Powercrumbs: from sewage to sustainable fuel for construction

18 April 2024 9:00

Construction projects release pollutants. Mostly because of heavy construction equipment that runs on diesel and emits nitrogen, particulate matter and CO2. The company Powercrumbs (Arnhem) introduced an innovative product which supplies biogas as a sustainable fuel to construction projects, to replace polluting diesel. They obtain the biogas from the sewage treatment plants of the water boards in the area where sewage water is collected to be cleaned. Co-founder Jan Willem Eising explains how Powercrumbs managed to gain a foothold with their innovative technology in a short period of time.

Foto van een vrachtagen met een container

Collection and transport

The sewage cleaning process releases residues that are fermented. This creates biogas. Water treatment plants release much more biogas than necessary. The superfluous gases are flared off (burned). Such a waste, thought Eising and his partners Pieter Mans and Jelmer Kalff. Because the surplus biogas can be put to very good use in another place: the construction site. Eising: 'We went into the lab in 2020 to test the conditions under which we can transport biogas under high pressure. That led to a new technique with which we can affordably store and transport large quantities of biogas to construction projects.' In doing so, Powercrumbs solves two major problems. First, it combats biogas wastage, and second, it prevents nitrogen, particulate matter and CO2 emissions on construction sites.

What is biogas?

Biogas is made from biomass, such as waste from agriculture, industry and households. Through a process of fermentation, biogas is created. Biogas must be purified before it can be used. Then it becomes green gas and has the same properties as natural gas. It can therefore be blended into the regular gas grid. Car fuel can also be made from green gas. Powercrumbs uses the biogas to generate electricity on construction sites.

Mobile filling stations

'We are working on a nationwide network so we can supply construction projects throughout the Netherlands with renewable energy,' says Eising. 'We feed a generator from our partners that is then used to charge heavy construction vehicles. This sustainable alternative to diesel works well for large projects that cannot get a connection to the power grid.'

“'With our gas, construction can still take place in and near protected Natura 2000 areas.”

Powercrumbs can move quickly. 'We place a filling station at a water treatment plant within two weeks. With that we fill the Powerboxes we deliver to 10 to 20 construction sites.' Eising continues: 'We are always looking for a balance. We have to produce enough biogas, but not too much. Otherwise, it still has to be burned. That's a terrible waste and not good for the atmosphere.' Powercrumbs' method reduces particulate matter 100% and makes nitrogen at least 85% cleaner. 'Because of those nitrogen results, we stay below the critical deposition value (the amount of pollutants an ecosystem can tolerate over a long period of time without damage to the structure or functioning of that system). That's why our gas can still be used to build in and near protected Natura 2000 areas," Eising says.

Big growth steps

Powercrumbs has spent two years setting up this new fuel chain. Eising: "We financed our first filling station using funding. This allowed us to show that our idea works. In our search for follow-up financing, we encountered Rabobank. Rabobank knows the market of both biogas products and construction companies well, because they have both in their portfolio. So they understand our challenges and share our passion for the energy transition. In 2023, we received our first financing. With this we were able to realize three new filling stations and make a nice step towards black figures. Now we are discussing our next growth step.

Jan willem Eising staat voor container
Jan Willem Eising at a Powerbox of Powercrumbs

The role of Rabobank

Thijs Reiling is a banker in the Rabobank's Startup & Scale-up team and is involved in the partnership: 'We were immediately positive about the idea of Powercrumbs and its impact on sustainability. It cuts both ways: sewage treatment plants are facing a flaring problem, and the construction industry is struggling with sustainability. It’s a great example of a chain collaboration. We started our collaboration with a loan. Most of it was an innovative surety loan, which offers entrepreneurs with an innovative idea a slightly broader guarantee. The remainder was a credit for working capital.' Powercrumbs may still be small, but Reiling sees plenty of room for growth: 'There are many sewage plants with this problem. That offers room to scale up. It's nice when a company has that prospect, that they can solve a problem in multiple places.'

Growth opportunities

Eising also sees plenty of growth potential: 'We are now working on water treatment, but we are also looking further afield. There are more residual streams that are being fermented, for example at landfills and farms. So we already have a number of new locations planned for this year. We want to have a nationwide network as soon as possible.' Powercrumbs likes to work with all kinds of different partners in this. Eising: 'There are specialized companies that have been building and renting out generators or building filling stations and power boxes for years. We like to use this expertise to accelerate the realization of our ambitions. Rabobank's network can also help with that.' Powercrumbs has achieved a lot in a short time, something Eising is proud of. 'Four years ago we started in a lab, now we are talking about a national network. I'm really proud of that. We're actually solving a problem.

Find out which financing suits your business

With the help of Rabobank, Powercrumbs was able to make great strides. Wondering what we can do for your startup or scale-up? Check out our various financing products and innovation funds for sustainable growth in every stage of development. Besides financing, the Startup & Scale-up team is also happy to put its knowledge and network to work for you.

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