EWB Insight report: March 2021

This month: Welsh government brings in immediate moratorium on 10MWe+ EfW capacity, RDF sector questions Eunomia’s support after it releases another anti-EfW report and a full facilities round up

The Uskmouth conversion project
The Uskmouth conversion project

The Welsh government has confirmed its planned moratorium on new energy-from-waste capacity will come in “immediately” but the move has left confusion in its wake as it has failed to clarify how this will have an impact on projects already in the pipeline

According to the statement, Wales’ recycling rate of “over 65%” meant the “need to burn waste, or send it to landfill, will reduce”. As a result the “new moratorium will cover new EfW plants with capacity of 10MW or more, and will come into effect immediately.”  

ENDS contacted the government for clarification on whether the moratorium  included projects currently in the pipeline or whether they would be a block on new capacity from now on. However, a spokesperson said: "I’m afraid there’s not much more I can provide at this stage."The government also confirmed it had entered its “pre-election period” yesterday, the same day as the statement was issued, which creates specific restrictions on its communications.

However, a more positive move was the fact that a planning hearing into an energy-from-waste plant in Cardiff carried on after the moratorium was announced. 

A brief halt was called on day three of four scheduled days looking into plans by EfW developer CoGen’s subsidiary Môr Hafren Bio Power.

A spokesperson for the Planning Inspectorate (Wales) confirmed the hearing was “temporarily adjourned for an hour so that all parties could have sight of the recently published cabinet statement and the strategic assessment”, which were issued yesterday. 

According to the spokesperson an issue for the hearing was the statement’s reference to “an immediate moratorium on new large scale [EfW] plants. The new moratorium will cover new plants with capacity of 10MW or more, and will come into effect immediately” meant the Inspector needed time to consider how the hearing should progress. 

The spokesperson added: “As things stand the application is still before the inspector to deal with. After discussion with the parties, it was agreed that we should continue with the remaining topic-based hearing sessions as planned.”

The decision to allow the hearing to continue indicates the planning the system will be allowed to carry on deciding on projects, currently in the planning pipeline, at least for th etime being. 

Another project facing more issues is the world’s first coal-to-waste conversion, which is being taken forward by Simec Atlantis Energy. The conversion faces the moratorium and the Welsh government called in the project, which was expected to win planning consent from a local authority.

Other projects under-development in Wales, are: 

  • Broad Energy (Wales) Buttington quarry-based facility: only submitted to the Welsh government at the end of February

  • Eqtec’s Deeside project: intends to apply for planning consent to develop a "modest" expansion and add the use of its advanced gasification technology facility at the site with capacities of 20MWe and 27MWth

  • Orthios is developing plans for a plastics-to-oil recycling facility in Anglesey, which have been in their current form since 2018.

Policy update

Consultancy Eunomia issued a new report targeting plastic content in feedstocks sent for energy recovery, which forecasts plastic rising to a “higher proportion” of residual waste streams. As a result, the report states “plastic must be removed from waste sent to incinerators through mechanical pre-treatment and increased recycling”. The study assumes a spectacular growth in separate food waste collection to 70%, while assuming hardly any growth in plastic film recycling. The report was commissioned by legal NGO ClientEarth

In a related move, the RDF sector raised questions over the role of a consultancy overseeing its lobbying efforts after it published the report. Because of the “wrong impressions” policymakers could come to after reading its “very unrealistic scenario on the future of waste management”. 

In another related move, RDF Industry Group chair and Attero marketing manager Robert Corijn said he continues to “hope” the Netherlands’ tax on waste imports will be removed.  Corijn explained he and others continued discussion “with the ministry... and we have hopes it will be withdrawn.” 

The EU’s plans to introduce a sustainable fuel blending mandate for the aviation sector could be “devastating” for waste-to-biodiesel producers by depriving them of a major feedstock, the European Waste-to-Advanced Biofuels Association warned. The Commission is expected to mandate minimum blending levels for sustainable aviation fuel in its ReFuelEU initiative later this year, using only ‘advanced’ feedstocks as defined in the recast Renewable Energy Directive (RED II).

Stringent restrictions imposed by Turkey on plastic waste imports are leading to “widespread confusion” in the waste sector and could lead to the stockpiling of poor quality mixed plastics in the UK, ENDS has been told.

The UK government issued the latest data on energy recovery in England finding the eastern region continues to have the lowest capacity overall as figures for the nation crept up as a whole. Only 869,000t of waste was processed in EfW plants in 2019/20 from the eastern region, which was just over 30% of the area’s total waste. 

Scotland said it is leading the UK by becoming the first part of the country to formally back the development of district heating networks through the Heat Networks  (Scotland) Bill. Several biomass and waste-fired schemes are in development or operational in the country.

Germany’s EEG 2021’s removal of subsidies for flexible performance, the so-called flex surcharge, is having “dramatic consequences” for “thousands of biogas plants”, says a coalition of trade bodies. Trade bodies BBE, DBV, FvB and FVH said the EEG 2021’s interventions in the flex surcharge are “not justified and violate the protection of trust in state funding commitments”. 

Market update

France-based Engie says it is “looking for opportunities” to take its Gaya-gasification technology to new locations with the UK and Netherlands currently the most likely destinations. Speaking to ENDS, Gaya project leader Marion Maheut said Engie was moving forward with new locations after producing synthetic-natural gas (SNG) from SRF for the first time globally. 

Trade body the World Cement Association (WCA) has questioned whether there is any value in creating pelletising waste for it to replace fossil fuels. Speaking to ENDS, WCA chief executive, Ian Riley, said in Europe his sector and EfW plants were “competing for a resource”. But asked about whether the cement sector needs waste to be pelletised or otherwise designed specifically for it, Riley raised doubts. 

In a related development, Cement-manufacturer Cemex unveiled plans to power its Rugby-based plant solely on feedstock made through a specialist mix of refuse and waste-biomass known as Climafuel. Suez would continue to supply feedstock starting with “up to 300,000t/yr.” Upon commissioning the equipment, Cemex expects a significant uplift in its alternative fuel rate, which was already 54.3% in 2020, the company told ENDS. 

Local authority Surrey County Council launched legal action against Suez over the protracted commissioning of its Charlton Lane Eco Park waste gasification and biogas plant. The council first approved plans for the EfW plant on the site in Shepperton nine years ago, with the current plans agreed two years later. However, neither are operational.

Engineering companies Aker Solutions and Doosan Babcock have confirmed plans to win contracts in carbon capture, utilisation and storage in the UK. Aker, which was behind the world’s first project to capture carbon at an EfW plant in Norway, further explained it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Doosan and they had established a team “with key people from both organisations”. They also state they have “already identified some key prospects”.

Local authority Gloucestershire County Council restarted a court case aimed at recovering its legal costs over a procurement challenge related to the building of the Javelin Park energy-from-waste plant. NGO Community R4C (CR4C) confirmed this week that the local authority was again looking to recoup £84,000 of its legal costs having first launched a challenge in January. A hearing is currently expected to take place on 1 April. 

A senior associate at engineering firm Stantec says the quality of local authority planning departments is creating problems for EfW plant developments. Natalie Maletras, senior associate waste and infrastructure at the company, was speaking at Energy from Waste Virtual. According to Maletras: “Minerals and waste planners, good ones anyway, are hard to come by.”

Waste gasification technology supplier Eqtec revealed a deal with carmaker Toyota for its under-development Deeside-based project. Under the agreement, Eqtec and Toyota will work on “scoping and evaluating the potential supply of biomethane and electricity”.

Waste-pellet supplier Waste Knot Energy (WKE) announced it is launching a product, which it says is an “improved” version of SRF.  The product, which the company has called solid improved recovered fuel pellets, are made from “dry commercial and industrial waste materials such as wood, card, paper and non-chlorinated plastics”.

Plans by waste management firm Viridor to expand the output of its Four Ashes facility have been revealed in a consultation launched by the EA, which is expected to run until 6 April. The documents do not indicate how much RDF the site will produce. But they do state that the facility will process up to 150,000t/yr waste overall.  

Waste management firm Biffa is working with water company Yorkshire Water to repurpose grit from the water company’s treatment works into blended aggregate. The blended aggregate product, which contains sand, gravel and crushed stone, can be used to create concrete blocks. 

India-based Thermax signed a “know how transfer and licence agreement” with Germany-based Steinmüller Babcock Environment that will see German technology taken to the sub continent.

Facilities update: EfW  

Local authority Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council snubbed a plan by EfW developer Enviroparks (Wales) to increase its stack height to 90m. The plans were recommended to be approved by the council’s officers, but were turned down at a planning committee meeting. According to the plans the doubling of the stack from 45m to 90m is part of developing “phase II” of the EfW plant, which is currently being “reviewed” owing to “anticipated emissions from the gasification process”.

NGO Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (CHASE) won a judicial review against plans to develop an EfW plant in Ringaskiddy. According to CHASE, high court judge David Barniville held in favour of the NGO and against the board of Bord Pleanála relating to the 2018 granting of planning consent to Belgium-based developer Indaver to build the facility. The judge is expected to “make final orders” in the case after the sides have considered the judgment on 13 April. CHASE says it will push for the planning consent to be quashed while Indaver said it was disappointed. 

The future of a 1Mt/yr EfW plant is in doubt after the developer appeared to miss its own deadline to resubmit plans in February. The project is being taken forward by Alternative Use Boston Projects and needs government approval because it has a planned capacity of up to 102MWe.

Plans for a new EfW plant have been submitted to local authority Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council. Developer Eco Sustainable Solutions confirmed it had started the planning process to provide a “vital part of Dorset’s green infrastructure”. The plant is planned for Eco’s site at Parley near Bournemouth Airport and would be able to process about 50,000t/yr of “local waste”.

All eight Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs have now signed a letter backing the development of the Arc21 EfW plant in Mallusk. Seven of the MPs had not commented on the project before and the remaining one, South Antrim MP Paul Girvan, had actively campaigned against it.

Waste gasification company Eqtec revealed France-based Idex Group is looking at a deal to fund and operate its Billingham-based EfW project. Should the deal go ahead, Idex would fund the Billingham EfW plant, then operate it commercially. Eqtec would become its co-developer and provide the design and core advance gasification technology, while also retaining the maintenance portion of the O&M contract.

Local authority Kirklees Council revealed plans for its Huddersfield Heat Network scheme that will be connected to an operational EfW plant. The council said Huddersfield’s existing EfW, known as the Kirklees plant, could be a “potential source of heat and power for the network”.

Local authority Calderdale Council said a new EfW plant will be “robustly monitored through a programme of inspections”. In February the council approved Calder Valley Skip Hire’s plans for a 10,000t/yr RDF-processing plant. However, the council’s Labour-run administration said the decision was taken “regretfully”.

Waste management firm Andusia confirmed a deal with Novus Environmental that will see clinical waste sent for energy recovery at a now-operational EfW plant. Waste collected under the deal will be processed at the new Malvern-based EfW plant. Overall, Andusia is set to supply up to 8,000 tonnes of hazardous and clinical waste a year to the plant. 

The Scottish government finally decided to dismiss an appeal over the refusal to grant planning consent to a waste-processing gasification plant in Glasgow. The project was originally turned down by Glasgow City Council in 2016.

EfW plant developer CoGen has agreed to alterations to its environmental permit as the operational date for its Hooton-based facility draws near. According to the permit’s documents, the variations are around the “original plant design”, which is now “smaller than that originally permitted”. The facility will use a different gasification technology over the technology originally proposed with the equipment supplied by Kobelco, the documents state.

Utility company PGE Energia Ciepła confirmed it is pressing ahead with plans to build an EfW plant in Bełchatów. The two-line plant will be able to process up to 180,000t/yr. Building is scheduled to start in April 2022 with plans for the site to be operational toward the end of 2024.

Utility company Uniper is moving forward with plans for an RDF and biomass-fired plant on the site of a coal-processing facility by applying for an environmental permit. Officially to be known as the East Midlands Energy Re-Generation Centre, the plant is planned for the coal-fired Ratcliffe-on-Soar facility, which has been operational for more than 50 years and which is planned to close no later than by the end of September 2025 in line with the government’s coal phase-out policy.

The Wheelabrator Kemsley North EfW facility secured an environmental permit only a week after the government snubbed its planning consent. The plant’s developer, Wheelabrator Technologies UK, is still looking at the “next steps” to take after the government turned down the planning consent.

Local authority Shetland Islands Council revealed it needs to “urgently” press ahead with upgrade plans for its EfW plant. The EfW plant “furnace upgrade project has been under development for some time owing to the deteriorating condition of the furnace walls”. Last October, the council and US-based Babcock & Wilcox Renewable signed a deal valued at more than $3m (€2.5m).

Facilities update: Biomass 

Neither the owners of the world’s largest purpose-built biomass-fired plant or the government body backing it have commented after the 299MWe MGT Teesside passed the date it was expected to start generating power. Government-owned LCCC said its “generator’s expected start date” was 14 March. However, the LCCC has also previously said: "Certain contractual dates, including the end of the target commissioning window, have been extended under the contract and are currently under review due to Covid-19." As a result it is unclear if the plant, which can process up to 2.4Mt/yr of biomass, is operational as planned.

Biomass-fired power station Drax confirmed it has applied for a development consent order to allow the full installation of its carbon capture technology on two of its six units. According to Drax, the DCO is expected to take up to two years, and if granted, work to install its bioenergy with carbon capture and storage could begin in 2024. 

A worker for utility company Ørsted was taken to hospital after passing out while tackling a blaze at Studstrup power plant this month. The employee “briefly lost consciousness” during an attempt to put foam on the fire in the plant’s silo. They were rescued by colleagues and subsequently taken to hospital for treatment, according to the police statement. 

Germany-based Uniper Anlagenservice landed a deal covering a major overhaul of unit three at the Studstrup Power Plant in Denmark. Currently, the Studstrup facility has two units. Unit three is the primary one and has been using wood pellets since October 2016, while its unit four processes coal on a reserve basis. The capacities of unit three are 360MWe and 510MWth. 

Engineering firm Andritz revealed it won a contract to supply a new biomass-fired unit to an operational cogeneration plant. Andritz secured the deal from Denmark-based Fjernvarme Fyn Produktion, but did not reveal any financial terms. 

Germany-based JNW CleaningSolutions revealed it has installed its first “fully automatic” air-cooled condenser cleaning system in the UK. JNW told ENDS it had installed the equipment at E.ON’s Blackburn Meadows biomass-fired plant. No financial terms were revealed. 

Facilities update: biogas 

Austria-based Evonik says it is currently installing its 500th biogas-upgrading facility in the Belgian region of Wallonia. The anniversary plant is a biogas project being built by France-based plant manufacturer Prodeval for Belgian company Biométhane du bois d'Arnelle. It will be able to process nearly 50,000t/yr of what is described as “renewable raw materials, by-products from food production, liquid manure and manure from livestock farming”. Once the plant is operational later this year it will supply up to 1,400m³/h of biogas.  

Biogas plant operator, Pretoria Energy Company, based in Cambridgeshire, was told to pay more than £42,000 after letting highly polluting silage liquor enter a tributary of the river Cam. The incident in May 2018 turned water “coal black” in colour. The incident was the firm’s fourth water pollution offence in seven years.

Local authority Leicestershire County Council approved an application to build an anaerobic digestion plant and two agricultural buildings to house 100,000 broiler birds at a farm near Leicester. Permission was granted for a similar development in 2016 but was not implemented, according to council documents. Feedstock would include poultry manure, energy crops and other agricultural waste and the total quantity was expected to be 12,000t/yr. 

Anaerobic digestion plant builder and operator Weltec Biopower revealed it secured a contract to develop a facility in Bückeburg, in its native Germany. Weltec said the project was worth €4.1m and will be operational by October this year.

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