EWB Insight report: Dec/Jan 2021

This month: Could 2021 mark a change in PR strategy for EfW, pressure increase on the Dutch to drop waste-import tax, dire warning of lack of waste investment in NI and a full facilities round up

Could 2021 mark a change in PR strategy for EfW?

The energy-from-waste sector has never been overly vocal about its dealings, with many developers remaining almost silent about under-development facilities, except when planning rules mandate them to, until the project has cleared most hurdles.

However, since late last year there has been a flurry of announcements, which may indicate the start of a sea change in the sector’s approach.

Examples include Suez publicising a feedstock-supply deal with Wheelabrator, while Belgium-based Indaver confirmed financial close for its Essex-based EfW facility and Brockwell Energy did the same for its Westfield Energy Recovery facility.

Specialist energy-from-waste consultancy Tolvik director Adrian Judge said: “There are two specific drivers for this increased publicity. Firstly, to create elbow room as the market tightens, which means there is less waste in the marketplace, so developers and suppliers are announcing contracts to say ‘we’re in a good position, stay away’ to rivals.

“Secondly, environmental concerns have come up the agenda following the UK’s announcement of the Sixth Carbon Budget last December. We’ve seen incineration taxes introduced in Sweden and the Netherlands, so there’s a real focus on carbon and operators may be trying to show that if they introduce environmental elements to projects then they shouldn’t be taxed in the future.”

Backing up Judge’s point on environmental technology, both Viridor and Suez have announced developments in the carbon capture and storage (CCS) sector. Viridor said in late January that it was “actively exploring technology options”, while Suez and oil-giant BP confirmed in November they were developing a joint project in north-east England.

Both Viridor and Suez are bidding for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council’s under-development 450,000-tonne-a-year EfW plant, which the council told ENDS last year would incorporate CCS technology.

Separately, Suez is the subject of an ongoing takeover bid by rival waste-firm Veolia, and the move to be more open about its contracts, such as with Wheelabrator, could be seen as an attempt to show market regulators its share was too large to allow a merger.

Viridor also has new owners in the form of US-based investment fund Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and perhaps pressure to show its performance to shareholders has also increased its interest in PR efforts.

Finally, Judge said a further “possibility contributory” factor to increased press activity could be the lack of opportunities to discuss projects at trade events, as we approach almost a year of varying restrictions on public gatherings across Europe.

Policy update

Netherlands-based EfW plant operators have again called on the Dutch government to drop its controversial €32 per tonne (£28.7/t) tax on refuse imported for energy recovery. A coalition of EfW companies, ARN, Attero, AVR and EEW, said: “After eighteen months of unsuccessful consultation, this coalition is making an urgent appeal to the government.”

An EU-funded report called for “de-toxifying the debate surrounding bioenergy”. The EU-funded JRC confirmed the RED II Directive will “effectively minimise negative impacts associated with the use of woody biomass for energy”. RED II was backed by the European Parliament in November 2018. The EU General Court then last year dismissed an "ill-informed" challenge by NGO the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI).

The minister in charge of the environment in Ireland, Eamon Ryan, “acknowledged” the country’s recent €50m fine for not hitting renewable heat targets would have been better spent on promoting “sustainable local biomass supply chains for supply of renewable fuel”. The minister made the concession in a meeting with the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA).

Brussels-based trade bodies the European Biogas Association (EBA) and bioethanol-backing ePure have both voiced disappointment with the EU’s latest attempt to decarbonise transport. The EU’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy misses easy wins from biomethane, bio-CNG and renewable EU-produced ethanol, the bodies say.

The Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) was “considering the options available” and did not rule out legal action to block plans by all four of the UK’s environmental regulators to prevent certain types of waste wood from being used to make panel boards and only allow them to be sent to biomass-fired plants. Currently, RPS 207 allows mixed waste wood to be used to make panel boards and as a fuel in Chapter IV-compliant biomass-fired plants until the end of July next year. The regulators have said that from August this potentially hazardous material can only be sent to biomass-fired plants.

Separately, the UK’s government’s decision to allow biomass-fired plants to continue processing post-consumer waste wood (PCWW) as feedstock is the “best outcome for the environment”, according to the WRA. Fellow trade body the REA also welcomed the announcement, however, it was also “concerned that a significant policy gap post-March 2021 remains”. There is a “lack of clarity around support... this needs to be addressed urgently”.

England’s Environment Agency staff capacity was reduced on average by 16% between May and November last year, according to figures revealed to ENDS under freedom of information rules. The regulator began tracking staff capacity across the business in May 2020, but its capacity tracker is not mandatory for staff, meaning actual absence levels are likely to be higher.

One million tonnes of bio-based liquefied petroleum gas (bioLPG) could be produced each year from technologies that use household waste, woody biomass and cooking oils, according to a study commissioned by Liquid Gas UK (LGUK). It suggests the gasification of up to three million tonnes of RDF from the household waste stream could potentially produce around 368,000t/yr of a mixture of bioLPG and low-carbon LPG.

Emissions trading will not be replaced by a carbon tax in January, the UK government confirmed, saying it will explore the scheme’s expansion into new sectors. Although for now the UK’s trading scheme will continue to cover the same installations, the government was “committed to exploring” its expansion to other sectors, which could potentially include energy-from-waste plants.

In a connected development, earlier this month environmental professional Georgia Elliott-Smith secured a full legal hearing for a judicial review of the government’s initial decision to exclude EfW facilities from its planned scheme.

Germany-based trade body BVSE voiced “disappointment” over proposed amendment to the Organic Waste Ordinance rules in Germany. It said the responsibility for checking the types of waste processed had been “transferred” to plant operators, while collectors “get away without specific requirements”.

Market insight

Energy-waste-plant developer and operator Wheelabrator Technologies and waste management firm Suez have signed a feedstock supply deal for three of the former’s under-development facilities. The plants involved are the Multifuel Energy Limited Skelton Grange facility in Leeds, Wheelabrator Kelvin in West Bromwich, and Wheelabrator Kemsley North (WKN) in Kent and are all due to be operational by the end of 2025.

In a connected development, the Skelton Grange EfW plant has also signed a feedstock deal with Ireland-based Beauparc to supply 100,000t/yr to the facility.

Local authority-owned waste management company Arc21 issued a dire warning that Northern Ireland is facing a looming “waste crisis” due to a lack of investment in new infrastructure. In particular, the development of an 18MWe EfW plant able to process up to 300,000t/tr was “key”, said Arc21. It had taken the plant forward initially, but the development is now being led by Belgium-based Indaver.

Northern Ireland-based waste management firm Re-Gen Waste confirmed a “one-off incident” where part of its shipment of waste-derived feedstock fell into the sea while being exported to a US-based EfW plant. The company told ENDS it was “distressed to learn” that a one-tonne bale had fallen into the sea, broken up and caused plastic to wash up on the coast.

The WRA said England’s second major lockdown, which began in January, will have less of an impact on the bioenergy sector and will “hopefully” not be as bad as the one last spring. “Because HWRCs appear to be remaining open during this lockdown we aren't anticipating any issues with waste wood for energy supplies this time,” the association said.

Waste management business Geminor revealed that fellow Norway-based technology company Quantafuel has bought a 40% stake in it with the aim of creating a “leading player in material recycling and energy recovery in Europe”. The value of the deal was reported as being worth NOK168m (€16.2m) in Quantafuel shares plus cash of about NOK2m (€193,431).

Waste company Eco-Power Environmental (Hull) applied for an environmental permit for an EfW feedstock-producing site. The facility would be located within the Melton Waste Park which is operated by Transwaste Recycling and Aggregates on Gibson Lane, Melton, Hull. It will “process up to 250,000t/yr of wastes” to produce SRF and RDF.

Eco-Power also signed a deal with Tarmac struck a deal to supply 25,000t of SRF to the latter’s Tunstead cement kiln in Derbyshire. Eco-Power will supply the SRF from its Humberside-based facility, which can produce up to 125,000t/yr.

Oil giant Shell dropped out of a consortium aiming to develop a waste-to-jet-fuel facility known as the Altalto Immingham plant. The remaining partners, technology developer Velocys and airline British Airways (BA), said the development would “continue according to its existing development plan”. The pair added there remained “strong interest” in the project.

Oil and gas giant Total confirmed a deal to take over anaerobic digestion plant designer, builder and operator Fonroche Biogaz, giving it a 10% share of France’s market. Total said its acquisition had “close” to 500GWh through a portfolio of seven operational plants and four that will become operational “imminently”.

Anaerobic digestion-backing trade body the EBA has revealed the market for biomethane production “continues to grow significantly”. According to the latest EBA Statistical Report, which covers data up to the end of 2019, there are 18,943 biogas plants and 725 biomethane-producing facilities across Europe, producing 167TWh of biogas and 26TWh of biomethane annually.

The municipality of Amsterdam confirmed the sale process for Afval Energie Bedrijf (AEB) would start in the first quarter of this year. AEB operates six lines at two sites in Westpoort, north-west of Amsterdam. The company also owns a biomass-fired facility, which began supplying heat last July.

UK-based Biffa says it will defend itself against a legal action from victims of what has been branded the UK’s “largest-ever modern slavery ring”. Solicitors Leigh Day said it had sent a pre-action protocol letter to Biffa, Smart Solutions and FS Commercial on behalf of the three people who were among more than 80 complainants in two criminal trials, which took place in 2018 and 2019.

The company behind the failed RDF-producing Tovi Eco Park appears to have conceded the facility will not become fully operational and has started a redundancy process with about 40 staff. UBB subsidiary UBB Waste Essex, which went into administration last summer, had a waste contract with Essex County Council to build the plant, but it has never worked properly.

Landowner Peel L&P launched a new business called Peel NRE. An “important part” of the development will be the UK’s first plastic-to-hydrogen facility using technology supplied by Powerhouse Energy. Peel has previously said it plans to build 10 more of the plants, following one it is currently developing at its Cheshire-based Protos site.

Lithium-ion batteries cause fires that cost the waste sector about £158m (€177m) a year, research has revealed. Consultancy Eunomia wrote the report, which was produced jointly with trade body the Environmental Services Association (ESA). An estimated 201 waste fires are caused by these batteries every year in the UK.

Utility company Bord na Móna announced it will no longer extract peat for energy purposes as it seeks to accelerate its transformation into a “climate solutions company”. Ireland’s High Court had sounded the death knell for large-scale peat extraction in 2019 when it ruled that operations spanning more than 30 hectares required full planning permission.

Investment fund DIF Capital Partners increased its share in the Dublin Waste to Energy project by a further 10% to control half of the plant. Netherlands-based DIF said it had increased its stake, which is held through its DIF Infrastructure V fund. The move followed on from DIF’s initial investment in the 58MWe Poolbeg-based plant, which it made in May 2019.

Landfill gas technology suppliers Waga Energy and waste company Ferrovial Servicios announced Eurpe’s first landfill-based biomethane-injection project to be financed by a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA). Waga said the technology, which will be commissioned next year, will treat up to 2,200m3/h of landfill gas and inject 70GWh of biomethane a year into the gas network of Spanish operator Nedgia.

Two companies have combined to supply what they have called “scaleable” EfW plants. Japan-based Sumitomo SHI FW (SFW) and Finnish firm Woima Finland are bringing “scalable, easy-to-deploy” EfW plants to the global market. The plants use grate combustion technology and can process waste levels from 30,000 tonnes a year up to 200,000t/yr to supply electricity and heating or cooling.

Facilities update - EfW

EfW plant developer J Mould (Reading) is working to secure planning consent for a 150,000t/yr cogeneration facility and data centre to be built in Reading Quarry. West Berkshire Council is considering the application.

US-based Covanta, Australia-based Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) and UK-based Biffa’s 400,000t/yr Protos-based EfW plant confirmed the facility has achieved financial close after a protracted process. ENDS understands construction will start this month and the plant is “expected to enter commercial operations” in 2024.

The Northwich-based Lostock Sustainable Energy Plant (LSEP) has revealed plans to increase its feedstock-processing capacity to 728,000 tonnes of waste a year. LSEP said it would apply to the UK government to vary the consent granted in 2012. A decision is expected in spring 2022.

Killoch-based Barr Environmental became the latest EfW plant developer to drop the use of gasification technology. New plans would allow the plant to process up to 166,000t/yr of non-recyclable waste from landfill each year using moving grate-combustion technology rather than the gasification-tech consented in 2017.

Developer Exeter Waste to Energy applied for an environmental permit for its Hill Barton-based facility after changing the development’s technology. The new plans, which also boosted the plant’s annual capacity from 72,000 to 125,000t/yr, confirmed a move to two gasifiers that would heat water to drive a single steam turbine and produce electricity.

Waste management company Levenseat told ENDS it is “proud” to have finally developed the first phase of its EfW plant despite its “longer-than-average commissioning timetable”.

EfW plant operator Viridor and construction firm CNIM confirmed the former’s 12th facility, located in Avonmouth, had been handed over. The 320,000t/yr and 33MWe EfW plant was handed over in December. and will be able to export up to 307GWh of electricity a year. Some of that power and also some of the heat produced by the EfW plant will go to a co-located multi-polymer plant.

Binn Group won planning consent from Perth & Kinross Council to build an EfW facility at its Ecopark site near Glenfarg, Scotland, and plans to start construction later this year on the 84,900t/yr facility.

EfW plant developers Indaver and Gent Fairhead & Co confirmed their fully consented 49.9MWe Rivenhall facility reached financial close. Indaver said it would be financing the project, with “around £500m (€561m) of total investment expected”. Currently “there has been no decision” on who the main construction contractor for the build will be.

Waste Energy Partners’ Malvern-based EfW plant is now in commissioning after being severely delayed by Covid and Brexit-related issues. The facility’s sole feedstock supplier Andusia confirmed the clinical waste-processing project was back on track having missed a target to be operational by October last year.

Chemical manufacturer Borealis and waste company Bionerga confirmed their jointly developed EfW plant was now operational. The pair said the Beringen-based facility was now allowing Borealis to source up to half its power and steam needs from waste. The facility, officially known as the Biostoom EfW plant, will be operated by Bionerga. The RDF-fired plant has a capacity of 15MWe.

A consultation was opened into awarding an environmental permit to EfW plant developer BH EnergyGap (Doncaster). The consultation confirms the plant will use a moving-grate combustion system instead of its previously planned gasification technology. The EfW project resurfaced earlier this year when BH EnergGap revealed gasification technology had seen a “collapse” in investor confidence. The facility will process up to 350,000t/yr and have a planned capacity of 34MWe.

UK-based investor Cema UK bought an under-development EfW project in Poland. Cema said the cogeneration facility has a planned capacity to process 109,000t/yr of RDF. ENDS has been told the facility’s capacities will be up to 23.5MWth and 9.4MWe. Poland-based Cema Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cema UK, will develop the project, which is fully consented and has all the necessary permits to move forward.

EEW Energy from Waste revealed that a power loss at its Stapelfeld-based EfW plant led to a fire and odours problems. The company said “several unfortunate” events combined to create the “long outage”. Because waste was being processed, without power to control the flow, flames were able to spread to the waste bunker. The facility's usual backup plan to source emergency power from the HanseWerk Natur cogeneration plant did not work either, according to EEW.

England’s environmental regulator the EA told interested parties it will issue an environmental permit for the otherwise fully consented EfW and waste-to-fuel plants in Bradford. The facilities’ developer, Endless Energy, was granted a draft permit in June, at which time the EA said it was “minded” to issue a full permit “following a rigorous environmental assessment of the proposed activities”. The EfW plant would be able to process up to 100,000t/yr of RDF and have a capacity of 10-11MWe. On the same site, a waste-pstics melting facility with a capacity to take up to 30,000t/yr will also produce up to 28.5 million litres of fuel annually.

UK-based utility SSE Thermal and Denmark-based investment fund Copenhagen Infrastructure Parers (CIP) have confirmed construction will shortly start at their jointly owned 480,000t/yr EfW plant in Slough. Construction is expected to start in “early 2021” with the facility due to be fully operational by 2024. SSE had been developing the facility by itself but CIP acquired a 50% stake in April. No financial terms have been disclosed.

Waste management firm Veolia applied to process about 10,000t/yr of “orange bagged waste” at its Sheffield EfW plant on a permanent basis. The EA has consulted on the move. Interestingly, in August the EfW plant applied to be able to source waste from further afield, citing falling waste arisings from Sheffield itself. The application has yet to be decided by Sheffield City Council.

Cory Riverside Energy signed a contract with Canary Wharf Group for processing residual waste and dry mixed recycling produced on the Canary Wharf estate in central London. The contract, which started in January, will cover an initial 12-month period.

Local authority Aberdeen City Council launched a tender for a business to operate its planned waste-fired Torry Heat Network. Once appointed, the contractor would also “provide advice” to the council during the detailed design and construction phase of the Torry Heat Network, which will source heat from an under-construction EfW plant known as the Ness facility.

Local authority Wolverhampton City Council agreed a £16m (€17.7m) deal with waste management firm Suez to plug a capacity gap at its Crown Street-based EfW facility of about 42,000t/yr. The council stated the contract would be for a 50-month period and would be reviewed in spring 2022.

Lódz-based Veolia Nowa Energia launched a tender for the construction of a new EfW plant. The contract will be run on a turnkey basis. ENDS understands the local authority of Lódz signed off on the consenting process for the facility in 2015 and, if built, it will process up to 200,000t/yr.

Energy-from-waste plant developer Brockwell Energy confirmed it is very close to achieving financial close and being able to move to construction on its 23.7MWe Westfield Energy Recovery facility. The company told ENDS it should make financial close in January with construction starting around “February or March”. It will process up to 200,000t/yr and export more than 21.5MWe of its capacity.

The fully consented Edmonton-based EfW plant signed an agreement to supply heat and hot water in a deal hailed as a “landmark” for the vast project. The municipality-owned facility struck the deal with fellow local authority-owned business Energetik and the EfW plant’s operator LondonEnergy.

Facilities update - biomass

The Barry-based biomass-gasification project, known as Barry Biomass and Biomass No2, revealed it was shut down early last year and there is currently no date set for firing it up again. The Wales-based facility said it had not been in “active operation” since April of last year. The project is a 10MWe, 86,400t/yr facility.

Also in Cardiff, Parc Calon Gwyrdd has secured planning consent for its virgin wood-fired power plant again. Cardiff Council yesterday renewed the planning consent in January, it originally gave the development in 2017. The 9.5MWe will process up to 75,000t/yr if built.

Utility company Ørsted revealed it experienced problems with damage to air heaters at its biomass-converted Studstrup power plant in Denmark. It signed a deal to repair problems with the system that date back to 2018, although it did not reveal the name of the contractor or the value of the deal.

Utility companies Industrielle Werke Basel (IWB) and Agro Energie Schwyz (AES) announced a joint project to develop a “CO2-neutral” district heating system based on regional biomass feedstocks. The project includes a “modern heating network of over 100km”, a wood-fired power station, an ORC system and a biogas plant.

Voltalia revealed its French Guiana-based biomass plant started operating. The €75m plant started producing its first power just before Christmas. It has an overall capacity of 5.1MWe and processes “locally produced wood waste”.

Finland-based Valmet signed a deal with utility company Seinäjoen Energia to deliver a large-scale biomass-fired heating plant with a capacity of 49.5MWth. However, the output has since been boosted to 56.5MWth by the addition of a flue gas condensation unit.

Facilities update - biogas

Denmark-based Ørsted confirmed its long-delayed Renescience Northwich facility was fully commissioned. However, the facility has now been “downsized” to only treat 80,000t/yr of waste rather than the 120,000t/yr it was intended to take. Ørsted said the plant would have a baseload capacity of 3MWe – previously it was more than 6MWe. When the facility was first announced in 2015 it was expected to be commissioned in May 2017.

Utility company Gasum believes that by 2025 it will be able to bring 4TWh of biogas to market and slash its CO2 emissions. Gasum said reaching the 4TWh annual production mark within the next four years could cut its CO2 emissions by “one million tonnes” by replacing the use of fossil fuels with biogas. Gasum has recently bought several biogas facilities in its native Finland and in Sweden.

In January, Gasum also confirmed its large-scale Lohja biogas-producing plant was fully operational. Gasum announced the plant was in development in March 2019 and would process “biowaste” sourced from the Helsinki region.

Infrastructure developer Holistic Energy revealed plans for a huge Scotland-based complex – backed by Chinese money – that will include an array of renewable power facilities. These include two 30MWe waste-gasification plants, a 25MWe biomass-fired facility and a 10MWe anaerobic digestion unit.

Local authority Laois County Council has given planning consent to a biomethane-producing plant in Portlaoise, Ireland. Permission for the plant, being developed by utility company Bord na Móna, was granted this year. The 80,000t/yr biogas plant was first announced in 2018. Bord na Móna said it would process a combination of food waste, garden waste, animal slurries and energy crops.

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