Ultra Green outlines plan for low-carbon tech powerhouse

UK-based engineering group aims to grow tenfold during 2010 as it takes green construction, energy and biofuel systems to market

An eight-year old UK-based firm specialising in low-carbon technologies has set out an ambitious expansion plan which, if successful, could establish the firm as one of the world's largest green engineering conglomerates over the next few years.

Brighton-based Ultra Green has spent much of the last decade quietly recruiting scientists and engineers working on a wide variety of low-carbon innovations and, according to executive chairman Antony Blakey, the company is now poised to significantly ramp up its operations as it looks to take a range of low-carbon construction, biofuel and alternative energy technologies to market.

"We currently have around 100 people working across five divisions, but we are now negotiating $2bn worth of contracts and as projects get underway we will end up employing over 1,000 people by the end of the year."

The company remains cagey about the precise details of the contracts it is negotiating, but it holds patents across a wide range of different clean technologies, including biomass and waste-to-energy systems, energy-efficient construction materials, and biofuel development, as well as systems for enhancing the efficiency of oil extraction from existing wells.

One area Blakey is particularly optimistic about is the company's plans for new low carbon building developments that use advanced insulated concrete forms (ICF) construction materials to significantly enhance building's energy efficiency. "ICF - essentially built in foam insulation - has been used in building's walls for years, but our plan is to begin using it in a building's foundations and roof to create a completely sealed structure at much lower cost than existing approaches," he said.

He added that the approach would reduce the energy demand from a building to such a level that a community could effectively be powered by simply feeding the waste it generates into a small-scale waste-to-energy system also provided by Ultra Green.

The company is yet to embark on such a full-scale construction project, but Blakey said that it was in talks with the government of Northern Ireland, as well as authorities in the US and Brazil, about building a pilot development and is aiming to get work underway on its first construction project within the next 12 to 15 months.

Similarly, the company is in negotiations with Glasgow council about rolling out a waste-to-energy system that promises to avoid the need to send any waste to landfill.

However, arguably the most exciting development from the company comes in the form of its plans to commercialise a new biofuel development model which, if successful, promises to allow entire cities to generate renewable fuel from surrounding plots of land.

The company is cagey about the precise details of the technology, but claims to have to undertaken a programme of cross-breeding with three types of Chinese tree that have resulted in the development of a new form of tree that is suited to cold climates and produces extremely high oil yields from its seeds.

Blakey said that without resorting to any form of genetic modification the company had developed a series of agricultural techniques based on rapid germination, natural growth stimulants, and intensive pruning that would increase yields to a level where a relatively small land area could provide sufficient biofuel for an entire city.

"We've calculated that using an area of 450 hectares we could by year three produce 7.5m gallons of oil," he explained. "We could produce enough biofuel to support a city the size of Newcastle by year six, and by year 10 yields would be higher still, at which point you could simply use the biofuel to generate electricity using a biomass plant."

Blakey said that the company had early talks with Newcastle council about the proposals and, as with its other technologies, was now looking to raise project finance in order to get work underway on rolling out the technology.

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