EWB Insight Report: February 2021

This month: Who will build the UK’s pipeline of EfW plants, NGOs “misrepresent” bioenergy, several businesses make moves in the biogas sector, and a full facilities round-up

While there is still no overall consensus on the size of the UK’s waste treatment capacity gap, concern is growing about who can build all of the energy-from-waste capacity currently in the planning pipeline.

It emerged in February that France-based CNIM was selling off its operations and maintenance (O&M) business, which looks after three EfW plants in the UK, along with four based in France and one in Azerbaijan.

When asked by ENDS, CNIM did not elaborate on whether this was part of a larger move away from the EfW sector.

Currently, CNIM is in the running to build the vast Edmonton-based EfW plant, in competition with Spain-based Acciona Industrial and Switzerland Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI).

However, an EfW-sector source told ENDS the company is only “nominally” involved in the bidding process to give the project three potential winners and would prefer not to win the deal after suffering financial issues with a series of other EfW builds.

The problems for CNIM, particularly in the UK, have been well publicised in recent years. It was working with Lagan Construction Group on Viridor’s Beddington EfW plant when Lagan went into administration in 2018, forcing CNIM to finish the project alone. Then a year later, another of CNIM’s EfW construction partners, Clugston Construction, also went into administration.

Aside from CNIM, the builders willing to take on EfW projects have dwindled recently, with another firm Interserve, which was not working directly with the French company, also going into administration in 2019.

The main companies left in the UK’s EfW construction sector are therefore HZI and Acciona.

While Acciona secured the contract to build a £150m (€174m) EfW plant known as the NESS Energy project in early 2019, it remains a new entrant to the UK’s market and is yet to complete a project here.

HZI is well established, but has several EfW projects on the go, including in Slough, south-east London and Rookery South, the last of which is due to open next year.

Policy update

The bioenergy division of the European Commission's energy-advisory body the International Energy Agency (IEA) has criticised the way campaigners have “misrepresented” the biomass-to-energy sector. Anti-bioenergy campaigns “do not give accurate impressions of on-the-ground forestry practice and bioenergy systems, and associate the use of woody biomass for energy with overexploitation of forests, even permanent deforestation, and ‘the burning of trees’”

The latest EurObserv’ER solid biomass barometer, published in February, showed that in 2019 solid biomass fuels for energy consumption across the EU grew by 2.2% and passed the 100Mtoe mark for the first time. The UK was the biggest pellet consumer overall and used an extra half a million tonnes in 2019 compared with 2018. Overall, the UK increased its consumption to 8.1Mtoe in 2019, which was 0.5Mtoe more than in 2018.

The Netherlands’ environmental policy watchdog PBL warned the Dutch government that taking away bioenergy subsidies will have a “negative” impact on the country’s long-term sustainability strategy. It said: “The rapid phasing out of woody bio-based raw materials for heat networks is risky.” PBL said it issued its advice at the request of the Dutch ministry of economic affairs and climate policy, which has the ambition to phase out the use of woody-based raw materials for low-temperature heat in the long term.

The European Commission should provide greater support for liquid fuels, including e-fuels and biofuels, as part of its net-zero plans, refiners and automakers have argued. Scania and refiners’ group FuelsEurope want the EU to develop a clear strategy on the role of liquid fuels in the EU energy transition.

The UK government missed out on around £275m (€314.2m) or 28% of what it should have received in taxes through “misclassification” of landfill waste in 2018/19. The missing millions were highlighted in a report looking at environmental taxes, published by the government’s financial watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO). Currently, the UK’s landfill tax is £94.15 (€107.5) a tonne, suggesting that the £275m in lost revenue represents many thousands of tonnes missing from official disposal routes.

Denmark’s energy agency Energistyrelsen and other government bodies have dismissed the current list of EfW plants due to be scrapped, known as the “kill list”. Currently, the list covers 10 out of 23 EfW plants in the country, but does not meet “several criteria”.

Experts have criticised a decision by England’s green regulator, the Environment Agency (EA), to extend the suspension of its definition of waste service until 'at least' April, warning that the move jeopardises the shift to a circular economy. The service, which provides an opinion for businesses on whether a material constitutes waste or not, was scrapped by the regulator in October 2016. However, it was refashioned and reinstated as a chargeable service in 2018, but later suspended. Now, the EA has said the service will remain closed "until at least April 2021".

Market update

Leeds-based C-Capture has secured £8m (€9.3m) in its latest funding round with backing coming from current investors Drax, BP Ventures and technology investor IP Group. It said the money would support it in further “optimising its carbon capture technology, improving performance whilst driving down costs”.

Natural gas supplier Ceres Energy has revealed it has bought a stake in biomethane-producer Barrow Shipping – owner of Barrow Green Gas. No financial details were given, but it did state that Barrow founder John Baldwin would “retain a significant” stake in the company.

Investment fund Privilege Finance announced its portfolio of anaerobic digestion facilities hit the milestone of producing enough power to supply one million UK households a year. The biogas-producing plants can produce more than 1.3TWe annually or about 3.5GWe every day.

Anaerobic digestion plant-owner operator Bio Capital carried out an £85m (€96.8m) refinancing of its biogas-producing portfolio. The news was confirmed by legal firm Burges Salmon, which advised on the deal covering facilities across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Bio Capital was founded in 2018 by investment funds Helios Energy Investments and Equitix in order to own and develop biogas-producing facilities processing food waste and agricultural feedstock.

Plans to dig the UK’s first deep coal mine for 30 years near Whitehaven in Cumbria have polarised opinions in the UK, according to Roger Ferguson managing director at Waste Knot Energy. Ferguson argued that cement and steel production rely on burning fossil fuels at high temperatures and it is not possible to use renewable forms of energy such as wind to reach these levels.

The Netherlands’ government has confirmed that all 14 of the country's EfW plants retained their R1 status, which was first awarded in 2011. The reassessment, based on the most recent data, has “led to slight shifts in the calculated values”, but the requirements for the R1 status “has not changed”.

Facilities update – EfW

Wheelabrator Technologies UK is considering its “next steps” after the government turned down a development consent order (DCO) to build an additional EfW plant at its site in Kent. The Wheelabrator Kemsley North (WKN) EfW facility was planned as a single-line plant capable of processing up to 390,000t/yr and would have had a capacity of 42MWe. However, a DCO for an accompanying application to allow the existing Wheelabrator Kemsley (K3) plant to process an extra 107,000t/yr.

The Bioenergy Infrastructure Group (BIG) confirmed that its two delayed gasification-equipped energy-from-waste plants are yet to cross the finishing line. Both the Hoddesdon and Hull-based waste-gasification plants were listed as “operational” on the infrastructure investor’s website this month, however, a spokesperson for BIG confirmed the information was “not accurate” and was being updated.

In a related development, 2019 data released by the EA in February showed Energy Works (Hull) was rated F for compliance with its environmental permit. The rating can mean a tripling of permitting fees, which in some cases would lead to operators paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds more than if they were compliant.

EfW plant developer and operator Viridor has said it will build a district heating network linked to its Marsh Barton-based facility in the UK. The deal is not connected to one the company signed last year to develop such networks at its facilities with Sweden-based utility company Vattenfall. Instead the network will be operated by utility company Leep Utilities, which is currently working with Viridor “to put in place arrangements for accessing the plant’s heat”.

EfW plant developer Powerfuel Portland has taken another step towards getting its facility off the ground by applying for an environmental permit. The application documents for the plant were submitted at the end of last year, with the watchdog confirming in February that it could take “several weeks” before it started processing the application. Should the plant get the green light, it will have a total capacity of 18.1MWe with 15.2MWe available for export. It will process an average of 183,000t/yr of refuse-derived fuel, depending on calorific value, and have a “top end” capacity of 202,000t/yr.

As a consultation into its planned Wiltshire-based energy-from-waste facility closes, developer Northacre Renewable Energy Limited (NREL) has said the need for the plant had “already been clearly established”. A consultation into granting an environmental permit for the plant closed on 21 February. Currently, NREL says it expects to wait about 12 months for a decision on the permit from the EA.

Waste-derived fuel manufacturer Waste Knot Energy applied for an environmental permit for what should be the first of several planned pellet-producing facilities. The Middlesbrough-based facility is backed by investment fund Gresham House and is due to be operational in June. WKE said the facility will produce about 240,000t/yr of its fuel pellets and should it develop all eight of its planned plants, it aims for a capacity of about 2Mt/yr.

Local authority Calderdale Council’s Labour-run administration issued a statement after it “regretfully” issued an environmental permit for a small-scale EfW plant. It said the council “fully understands the considerable public concern” caused by Calder Valley Skip Hire’s plans for a 10,000t/yr RDF processing plant. However, there were “no valid legal and technical reasons for refusing the permit”.

Waste firm Suez revealed plans to produce hydrogen from its Créteil-based EfW plant. Suez said it would work with utility company Sipperec to create a new joint venture H2 Créteil to take the project forward. The plant can process up to 235,000t/yr and has a capacity of 19.2MWe.

Facilities updates – biomass

The world’s largest purpose built biomass-fired plant, the 299MWe MGT Teesside appears to have suffered another delay and is now due to become operational next month. Its “generator’s expected start date” is now 14 March, having been shifted back first from the “second half” of 2020 to Febuary this year.

UK-based NGO Biofuelwatch, along with 40 other groups, wrote an open letter to the German government opposing plans to process Namibian biomass in place of coal. A number of organisations are involved in the project officially known as Biomass Partnership Hamburg-Namibia, which is due to make a “final assessment” of its feasibility in July 2021. The Tiefstack coal-fired plant, which has been operated at the site through several overhauls for more than 100 years, is due to be shut down by 2030.

Utility company Eidsiva Bioenergi revealed that its biomass-to-heat plant is close to opening in Norway. It said the 8MWth facility would be up and running in April. Development of the plant was confirmed last May when Denmark-based Verdo revealed it had signed a deal to supply the plant.

Forestry company Metsä Group confirmed it will press ahead with a €1.6bn investment in what would be its second bioproduct mill. The facility, based in Kemi, is due to be completed by 2023 after a two-and-a-half year build. The company’s first such site, based in Äänekoski, predominantly produces pulp and other bioproducts, such as lignin, textile fibres and biocomposites, but it also produces biogas and biofuel pellets from sludge.

Facility update – biogas

A planning inspector has backed plans by Amzco Development to develop an energy storage system that would source its power from a biogas-producing plant. The benefits of the Devon-based 24MWe power storage unit outweighed any conflict with local plan policy, which restricted development in the open countryside. Local authority Mid Devon District Council had originally refused the project saying there was confusion over the development’s environmental benefits because it would also use natural gas, which would count as biomethane through a certification scheme.

Biogas plant developer Resourceful Earth Anaerobic Limited (REAL) confirmed it is trying again to secure planning consent for its 92,000t/yr facility at Queen Charlton Quarry. In 2019, local authority Bath and North East Somerset Council missed a deadline to decide on the application, which was then withdrawn last year. A consultation is now due to be launched towards the end of March, with a decision on the development expected by 11 May.

Gasification technology developer Eqtec revealed it has expanded a deal to develop a Deeside-based plant to include another four potential projects. It signed an “exclusive collaboration agreement” with Logik Developments, from which it had bought the Deeside-based project last December. The existing planning permission allows up to 182,000t/yr of waste to be processed and the biogas plant has a planned capacity of 2MWe. However, Eqtec has previously said it intended to apply for planning consent to develop an advanced gasification technology facility at the site with capacities of 20MWe and 27MWth.

EWB Insight Report: February 2021

This month: Who will build the UK’s pipeline of EfW plants, NGOs “misrepresent” bioenergy, several businesses make moves in the biogas sector, and a full facilities round-up

While there is still no overall consensus on the size of the UK’s waste treatment capacity gap, concern is growing about who can build all of the energy-from-waste capacity currently in the planning pipeline.

It emerged in February that France-based CNIM was selling off its operations and maintenance (O&M) business, which looks after three EfW plants in the UK, along with four based in France and one in Azerbaijan.

When asked by ENDS, CNIM did not elaborate on whether this was part of a larger move away from the EfW sector.

Currently, CNIM is in the running to build the vast Edmonton-based EfW plant, in competition with Spain-based Acciona Industrial and Switzerland Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI).

However, an EfW-sector source told ENDS the company is only “nominally” involved in the bidding process to give the project three potential winners and would prefer not to win the deal after suffering financial issues with a series of other EfW builds.

The problems for CNIM, particularly in the UK, have been well publicised in recent years. It was working with Lagan Construction Group on Viridor’s Beddington EfW plant when Lagan went into administration in 2018, forcing CNIM to finish the project alone. Then a year later, another of CNIM’s EfW construction partners, Clugston Construction, also went into administration.

Aside from CNIM, the builders willing to take on EfW projects have dwindled recently, with another firm Interserve, which was not working directly with the French company, also going into administration in 2019.

The main companies left in the UK’s EfW construction sector are therefore HZI and Acciona.

While Acciona secured the contract to build a £150m (€174m) EfW plant known as the NESS Energy project in early 2019, it remains a new entrant to the UK’s market and is yet to complete a project here.

HZI is well established, but has several EfW projects on the go, including in Slough, south-east London and Rookery South, the last of which is due to open next year.

Policy update

The bioenergy division of the European Commission's energy-advisory body the International Energy Agency (IEA) has criticised the way campaigners have “misrepresented” the biomass-to-energy sector. Anti-bioenergy campaigns “do not give accurate impressions of on-the-ground forestry practice and bioenergy systems, and associate the use of woody biomass for energy with overexploitation of forests, even permanent deforestation, and ‘the burning of trees’”.

The latest EurObserv’ER solid biomass barometer, published in February, showed that in 2019 solid biomass fuels for energy consumption across the EU grew by 2.2% and passed the 100Mtoe mark for the first time. The UK was the biggest pellet consumer overall and used an extra half a million tonnes in 2019 compared with 2018. Overall, the UK increased its consumption to 8.1Mtoe in 2019, which was 0.5Mtoe more than in 2018.

The Netherlands’ environmental policy watchdog PBL warned the Dutch government that taking away bioenergy subsidies will have a “negative” impact on the country’s long-term sustainability strategy. It said: “The rapid phasing out of woody bio-based raw materials for heat networks is risky.” PBL said it issued its advice at the request of the Dutch ministry of economic affairs and climate policy, which has the ambition to phase out the use of woody-based raw materials for low-temperature heat in the long term.

The European Commission should provide greater support for liquid fuels, including e-fuels and biofuels, as part of its net-zero plans, refiners and automakers have argued. Scania and refiners’ group FuelsEurope want the EU to develop a clear strategy on the role of liquid fuels in the EU energy transition.

The UK government missed out on around £275m (€314.2m) or 28% of what it should have received in taxes through “misclassification” of landfill waste in 2018/19. The missing millions were highlighted in a report looking at environmental taxes, published by the government’s financial watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO). Currently, the UK’s landfill tax is £94.15 (€107.5) a tonne, suggesting that the £275m in lost revenue represents many thousands of tonnes missing from official disposal routes.

Denmark’s energy agency Energistyrelsen and other government bodies have dismissed the current list of EfW plants due to be scrapped, known as the “kill list”. Currently, the list covers 10 out of 23 EfW plants in the country, but does not meet “several criteria”.

Experts have criticised a decision by England’s green regulator, the Environment Agency (EA), to extend the suspension of its definition of waste service until 'at least' April, warning that the move jeopardises the shift to a circular economy. The service, which provides an opinion for businesses on whether a material constitutes waste or not, was scrapped by the regulator in October 2016. However, it was refashioned and reinstated as a chargeable service in 2018, but later suspended. Now, the EA has said the service will remain closed "until at least April 2021".

Market update

Leeds-based C-Capture has secured £8m (€9.3m) in its latest funding round with backing coming from current investors Drax, BP Ventures and technology investor IP Group. It said the money would support it in further “optimising its carbon capture technology, improving performance whilst driving down costs”.

Natural gas supplier Ceres Energy has revealed it has bought a stake in biomethane-producer Barrow Shipping – owner of Barrow Green Gas. No financial details were given, but it did state that Barrow founder John Baldwin would “retain a significant” stake in the company.

Investment fund Privilege Finance announced its portfolio of anaerobic digestion facilities hit the milestone of producing enough power to supply one million UK households a year. The biogas-producing plants can produce more than 1.3TWe annually or about 3.5GWe every day.

Anaerobic digestion plant-owner operator Bio Capital carried out an £85m (€96.8m) refinancing of its biogas-producing portfolio. The news was confirmed by legal firm Burges Salmon, which advised on the deal covering facilities across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Bio Capital was founded in 2018 by investment funds Helios Energy Investments and Equitix in order to own and develop biogas-producing facilities processing food waste and agricultural feedstock.

Plans to dig the UK’s first deep coal mine for 30 years near Whitehaven in Cumbria have polarised opinions in the UK, according to Roger Ferguson managing director at WKE. Ferguson argued that cement and steel production rely on burning fossil fuels at high temperatures and it is not possible to use renewable forms of energy such as wind to reach these levels.

The Netherlands’ government has confirmed that all 14 of the country's EfW plants retained their R1 status, which was first awarded in 2011. The reassessment, based on the most recent data, has “led to slight shifts in the calculated values”, but the requirements for the R1 status “has not changed”.

Facilities update – EfW

Wheelabrator Technologies UK is considering its “next steps” after the government turned down a development consent order (DCO) to build an additional EfW plant at its site in Kent. The Wheelabrator Kemsley North (WKN) EfW facility was planned as a single-line plant capable of processing up to 390,000t/yr and would have had a capacity of 42MWe. However, a DCO for an accompanying application to allow the existing Wheelabrator Kemsley (K3) plant to process an extra 107,000t/yr.

The Bioenergy Infrastructure Group (BIG) has confirmed that its two delayed gasification-equipped energy-from-waste plants are yet to cross the finishing line. Both the Hoddesdon and Hull-based waste-gasification plants were listed as “operational” on the infrastructure investor’s website this month, however, a spokesperson for BIG confirmed the information was “not accurate” and was being updated.

In a related development, 2019 data released by the Environment Agency in February showed Energy Works (Hull) was rated F for compliance with its environmental permit. The rating can mean a tripling of permitting fees, which in some cases would lead to operators paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds more than if they were compliant.

EfW plant developer and operator Viridor has said it will build a district heating network linked to its Marsh Barton-based facility in the UK. The deal is not connected to one the company signed last year to develop such networks at its facilities with Sweden-based utility company Vattenfall. Instead the network will be operated by utility company Leep Utilities, which is currently working with Viridor “to put in place arrangements for accessing the plant’s heat”.

EfW plant developer Powerfuel Portland has taken another step towards getting its facility off the ground by applying for an environmental permit. The application documents for the plant were submitted at the end of last year, with the watchdog confirming in February that it could take “several weeks” before it started processing the application. Should the plant get the green light, it will have a total capacity of 18.1MWe with 15.2MWe available for export. It will process an average of 183,000t/yr of refuse-derived fuel, depending on calorific value, and have a “top end” capacity of 202,000t/yr.

As a consultation into its planned Wiltshire-based energy-from-waste facility closes, developer Northacre Renewable Energy Limited (NREL) has said the need for the plant had “already been clearly established”. A consultation into granting an environmental permit for the plant closed on 21 February. Currently, NREL says it expects to wait about 12 months for a decision on the permit from the EA.

Waste-derived fuel manufacturer Waste Knot Energy (WKE) applied for an environmental permit for what should be the first of several planned pellet-producing facilities. The Middlesbrough-based facility is backed by investment fund Gresham House and is due to be operational in June. WKE said the facility will produce about 240,000t/yr of its fuel pellets and should it develop all eight of its planned plants, it aims for a capacity of about 2Mt/yr.

Local authority Calderdale Council’s Labour-run administration issued a statement after it “regretfully” issued an environmental permit for a small-scale EfW plant. It said the council “fully understands the considerable public concern” caused by Calder Valley Skip Hire’s plans for a 10,000t/yr RDF processing plant. However, there were “no valid legal and technical reasons for refusing the permit”.

Waste firm Suez revealed plans to produce hydrogen from its Créteil-based EfW plant. Suez said it would work with utility company Sipperec to create a new joint venture H2 Créteil to take the project forward. The plant can process up to 235,000t/yr and has a capacity of 19.2MWe.

Facilities updates – biomass

The world’s largest purpose built biomass-fired plant, the 299MWe MGT Teesside appears to have suffered another delay and is now due to become operational next month. Its “generator’s expected start date” is now 14 March, having been shifted back first from the “second half” of 2020 to Febuary this year.

UK-based NGO Biofuelwatch, along with 40 other groups, wrote an open letter to the German government opposing plans to process Namibian biomass in place of coal. A number of organisations are involved in the project officially known as Biomass Partnership Hamburg-Namibia, which is due to make a “final assessment” of its feasibility in July 2021. The Tiefstack coal-fired plant, which has been operated at the site through several overhauls for more than 100 years, is due to be shut down by 2030.

Utility company Eidsiva Bioenergi revealed that its biomass-to-heat plant is close to opening in Norway. It said the 8MWth facility would be up and running in April. Development of the plant was confirmed last May when Denmark-based Verdo revealed it had signed a deal to supply the plant.

Forestry company Metsä Group confirmed it will press ahead with a €1.6bn investment in what would be its second bioproduct mill. The facility, based in Kemi, is due to be completed by 2023 after a two-and-a-half year build. The company’s first such site, based in Äänekoski, predominantly produces pulp and other bioproducts, such as lignin, textile fibres and biocomposites, but it also produces biogas and biofuel pellets from sludge.

Facility update – biogas

A planning inspector has backed plans by Amzco Development to develop an energy storage system that would source its power from a biogas-producing plant. The benefits of the Devon-based 24MWe power storage unit outweighed any conflict with local plan policy, which restricted development in the open countryside. Local authority Mid Devon District Council had originally refused the project saying there was confusion over the development’s environmental benefits because it would also use natural gas, which would count as biomethane through a certification scheme.

Biogas plant developer Resourceful Earth Anaerobic Limited (REAL) confirmed it is trying again to secure planning consent for its 92,000t/yr facility at Queen Charlton Quarry. In 2019, local authority Bath and North East Somerset Council missed a deadline to decide on the application, which was then withdrawn last year. A consultation is now due to be launched towards the end of March, with a decision on the development expected by 11 May.

Gasification technology developer Eqtec revealed it has expanded a deal to develop a Deeside-based plant to include another four potential projects. It signed an “exclusive collaboration agreement” with Logik Developments, from which it had bought the Deeside-based project last December. The existing planning permission allows up to 182,000t/yr of waste to be processed and the biogas plant has a planned capacity of 2MWe. However, Eqtec has previously said it intended to apply for planning consent to develop an advanced gasification technology facility at the site with capacities of 20MWe and 27MWth.

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