Amid the high-profile campaigning around Net Zero, it is clear that every industry would like to become greener. But the reality is that the most polluting sectors may have other priorities to attend to first. 

For example, diesel generators are everywhere. From construction sites to data centres, diesel remains the most reliable and secure way for businesses to access power on-demand. They are even used as backup power to wind farms.

This necessity for energy security is stalling the transition to Net Zero, says IPG Energy CEO Toby Gill.

“We have to de-risk the transition for those companies,” he tells BusinessCloud. “If there is a day-to-day interruption, a seasonal interruption, or the price suddenly goes through the roof, you can rely on conventional fuels as an intrinsic built-in backup. 

“Their priorities are first and foremost to ‘get the job done’… then somewhere down the list is ‘make power on my site’. A construction company has never sat at the beginning of a tendering process for, say, HS2, and said: ‘Before anything else, let’s figure out where we’re getting the power from.’”

Surprisingly – given the progress being made with wind, solar, energy storage and the creation of renewable fuels – the diesel generator market is projected to almost double in size to $30 billion by 2030.

“The diesel generator continues to exist as the absolute foundation of providing energy security in these complicated applications – yet it’s left to one side and forgotten about,” says Gill. “We need to draw people’s attention to the fact that the dependency on these things is growing. And we need to really tackle that if we’re not going to undermine Net Zero.”

The solution?

IPG Energy – second on our EnviroTech 50 ranking this year – believes it has the solution. The London firm has developed Flameless Combustion technology – backed by academic institutions, government agencies and pioneering manufacturing and commercial partners – which delivers pollutant-free power from any fuel, enabling some of the world’s most polluting industries to switch to renewable fuels today with full energy security.

“What does the energy landscape look like in five, 10, 20 years time? If you go to an energy conference and ask a dozen people, I’m sure you will get half a dozen different answers to that question,” explains Gill.

“For us, it became clear that the uncertainty and complexities in trying to find a consensus on the ‘fuel of the future’ is itself prohibiting progress from being made.

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“It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: there exists some technologies that can use these renewable fuels – whether that’s hydrogen, ammonia or biomethane – but these industries don’t quite yet actually exist at scale to make these fuels. They’re absolutely dependent on each other existing and growing at the same pace to be able to deliver the economies of scale that would make it possible for any one of these solutions to displace diesel.

“Until you can make a cost-effective alternative, the rate at which you’ll be able to apply it across the entire industry is constrained. You won’t convince 100% of companies to do something that’s more expensive.

“By making a generator that can work on any fuel, you’ve basically disrupted that chicken-and-egg cycle – you can build demand ahead of the abundance of any one of those fuels. Our technology means you don’t have to close doors behind you. We don’t know what the future looks like and so this allows you to hedge your bets and be ready for whatever comes.”

Each of IPG Energy’s generators, available in 50 or 100 kilowatt modules, are housed in what looks like a shipping container. Gill – who joined as a business development analyst in 2017 and moved through the ranks to become CEO in 2020 – was central to the development.

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Following the completion of a £1m prototype project with National Highways and Cranfield University – delayed by COVID-19 – IPG Energy is now looking to deploy the first of its in-field product demonstrations with one of the UK’s largest construction companies.

Construction project

“Right now, they are predominantly dependent on diesel generators for the backbone of their power provision on construction sites. They have a real ambition to not do that,” says Gill.

“If there are interruptions to the supply of those renewable fuels, it increases the risk of power outages, which increases the risk of project delays – and project delays can be the most costly thing for construction companies. Typical delay costs are somewhere between 5-50% of the total original budgeted project cost and that can take away the profit margin of a construction project before you know it. 

“And so having that intrinsic backup that will also be pollutant-free tied into the same technology is incredibly valuable for them.”

IPG Energy – Reinventing fuel-based power for the net-zero future

The startup, which raised £1m last year – led by GreenTribe, via crowdfunding platform Seedrs – is now looking to raise a Series A round of investment.

Fuel-agnostic generators may be pragmatic from a future-proofing perspective, but they are also practical for on-site tests, says Gill.

“Project managers being able to say ‘let’s do a trial of hydrogen’ – or, say, biomethane from waste resources – moves it away from an academic exercise to building the trust and belief in an alternative solution,” he says.

“That’s the stage we’re at now. It’s turning those good ideas into tangible, proven values.”

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