EWB Insight report: April 2021

This month: The biomass sector continues to consolidate rather than expand, the UK launches a probe into the same sector and a new EfW plant builder is revealed. Here’s the full round up of the month’s industry news and facilities updates

Another big deal in the UK’s biomass sector saw a new player take control of two facilities in April. 

Investor Octopus Renewables bought the Brigg and Snetterton facilities from a joint venture by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) and Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC) for an undisclosed fee. 

The 40.8MWe Brigg facility in Lincolnshire opened in 2016 and can process up to 240,000t/yr of straw. The 44.9MWe Snetterton plant, which opened a year after Brigg and also prominently runs on straw, processes 250,000t/yr. No financial terms were disclosed. 

The deal came in the same month as the opening date for the world’s largest purpose-built biomass-fired plant was again delayed.

The 2.4-million-tonne-per-year biomass-fired MGT Teesside plant, in north-east England, is now due to be operational in June, more than three years behind its original schedule. 

However, no further information about the facility’s status has been revealed. When asked for an update, MGT chief executive Ben Elsworth told ENDS there was “nothing that I can disclose at the moment”. 

The facility is only a short distance to the north across the river Tees from the failed biomass-fired Port Clarence facility. Port Clarence is now considering a conversion to processing waste, after the team behind it failed to get it commissioned. 

The problems faced by MGT and Port Clarence, combined with a lack of subsidy-backing for further biomass-fired plants, suggest the market is increasingly likely to continue consolidating rather than going ahead with new builds.

Policy update

The UK government has launched a call for evidence to review the future of the biomass-to-energy sector, with the publication in April of The Role of Biomass in Achieving Net Zero. The review is “primarily interested in gathering evidence on the availability of sustainable biomass from domestic and international sources”. This would focus on how biomass can “support” the UK net zero target. It will also look at the sustainability of the supply chain and opportunities for strengthening existing criteria, according to the document.

A judicial review against the UK government over its decision to exclude EfW plants from its proposed replacement of the EU emissions trading system (ETS) was back in court. Environmental professional Georgia Elliott-Smith, who had launched a legal challenge in August last year, had already secured a full hearing to challenge the exclusion of EfW. 

The developer behind what would be the world’s first coal-fired plant to convert to waste-processing in Uskmouth has said it could revert to firing on coal and biomass if its plans are blocked. Simec Atlantis Energy needs an environmental permit for the conversion and the possibility of a return to coal was revealed in its application to Natural Resources Wales (NRW). 

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) could have to wait until 2023 before it is fully operational following a cyber-attack on Christmas Eve, the body's chief executive officer told ENDS. In January, SEPA confirmed it had been the victim of a cyber-attack by "international serious and organised cyber-crime groups". Experts initially predicted it would take the regulator six months to recover from the attack, during which 1.2GB of data – about 4,000 files – were stolen. SEPA also lost access to most of its systems, including emails.

Waste management company Indaver says it has already clarified an issue raised by Northern Ireland Electricity Networks over the supply of power from its under-development EfW plant and confirmed its grid connection offer was still in place. The Arc21 facility is back in planning after losing its consent over a political issue.

Trade body the European Biogas Association (EBA) issued a new paper highlighting the potential of biogas production from industrial wastewater facilities in Europe. It is possible to recover around 14Mtoe or about 142TWh of biogas a year, by processing industrial wastewater from the spirits, biodiesel, pulp and paper, beer, vegetable oils, ethanol, meat and cheese sectors, the EBA stated. 

The dedicated portal for the fourth allocation round of the contracts for difference (CfD) scheme has opened, the UK government has confirmed. The government is aiming to support around 12GW of renewable technologies, which are divided into pots. 

Market update

A new player in the construction of energy-from-waste plants has been unveiled with the news that Scandinavian Energy Contractor (SEC) has emerged from the remnants of another Danish company’s business in the sector. SEC will use and build on “the existing skills and experience of the former Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC) EfW EPC business”. In November last year, BWSC announced it would shift its focus to maintaining existing facilities rather than building new ones in what it called a “major change of focus” to its operation and maintenance (O&M) and service businesses going forward. The new company is linked to UK-based plant developer CoGen.

France-based EfW plant operator Paprec confirmed a deal to takeover the  operations and maintenance (O&M) business of fellow France-based construction giant Constructions industrielles de la Méditerranée (CNIM) and revealed it is working on a deal for Dalkia Wastenergy. Paprec confirmed the O&M deal with CNIM, which was first revealed earlier this year. It covers eight EfW plants: three based in the UK, four in France and one in Azerbaijan. Paprec’s statement also says it will add 16 EfW plants to its portfolio if it completes a deal for Dalkia Wastenergy, which was formerly known as Tiru until 2018 and is a subsidiary of EDF.

France-based waste and bioenergy businesses Veolia and Suez have agreed a merger to create a “global champion of ecological transformation”. Overall, the deal covers about 70% of Suez, which Veolia does not already own and values the company around €12.5bn, according to Suez.

A six-year investigation into an alleged £78m (€90.1m) landfill tax fraud, which led to 14 arrests, has collapsed without charges being laid. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had launched the investigation into the "suspected systematic abuse of the landfill tax system" in 2015, when some 180 officers from the tax department, the Environment Agency and police raided commercial addresses and homes in Gateshead, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Leeds and Hull. At the time of the investigation it was reported in local media that at least two waste management firms were the subject of the raids: Hartlepool-based Niramax and Transwaste in East Yorkshire.

Ireland-based Kibo Energy revealed it has started an “extensive due diligence process” for the potential acquisition of several UK-based EfW projects. The potential acquisition covers “all or part of a prospective portfolio of UK renewable energy projects”, but the statement does not name the sites or other companies involved.

Waste management business Levenseat says it has achieved a first in Scotland by gaining end-of-waste accreditation for the manufacture of a civil engineering product from air pollution control residues (APCr). Levenseat, which owns a waste-gasification plant in Scotland said the country’s environmental watchdog SEPA had backed the project. 

Wood pellet certification system ENplus says 2021 looks like being another year of “stable growth” as it expects more than 14Mt of certified wood pellets to be produced this year, up from 12Mt in 2020. ENplus, which is run by trade body Bioenergy Europe, says the increase is down to the scheme’s “continuous expansion and the growing number of certified companies”. 

Biomass-fired power station Drax took over wood pellet supplier Pinnacle on 13 April. Drax confirmed the deal to buy the Canada-based company had gone through, saying it would add 2.9Mt/yr of biomass capacity and “significantly reduce” the power station’s production costs.

Netherlands environmental watchdog Omgevingsdienst Noordzeekanaalgebied (OD NZKG) released EfW company AEB Amsterdam from a supervision order placed on it in 2018. ENDS reported in March 2018 that OD NZKG had placed the company under tighter scrutiny after ruling that its work to prevent incidents was “insufficient”. The move appeared to be justified a year later when AEB was forced to shut down several of its energy-recovery lines over a safety issue.

Gasification technology developer Eqtec said it has a total of 75 projects in its pipeline. The news was confirmed in a statement issued today by the Ireland-based company, which is also listed on the London Stock Exchange. At the end of last year it had 58 projects in the pipeline worth a total of €334m. But it added a further 17 between January and March this year, taking the total portfolio to 75. 

Facilities round up: EfW 

A Runcorn-based solicitors firm has launched a legal action against EfW company Viridor over its facility in the industrial town. Doug Fraser, a solicitor and partner at Silverman Livermore, told ENDS the firm had started the action on behalf of 196 homeowners against Viridor’s Runcorn Energy Recovery plant. Issues raised cover noise, dust and smells from the facility, Fraser said. 

The full extent of the problems faced by the developers of a Derby-based waste-gasification plant have been revealed in documents made public for the first time. Developer Resource Recovery Solutions (RRS) stopped keeping commissioning records after “Sept/Oct 2018”, indicating the project was considered a failure at that point. Crucially, the issues with the plant meant the income from generating electricity from processing waste was “significantly lower than base case”. As a result, there was a significant risk that its Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) would “not be available”.

Construction of the Rookery South EfW plant has been “largely completed” and the project has moved to hot commissioning, according to its construction contractor. Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) said all three of the plant’s lines were due to be tested in April. The 60MWe, 585,000t/yr Bedfordshire-based development started construction in 2019 and is due to be fully operational next year.

Local authority Cumbria County Council admitted to making an administrative error while approving planning changes to a previously consented EfW plant in Carlisle. It approved the changes to the Fortum Carlisle and Kingmoor Park Properties EfW plant in 2019, but during the process it also incorrectly extended the date by which the project had to move to construction or formally reapply for planning consent. While it has admitted the mistake, the council says the decision will stand because the period in which to launch a legal action against the decision had expired. This has infuriated local protest group CRAIN, which is considering legal action.

Germany-based EfW plant developer Wersa is trying to gain planning consent for a pyrolysis-equipped facility in Flintshire. The planning documents reveal the planned facility would “produce” about 2MWe and an unspecified amount of heat. The facility would process non-hazardous C&I waste, including household cables, cable insulation, wind turbine blades and non-recyclable plastic. 

An application by Alternative Use Boston Projects (AUBP) for a development consent order (DCO) for a 1Mt/yr EfW plant in Boston has been accepted into the planning system. Officially known as the Boston Alternative Energy Facility, the project has a planned power capacity of up to 102MWe, of which about 80MWe would go to the national grid. Its size means the facility will need government approval to go ahead. 

EfW developers Viridor and Grundon have submitted an updated plan for their joint Ford-based development. The changes include a “significant” 12.7-metre reduction in the proposed height of the main EfW building from 51.7 metres to 38.5 metres. Currently, the EfW facility is set to process up to 295,000t/yr and have a capacity of up to 28MWe. It has already been announced that the plant will drop its previously consented gasification technology. 

EfW plant developer Brockwell Energy confirmed HZI will build its fully consented Fife-based facility. HZI was confirmed as preferred bidder for the 240,000t/yr facility. The 23.7MWe plant will process RDF and export more than 21.5MWe of its capacity. A consortium of France-based CNIM and UK-based Clugston won the deal to build Brockwell’s Earls Gate facility in March of 2019. However, Clugston called in administrators in December of the same year, and CNIM has signalled less of an appetite for EfW builds recently.

EfW plant owner Fortum Oslo Varme is planning to add a fourth line at its Klemetsrud facility. Fortum and the City of Oslo are investigating the “feasibility, concept and different options” to add a new line, to be called “Klemetsrud 4”, to the Oslo-based facility. The Klemetsrud EfW plant is currently at the centre of a vast carbon capture and storage (CCS) project, alongside a cement-producing facility.

Waste firm Senja Avfall IKS has launched a tender for the construction of an Norway-based EfW plant. The plant will be based on a moving-grate combustion system and feature a hot water boiler, semi-dry flue gas treatment using bi-carbonate, control and monitoring system, district heating connections and all necessary auxiliary systems.

Local authority North Yorkshire County Council approved a variation of conditions for a planned EfW plant on land south of Knapton quarry in Malton. The plant, which has not started construction, is being developed by the trio of Knapton Green Energy, Tetragen and NCG Estates. The changes to the planning consent were signed off last month, after the facility was first approved in 2018. However, at that point it was consented as a gasification plant, but it will now proceed with “alternative thermal technology”, which “is easier to gain funding for”, according to council documents. 

Facilities update - Biomass 

NGO SWIPE won a judicial review that it brought against local authority Monmouthshire County Council over a biomass-fired plant. The review relates to changes made to the at Trostrey Court Farm in Gwehelog near USK. SWIPE previously told ENDS it launched the review in November last year, after a decision by an enforcement manager from the council in September of last year. According to SWIPE, the unnamed enforcement manager “regularised” a change of use of agricultural barns, which were permitted in 2010/11 to store straw, so they could be used for generating power. In the most recent statement, SWIPE said the decision was “quashed” by the judicial review along with some related planning decisions, while the council was also ordered to pay the NGO legal costs of £19,000 (€21,800).

Biomass-fired power station Drax has commissioned a new report showing the potential financial savings from deploying bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). According to the report, BECCS will save the UK more than £4.5bn (€5.1bn) on the cost of meeting its climate goals over the next decade, rising to £5bn (€5.7bn) by 2050 against the government’s fifth carbon budget. It says the deployment of BECCS-power in the late 2020’s is also “integral to meeting the targets” of the carbon budget. It outlines several scenarios, but overall it is “cost-optimal” to deploy BECCS in the late 2020s.

Netherlands-based developer Host revealed it is building a biomass-fired plant for the Sikes Group. Host said the 12.4MWth facility would result in “significantly greater independence” from fossil fuels for the Sikes mushroom farm in Ysselsteyn. It is scheduled to go into operation in the first half of 2022 and will process “prunings and wood residues from the surrounding area”, although no tonnages or a financial value for the deal have been announced. 

Facilities update: Biogas 

France-based Engie subsidiary Storengy UK has moved into the UK’s anaerobic digestion sector after announcing plans to build and operate a biomethane-producing facility by buying a Norwich-based Deal Farm Biogas. No financial terms were revealed. The plant will process a feedstock mix of livestock manure, straw and grass, although no tonnages amounts were given. Construction started this month and is managed by BioWatt, which has a target to put the facility into operation in “early 2022”.

Anaerobic digestion plant developer and operator Gasum revealed it is working with the Finnish Border Guard to test the viability of liquified biogas (LBG) for maritime use. Two deliveries of LBG have been tried, one from Risavika in Norway and another from its Turku biogas plant, in Finland. 

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