What is the Zero Carbon Cooperative?

Queen’s University is leading an initiative funded by the UK Government’s community renewal fund to investigate the potential of delivering net-zero emissions on a local and regional basis through the establishment of zero-carbon cooperatives.


A zero-carbon cooperative (ZCC) is a partnership between local industry, business, farmers, and people. Modelled on the highly successful farming cooperatives, together this ZCC can jointly solve many local challenges in energy and the wider environment. Combining these solutions will greatly reduce waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution whilst creating a prosperous local economy with improved health and wellbeing for everyone.


A ZCC is designed to accelerate this change from fossil fuels to clean energy for local benefit. Rethinking how we can use renewable energy locally and manage waste from businesses, residents and farming creates opportunities for zero-carbon communities to deliver:

  • New products

  • Heat and green electricity

  • Carbon free living

  • Local jobs and economic growth

Success from Waste

In today’s world we have had great success with initiatives such as recycling household waste or using animal manures to produce biogas. These achievements have reduced, but not removed, the need for consumption of virgin raw materials, waste disposal by landfill or spreading of farm slurries on fields - all creating pollution and harm to the environment.

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We know how to prevent and reduce waste and pollution. However, many individual solutions are not low-cost or create new problems. A ZCC is designed to make the economics of waste and pollution reduction work by generating value from waste that would have been disposed of in landfills or dispersed into the local environment. 


An example is using waste heat generated from many industrial and other processes. Capturing this energy opens up the opportunity to provide low-cost heating for homes, schools, factories, and offices. Linking sources of waste heat into a heat-network can provide an extra income for businesses and stable, low-cost heat for all of us with the bonus of a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Combining and developing proven technologies

Technologies exist or are in late-stage development for the capture and utilisation of CO2 and the use of other waste streams. Many are not currently financially viable without significant incentives such as subsidies or future carbon taxes. Others, such as re-use of waste heat, are feasible today but producers are often not aware of opportunities outside of their core business and potential consumers do not have the scale, expertise or investment needed to benefit.

A ZCC is designed to overcome these barriers through:

  • A systems-based approach to drive-down operating costs by linking different technologies and local resources in a cascade to minimise input costs while maximising the number of products produced from those inputs

  • Connecting different companies in separate sectors together with expertise to advise on both the potential combination and use of different waste streams and to establish a viable local market

  • Engaging potential local consumers in the cooperative to facilitate early adoption and help shape the market offer

 

Intelligent design is an important component of a Zero-Carbon Cooperative

Successful cooperatives will match a range of different wastes streams with businesses and consumers that can use or transform these wastes to new products or low-carbon energy. A ZCC should be prosperous, sustainable, and near energy-independent while generating almost no pollution or waste for disposal. Achievement will see industry and agriculture benefit through:

  • Sale of waste for reuse

  • Reduction in Landfill and Carbon Taxes

  • Development of new business opportunities

  • Potential new revenue streams for carbon offsetting

  • Reduced risk of pollution and the cost of mitigation

  • Lower risk of external energy price shocks

Local communities, councils and people will also gain through:

  • New jobs, secured in a prosperous local economy

  • Low-cost, renewable heat and electricity

  • Substantially improved local environment and better health

All regions across Northern Ireland, rural or urban, have the potential to come together to develop a ZCC and wider zero-carbon communities. Each area has a wide range of different natural resources, waste streams, customers, and challenges to be solved due to the unique mix of industries, farming, public services, and distribution of housing. While a single model ZCC will not fit all situations, key components with proven outcomes can be used such as repurposing organic wastes (food, farm, forestry, sanitation) or redistributing surplus heat. An example ZCC is shown below:

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In the example above, heat and waste streams from industry, agriculture and households are combined with unused oxygen and heat from green hydrogen production. Together these unused wastes provide district heating for homes and industry; heat, nutrients, and feeds for novel forms of farming; and heat, CO2, and nutrients to an algal biorefinery producing biochemicals and biofuels. What was once considered wastes for disposal are transformed into new, zero-carbon products through new local businesses that create new skilled jobs in the community.