“I find that working in energy gives me energy”, starts Phil. He is our Chief Engineer Thermal Applications and, for some reason, energy has always been a theme in both his working and personal life. Energy is the thing that gives Phil his passion and makes him tick. What is the energy source? How is it generated? How can I become energy self-sufficient? But also, how can we make the generation and use of energy more efficient, sustainable, secure and environmentally friendly? Just a selection of the questions running through Phil’s mind every day. But who is Phil? And why is he so passionate about our industry? Well, our energy guru is eager to tell you all about it.
PHIL: OUR POWER INDUSTRY EXPERT!
Phil has a variety of responsibilities, which include: development of Subcoal users in various industries - largely the power industry - and getting involved quite heavily on our own energy provision. “So historically Subcoal has been used largely in the cement industry. We’re also moving into the steel industry and we have used the fuel previously in the power industry, but we haven’t yet broken in to that sector in a meaningful sense. The power industry is a very large sector and it uses a lot of fossil fuel. The opportunities to use Subcoal to benefit the sector and improve its environmental performance is huge, so I develop that area of industry. That is my specialism”, explains Phil. But as mentioned, he is also involved in our own energy provision. Specific: our sites that produce Subcoal use a lot of heat and electricity to produce the fuel. Presently, it is largely provide by the grid. “We want to move away from that to a more sustainable, lower cost, self-sustaining option. So I’m also responsible for developing options to power our production sites sustainably and economically”.
Nothing is a dead end
“I have been working for N+P since July of 2022. So not so long, but I have been working with N+P for a quite a long time. My journey with N+P started at the point where I moved jobs to work for a company called Simec Atlantis to deliver a proposed conversion of a power plant from coal to 100% Subcoal in South-Wales. It was a very small company trying to do a very big project, so quite honestly, I got involved with everything that happened. And there was a lot of interplay with N+P as the fuel provider”, tells Phil.
Unfortunately, the project they were working on didn’t go ahead. At that point Phil had been working to develop the use of Subcoal to replace coal in the power industry for a couple of years. And guess what: he was sold on the concept. “I thought it was a brilliant endeavour: to utilize end of life waste as a direct substitute for coal”. As an engineer, Phil loves to keep this journey going, so the natural choice for him was to join N+P Group. Funny how things can turn out right? According to Phil, nothing is a dead end. Sometimes you move sideways and it becomes even more interesting.
The N+P Group way of working embodies openness according to Phil. “The organization structure is very flat. So everybody collaborates. We still have the smaller company ethos. We are not like this massive corporation where you don’t know everybody. You work with the whole team from the owner downwards. So you can be very influential”. Although N+P Group is in the growth phase, the small company ethos remains. This is something Phil really appreciates within N+P.
A new challenge every day
“We are growing very rapidly as a company. In terms of Subcoal production capacity, the beginning was quite modest, but that has changed as new production sites are developed and built out. The aim is to grow exponentially over the next five years”, tells Phil. “When we consider coal displacement in the power industry, we have to talk about very high tonnages to have a meaningful impact. Although we are in the growth phase, developing projects both for production and use of Subcoal, all of the hard work we have done up until now has proven that it can be done”.
Nevertheless, convincing a conservative industry without established demonstration projects is challenging. Luckily, our Phil understands the challenges faced by power producers when switching fuels and knows how it can be done successfully. “My years working as a power plant customer allows me to talk the same language and understand the many particular challenges faced by power plants as they look to decarbonise whilst remaining economically competitive”. Talking about challenges: Phil challenges himself every day. Because there is quite a lot involved in what he does. And that is precisely where Phil gets his personal energy from, the job is incredibly variable. “For example, one day we might be discussing the use of Subcoal with the biggest single unit boiler operator in Europe and the next day we’re busy developing concepts to power our own modest heat and electricity consumption with combined heat and power plants”.
Taking his skills abroad
Also working with different cultures makes his work diverse every day. Especially as N+P Group starts to develop outside Europe; the different cultures on the sites grow. “So you have to constantly adapt to the culture. That’s why I travel quite a bit. I do a bit of travel in the UK and to the offices in the Netherlands. But to the travel itinerary is full with visits to France, Bulgaria, Romania, Finland and this is growing all the time”.
Travelling for work is something Phil has always done. “I took my skills that I learned in the UK abroad. For example, I spent four years working and living in Hong Kong. But I have also worked in Eastern Europe, South-Africa, America, South-America. Throughout my career this is probably the thing I have relished most: applying the same technical knowledge, but culturally having to work with different people in different places”.
Being up front
On the question: what do you find the most important in your work? Phil responds directly: “Being up front and sharing as much as possible. Obviously without sharing all our secrets! But some companies guard every piece of knowledge, sharing as little as possible. I think, for me, the most important thing in working life is to share that knowledge as openly as possible so all parties can benefit from the positive aspects and work collaboratively to overcome the challenges”. And Phil’s good advice doesn’t end there: “Also don’t take it too seriously. Power industry projects almost always come with complex stories. And I can guarantee that during the project lifetime things will go wrong. You have to manage that whilst dealing with any conflict of opinion between parties in a positive way. But when the conflict is finished, and you all walk out of the meeting room, everybody has to remain friends. All parties want to achieve the same end goal, a successful project. So if the whole thing is successful everybody wins”.
Our own energy guru
“Nowadays we use energy quite unconsciously”, says Phil “We turn the boiler on for heat or we turn the light switch on. Generally, people do these things without thinking where the energy comes from or what its impact is”. And Phil thinks this is quite rash. Because energy is important! “I really do not agree with this idea that we should use energy unconsciously. There is a general lack of knowledge around the fundamentals of life, I think. And it’s not just energy, we don’t understand where our food comes from, where our clothes come from, and in the end where the waste goes. We tend to live in a societal bubble where we unconsciously consume energy and resources and reject waste without contemplating the wider impacts this has on our society or on the environment”, something Phil is concerned about. “And this is a modern issue, because throughout human history the procurement of energy, food, water and resources has been the most important thing we had to understand. For the bulk of our development these things dominated our daily lives. So even if you go back to the parents of our parents, they were absolutely conscious; they knew where their energy and heat came from. And where the food came from. For them, these things were the largest living costs they had to worry about”. explains Phil. “And if we go back a 150 years it took everybody’s effort to ensure we had sufficient food, water, energy and resources. The convenience of modern living has allowed us to lose this level of consciousness”.
But our Phil is definitely not losing this! Because in his personal life he also has a focus on energy, having almost entirely removed himself from the gas network. So he uses a very small amount of gas every year from the grid. Phil does use grid electricity mostly, but he also generates a little bit of electricity through different means. “I installed different systems to allowed my to do that. So I heat my own home through the resources I can find nearby”, tells Phil proudly. “For example, this year I used wood to heat my home. This means my bills are very low, but also I am very conscious of where my energy is coming from”. And this wood is waste from a packaging factory. So Phil uses the same principles as N+P does for his own home. So now you understand why we call him our own energy guru!
But it doesn’t stop here. Phil doesn’t buy his food directly from the supermarket. “I buy most of my food from a local farm. The majority of things I buy are generally sourced within let’s say 30 miles from my home. I also think this is very important. It is crazy that we pick up sweat corn in the middle of winter in UK supermarkets. The logistics required to bring it from Kenya to Wales is enormous. It is madness. Modern human life is built around convenience only! I think the more effort we put into our lives the more fulfilling and sustainable they become.”.
Milestones and dreams
We have several major projects ongoing in Europe. Recently we signed a collaboration agreement with Mitsubishi Power to help us deliver these projects. But we are also developing similar agreements with a number of power plants to burn 100% Subcoal. “But maybe the biggest highlight is the general vibe with which we are progressing. Together with Adam, I hope to achieve many more milestones in the coming years”, tells Phil. Adam is a colleague who joined N+P alongside Phil from their previous project. Together they are a brilliant team. So definitely many more successes are yet to come.
Great corporate milestones! But what is Phil’s biggest personal dream? “Living entirely free of modern society…except power plants of course! Until the kids leave home, I agreed with my wife, we will live a normal suburban life (mostly!). But after this, I plan to remove myself entirely from the grid. That is the plan. It would be very difficult but very rewarding. I think provide all our own food, especially in winter, will be nearly impossible, but worth a try. Our house will probably look like some kind of mountain shack or shepherds hut, you know something like a tiny house concept… mainly because that’s as far as my building skills go!” Let’s say, back to the roots. “It’s that, or we are going to live on a boat”, ends Phil.
We agreed to do this exact same interview every year from now on. So maybe some day we have to visit Phil, because there is no internet connection for an online meeting anymore. That would be a dream, right Phil?