of standards that Marches always work to within projects, a mixture of both legal requirements, such as all electrical work is carried out to IEE Regulations but also non legal such as for example having ‘no’ moving equipment inside the sealed process tanks, in particular the mixing of tanks by gas injection, liquid recirculation with external centrifugal chopper pump or a combination of both depending on tank size and feedstock type.

Steve C has an architectural background and develops the initial plant concept design alongside the process engineers and can be found onsite from the outset of any project.  Steve B is a technical mechanical design engineer and over the years has evolved the design of the Marches gas mixing system to what it is today.  Together they produce a package of 3D drawings for plant construction and are involved throughout the duration of projects, from initial concept to the issue of final build drawings.  Issues will always arise during any plant build and they use their know-how to design the best possible solution which also takes into consideration the practical maintenance of equipment when selecting and designing any new system.

It is clear that both designers are immensely proud of the standards they adhere to. It is also evident that they really know what they talk about – both having worked for Marches and in the industry before that for longer than most of us can remember.

It’s this attention to standards that mean everyone can sleep safely, everybody knows that when the work is completed and Marches have left site that we know firstly it will work year in year out, but perhaps even more importantly it will be safe to operate for the long term. It’s also why our plants are still operational, some many years from when they were constructed.

14th October 2020

In this blog we want to talk a little about the maintenance side of the business, what was once known as Evolution Biogas (clearly you will know all about this as you will have read the previous blog!).

We in Marches have always aimed to be customer focused and believe in speaking to our customers with regular review meetings. From listening to their honest feedback it was clear that the maintenance contracts were not delivering the flexibility that our customers wanted. One of the beauties of the AD world is the diversity we see in the plants we look after; everyone is different. From their size, feedstock variety and how they deal with the biogas, they all have differing needs. And the same can be true of the owners, some are one-man bands needing a variety of services from biological health, permit/regulator support and routine maintenance and some are part of larger organisations that just need more nuanced help here and there. So, working with a one size fits all contract is not what people want. As a result, Mark then tasked the team to speak to each customer and really find out what they want (rather than what we think they need – so easy to say and so difficult to actually do!).

On the back of this work Marches are now offering bespoke agreements to anyone with a requirement for operational support. So if you know of a plant that would require some light touch assistance to one that needs more regular help feel free to get in touch and Mark and the team can really get to the bottom of what is required and offer something that hits the spot and ensures you only pay for what you want and require. What’s more if this changes over time we can ensure that what we offer changes in line.

Just another step on the journey to becoming a truly customer focused organisation….

1st October 2020

 

In this blog I want to talk a little about the company structure.  As the astute observer to Marches Biogas will know the company has two major areas; new projects that Keith looks after and Marks area of 3rd party plant support known as ‘Evolution Biogas’. This side of the business was set up to help operate and maintain existing plants, many of which Marches built, helping out with a variety of services. Therefore, the two companies of Marches Biogas Ltd (Trading as Principal Biogas) and the wholly owned subsidiary of Evolution Biogas Ltd were born. These were companies that each filed accounts and all the associated paraphernalia that goes with managing limited companies.

In theory this was to make the business simpler and offer a clear delineation of people, spares and associated costs to make the running the business simpler. In some ways it did what it what was intended with teams working for each of the two companies and accounts produced annually.

Nevertheless, running two companies, however you look at it, does involve additional costs from the straight forward costs of running an extra company to allocation of costs and invoices. And if Mark’s team did a job for Keith’s team or vice versa it all had to be allocated, meaning management and the finance department burning relatively unproductive hours.

But what was worse was that confusion was created with our customers, we found that customers wanted to get Marches Biogas to provide plant maintenance work and yet they were being invoiced from Evolution Biogas. It just made life more complicated and let’s face it, no one wants that!

So we have merged and Mark’s team is now working hand in hand with Keith’s all under the banner of Marches Biogas – as a friendly Meerkat  frequently says on the TV adverts – Simples…. 

17th September 2020

The beauty of having a diverse team is people are always coming up with new ideas. Some sound great at first listening and then common sense tells you that actually they are not really going to work – and some, well, they just get better the more you think about them.

Marches have always offered face to face training (although with Covid it tends now to be via Teams and Zoom), in fact we have just carried out an online course for ADBA.  It was very well received, especially the virtual plant tour at the end using drone footage, with 35 delegates ranging from students, regulators such as the EA, major AD stakeholders such as the NFU and overseas people.  

So recently when Lucy came up with the idea of an online E learning based training scheme at a management meeting, there was a prolonged silence, (well it’s not something we normally do!) and then out came a series of supportive comments and then Lucy was tasked to come up with some ideas….

So that was a little time ago and Lucy did indeed come back with a fully developed and thought out training course that could take a total anaerobic digestion novice and impart the key features of the technology in just a couple of hours study. What’s more we have just launched it, so if you are interested please have a look and see what you think. On top of this Lucy has others in development which will cover all sorts of topics, so watch the website to see when they will be coming out, there will be something for all levels, from beginners wanting a better understanding to those looking to investigate topics in great detail. And with the experience of Marches behind it you will know that it’s all correct and up to date.

In some companies’ management meetings can be somewhat tedious affairs, but here they are much more fun, knowing it won’t be long before we are challenged with thinking about another great idea…

2nd September 2020

So in February the Covid-19 storm hit the UK, which meant lots of changes in the way we all go about our daily lives. The worry about the symptoms of catching this new disease from the East, what it would mean to our personal and work lives and how they would be irrevocably changed.

So now we are all 6 months into the journey, we think it’s worth stepping back and looking at the new normal; what changes we thought might happen and what differences are now in place for us, the Marches Biogas family and the wider world at large.

When it all hit home that lockdown was going to be a reality, we all expected to be baking and learning foreign languages and playing instruments. The big question was that now we could only do an hours’ worth of exercise a day would all this extra baking mean we are able to balance the waist line impact of the new regime.

However, like any problem, we worked systematically through the issues and now have risk assessments and method statements that address the Covid-19 risk. If you had said in January that we would have needed a completely new section in our documentation, I think Sarah, our HQSE manager would have been a little bit hurt; however new sections we have. The whole team are aware that anyone can catch this most transmittable of diseases, but to pass it on would be a trauma, not only to the individuals concerned but to the effectiveness of the team in general.

So, as we have discussed before, Teams meetings, home working, masks, hand washing and all the other risk mitigation issues remain very firmly in force and look to be so into the long term.

But it has not been all doom and gloom, like a number of organisations we have found working from home to be positive as a means of balancing out the work life balance and concentrating on our productivity rather than just hours at work. We are very conscious that we live in a beautiful part of the world, but it is a little remote, so as we expand could we have a team made up of people in a central office, perhaps we can recruit on the basis of home working and so get a larger cohort of applicants – all questions to be considered for the future! This is just one example of how this Covid-19 challenge is positively asking us to think again about how we go forwards.

So retrospectively we come back to the issue of looking back on Covid; clearly, it’s been a challenge, but one we are up to, however, certainly in my case the hour of exercise was clearly not enough….

19th August 2020

In this blog we want to talk a little about the changes in support that the AD industry has received over the last decade (so apologies if this is a little dry!). Prior to 2008 the AD industry was supported via Renewable Obligation certificates, which through a complicated mechanism offered a good level of support to AD with feedstock dictating the differing levels of support.

Then in 2008 the UK government, through Ofgem put in two new measures to support renewable energy which included AD. This support was for the electricity produced from onsite CHP’s and was known as the Feed in Tariff (FiT) and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) where methane could be put into the national gas grid, or where heat could be utilised. When these supports were launched, they were generous enough, with fixed supports for 20 years which allowed the industry the certainty it needed to expand. And expand it did, growing from a handful of non-sewage works plants to what it is today at around 650 plants commercial plants with Marches very much at the center of this building over 30 of these.

That’s the good news; the bad news is that over time Ofgem has scaled back this support, in a process known as degression, making the financial justification for new plants more challenging. That is not to say that the development of new plants in the UK has stopped, some developers are still working on RHI plants before the scheme eventually closes and also where the heat and electricity produced replaces a more expensive supply. And indeed, we are now seeing schemes being justified on their additional environmental benefit as opposed to a purely financial one which is great and we are sure everybody supports.

So, Keith, Mark and the rest of the team are still very interested in new projects and if anyone has something of interest please send us a message and we will talk you through how we see it. One of the beauties about having so much experience around the place is we will have seen the majority of issues you may be facing, with means of overcoming even the most seemingly intractable problem, so don’t worry we will probably have literally seen it before!

This expansion of plants has created a remarkable industry, what is amazing is the low number of projects that did not eventually work successfully. So even if you are looking at one of these ‘problem plants’ we will have suggestions to help the situation.

5th August 2020

   

The second edition; that tricky second album….

So for this edition of the blog we want to talk about how Marches operates. Recently there have been big changes in the way the company is managed, and although in other companies this type of change could mean unpleasantness and stress, in Marches Biogas this has not been the case.

Russell Mulliner started Marches Biogas in 2009 and has led the company (and it’s not without justification to say the Anaerobic Digestion industry as well).  However recently he has decided that he would like to step back from the day to day management and to concentrate on what he really loves, that of the engineering challenges of Marches customers. Just to change management structure was not the limit of his ambition, but to change the whole shareholding of the company as well.

So, since February of this year, the changes came into action and now Keith Knight and Mark Pugh are managing the business, who to be fair had been making the majority of the day to day decisions for some time anyway.  For those of you who don’t know, the pair have worked together for many years in a number of engineering contracting business’s and Keith was instrumental in getting Mark to join the business in 2019. This has allowed Russell to do what he enjoys, going to sites and sorting out what to some would be insurmountable conundrums; in theory he is working less hours but you would never know it!

But these are not the limit of changes we were referring to when Russell started the handover process; he was adamant that everyone who works for Marches would have an ownership in the company and so that’s what has happened. Everyone who worked for the company when the changes came into effect is now a shareholder.

So now the changes have been in place for just over six months and clearly the Covid situation has been a challenge but the new management structure has not, just another one of Russell’s great ideas……

22nd July 2020

This is a new blog to talk about life (and of course anaerobic digestion!) in and around Marches Biogas. We want to talk about all the interesting and exciting things that are going on in the company and its community.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Covid-19; we have not been immune to its effects, and although things have certainly been interesting, the spirit and in-built positivity has meant that we are now optimistic about the way ahead and looking forwards to servicing our customers’ needs.

Before the new ‘normal’ we had a face to face meeting on Monday morning in the main office, with everyone gathered round to hear the latest news and plans for the week, fuelled on the strongest coffee known to man (or at least Tom!). Now we have moved to people working primarily from home or going straight to site and we too have moved to the world of, ‘Teams and Zoom’ meetings. Still the same frank exchange of ideas and underlining ‘bon homie’ but at a clear social distance. We have also started undertaking virtual meetings with clients to maintain client contact.

So we hope you all like the idea of this new blog, we have lots of ideas of things to cover, from explaining new energy supports for AD, to looking at our plans for new services (which we are really excited about) and tales of the jobs and characters that makes Marches Biogas the dynamic company we know it to be.