UK waste wood-fired plants to import feedstock - WRA

Two large-scale facilities have come online this year with more in the pipeline, forcing operators to look further afield to safeguard feedstock

UK-based biomass plants are beginning to trial importing waste wood from the rest of Europe as the sector looks to ensure stable feedstock supplies, according to trade body the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA).

WRA chair, Andy Hill, told ENDS that between 2017 and 2018 UK biomass-fired capacity had "finally arrived", taking some 50% of the available waste wood on the market, which he estimated totalled about 4.5 million tonnes.  

However, as the WRA has previously said, the winter of 2017/18 also saw the UK’s biomass sector experience its "first real scarcity" as higher demand pushed up use.

Hill explained that UK-based biomass plants now appeared to be looking to strike deals to take waste wood from overseas to safeguard against potential shortages of domestic waste wood suitable for energy recovery. 

He said: "Trial shipments from Europe to the UK are developing, we’ll see that coming in the next few months." 

In June last year, the WRA also said waste wood exports from the UK dropped by 50% as the UK’s domestic capacity increased. Hill said he now did not see this as a blip, but rather a continuing downward trend as the UK continues to build up its domestic capacity. 

Hill also said the impact of new-build capacity that was still coming online in the UK was yet to be fully felt. Facilities such as Margam, which opened in June, and the Templeborough plant, which opened in March, would take a lot of capacity, he said. 

At full processing capacity, the two plants can take a total of 620,000t/yr of waste wood. 

Hill said potentially some under-development plants designed to fire on waste wood could also consider switching to waste-firing. The Port Clarence biomass-fired plant has previously been rumoured to be a candidate for switching to an energy-from-waste plant after it appeared to miss a deadline to qualify for Renewables Obligation (RO) subsidies last year.

Hill concluded by saying that regardless of the timing and the type of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, he does not expect Brexit to pose a "significant problem" for the sector. He said: "The indications are waste-based fuels will flow freely between the UK and Europe and vice versa. The market tends to find a way."

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