EWB Insight report: July 2021

This month: EfW continues to attract investor interest, Fortum Oslo Varme’s CCS project rejects EC criticism and legal action over Surrey’s waste gasification plant moves forward. Also read our full facilities round up

A Sweden-based investment fund has become the latest institutional investor to move into the energy-from-waste sector. 

In July, EQT Infrastructure pulled off a deal for US-based EfW plant operator and developer Covanta worth US$5.4bn (€4.4bn). 

EQT’s “is committed to growing Covanta’s team and realising near-term operational upgrades”. While the bulk of Covanta’s facilities are in its home US market, it is also a significant player in the UK and Ireland, where it has increasingly preferred to take stakes in developing EfW facilities alongside other businesses. 

Last summer, fellow EfW plant operator and developer Viridor was bought by US-based investment fund KKR for €4.4bn – the same amount as Covanta was valued at in the EQT deal. 

Overall Covanta has 41 EfW facilities in the US, Canada and Europe. It has “nearly” 4,000 employees and processes about 21Mt/yr of waste to generate close to 10TWh of baseload electricity. In the UK and Ireland it is involved in projects or plants in Rookery South, Earls Gate, Protos and Dublin.

By comparison, Viridor has only 11 operational facilities with plans to develop two more in Overwood, Scotland and north-east England.

Policy update 

Norway-based Fortum Oslo Varme’s trial CCS project hit back at criticism from the European Commission’s director-general for climate action, Raffaele Mauro Petriccione. Jannicke Gerner Bjerkås, director of CO2 capture at Norway’s largest EfW plant in Oslo took issue with recent remarks by Petriccion, who in an interview with our sister title ENDS Europe, labelled CCS projects as “disappointing” so far. Bjerkås responded: “Our 5,500-hour pilot showed that the plant will capture up to 95% of CO2 emissions and 90% during normal operations. Equinor has captured and stored CO2 from its offshore installations for over 20 years by injecting liquid CO2 in subsea formations without any reasons for concern.”

Forthcoming EU rules to prevent methane leakage from the energy sector should extend to green gas produced from biomass and synthetic methane, the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER) and the EU regulatory agency ACER argued in a white paper in July. The regulators’ recommendations come as the EC reviews EU gas market rules in preparation for a ‘hydrogen and decarbonised gas market package’ of policy proposals due for publication towards the end of the year. It is intended to update EU legislation in line with the bloc’s new climate targets and goals outlined in the strategies on methane, hydrogen and energy system integration published last year.

UK trade body the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) confirmed it will no longer take legal action against the UK’s four government regulators after its Waste Wood Assessment Guidance was issued. The guidance replaced the RPS 207, with RPS 249 and RPS 250, meaning all waste wood could be used by both panel board makers and biomass-fired facilities. 

The UK’s Department for Transport has announced the winners of its Green Fuels, Green Skies competition that was launched to fund feasibility studies into converting materials such as household waste and sewage into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The country currently has no such facility. Eight companies have been shortlisted to share £15m in backing for their schemes, which also include plans to convert alcohol derived from waste gases and atmospheric carbon dioxide into plane fuel at commercial scale. 

A new support UK scheme for injecting biomethane into the gas grid, funded by a new charge on suppliers of fossil gas, will launch this autumn.The announcement was made in the government’s joint response to three closely related consultations, on future support for low-carbon heat, the Green Gas Levy, and on the Green Gas Support Scheme (GGSS). It follows the closure of the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to new applicants at the end of March. 

The Environment Agency (EA) removed its proposed requirement for waste firms to store material in enclosed buildings after a huge backlash from the waste industry. The regulator published its new guidance for permitted facilities taking non-hazardous and inert waste for treatment or transfer. The EA ran a consultation last year into the guidance, which applies to existing and new facilities, including household waste recycling centres, waste transfer stations, materials recycling facilities and sites producing soil and aggregates.

Market update 

A legal action launched by local authority Surrey County Council against waste company Suez has moved forward after a recent hearing, with the judge backing a move to arbitration. The case was in court on 24 June, with the papers relating to the hearing published in mid-July. The legal argument erupted in March when Surrey said: “After exhausting other options available, we have now entered legal proceedings with Suez to resolve our issues.” The issues relate to the protracted commissioning of the Charlton Lane Eco Park-based facilities, which include a waste-gasification and biogas plants. 

One of the biggest waste companies in the UK was found guilty for a second time in two years of illegally exporting material contaminated with household waste to Asia. A jury sitting at Wood Green Crown Court in July decided that the 1,000 tonnes of waste in question had contamination levels that were in contravention of the 2007 Transfrontier Shipment Regulations. Waste management firm Biffa logged the consignments as paper being sent for recovery to paper mills in India and Indonesia. However, Environment Agency inspections found that the waste also included soiled nappies, tins, hairpieces, plastics, clothing and food packaging. Investigators said the bundles gave off a “putrid odour”.

Also this month, Biffa reported that C&I waste streams appear to be returning to pre-covid levels. According to a trading update, its C&I volumes, which were adjusted for acquisitions, were “back to July 2019 levels”.

Norway-based Geminor revealed it had completed the first ever export of loose RDF from Poland to Sweden for energy recovery. Up to 10 walking-floor trucks a week, each with a capacity of 23 tonnes, are now due to start moving waste. Geminor predicts as much as 10,000t could have been exported by the end of the year.

Construction firm Cole Groundwork Contracts revealed it has saved 3,614 kilograms of CO2e by using biofuel on a building project for Brighton University. Cole is a subcontractor to Bouygues UK on the project to build new student accommodation on Lewes Road, Brighton. Cole said using the HVO-type GreenD+ fuel supplied by Green Biofuels was part of work ordered by the university, which wanted the project built “to the highest environmental standards with an emphasis on sustainability”. 

Facilities update: EfW 

Spain-based TSK revealed it will build what would be the world’s largest waste-pyrolysis plant in County Offaly, Ireland, for an Irish and American-owned joint venture. TSK confirmed the facility’s developer was C6 WtE Ireland1 Holdings, which is owned by US-based Gen2Power and Green Waste Energy as well as Ireland-based Glanpower. The waste-pyrolysis plant which will have capacity to process up to 75,000t/yr and is an investment worth €65m. Feedstock for the plant will be sourced by Irish state-owned company Bord na Móna. The plant is expected to be built in 20 months and will be “operating at full capacity” in 2023. 

Belgium-based Indaver’s Rivenhall EfW development took a major-step forward with the confirmation of Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) as preferred bidder for the construction contract. Construction is due to start in “early 2022”. If everything goes to plan the EfW plant itself will be optional “fully operational” by the end of 2025. The development is set to be built in a former quarry and will be able to process up to 595,000t/yr. 

A legal action by nearly 200 residents living near Viridor’s Runcorn-based EfW plant is progressing through the courts. Runcorn-based solicitors Silverman Livermore launched the legal action on behalf of 196 households against Viridor in April. The solicitors told ENDS in July that since then a detailed statement of claim had been served against Viridor. The EfW operator has in response lodged a defence and copies of both of these documents are now before the court.

London-based local authority Sutton Council issued a scathing attack on a district heating system “anchored” by Viridor’s Beddington EfW plant over poor service and allegations of financial mismanagement. While the authority “approves of the reason for establishing” the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network (SDEN) it now has several issues with the system. Initially, SDEN was powered by the site’s existing landfill gas power plant and it does not yet appear to have switched to the EfW facility. However, the council’s issues with the district heating system are not connected to the EfW plant itself, but with the way SDEN was set up initially and how it has been operated. 

Utility company Uniper received the green light to build East Midlands Energy Re-Generation (EMERGE) with contracts now due to be issued for the build and supply of equipment. The multifuel-fired facility initially gained planning consent in June from local authority Nottinghamshire County Council, but had faced a potential call in. However, in late July the government confirmed it would not look further at the project. Uniper expects the plant to process about 472,100 tonnes a year but, depending on the feedstock’s calorific value, it could process up to its “maximum theoretical operational capacity” of 524,550t/yr. The company previously told ENDS that 500,000t/yr would be its maximum capacity. Uniper has previously said the plant would have a gross capacity of 49.9MWe. It would “use about” 6.5MWe itself and be able to export around 43.4MWe to the grid.

A large explosion and fire appears to have caused considerable damage to an EfW plant in Leverkusen. At the time of writing, five people were missing in the incident, which happened at the hazardous waste-processing plant. 

Waste-pellet supplier Waste Knot Energy (WKE) blamed Covid-19 for missing the target opening date for the first of eight planned production hubs. Production at the Middlesbrough plant is now scheduled to begin in September having slipped back from August.

Local authority Worcestershire County Council is to carry out a new consultation into an EfW development after leaving out a document entitled “Addendum to Environmental Statement” from a previous one. The plant, which is planned for Kidderminster, is being developed by Power Generation Midlands. The facility will process up to 75,000t/yr of C&I waste to create an unspecified amount of energy. 

Local authority Isle of Wight Council has not responded to requests about whether its much-delayed EfW plant is now operational. It had said it would be ready in June, but it has made no public announcement and the press office has not responded to queries on the facility’s status. Waste company Amey is developing the facility, but all press enquiries must be directed to the council. Construction began at the site in May 2017 and at the time was due to be operational by the summer of 2019, it is now two years behind schedule. Overall, the site has permission to take up to 80,000 tonnes of waste every year, with half of that heading to the EfW plant to generate 23,000MWh of energy annually.

HZI confirmed it signed a contract with Enfinium on 7 July to build its Skelton Grange-based EfW plant. HZI confirmed yet another EfW plant deal in a statement, issued yesterday, announcing the deal with the developer formerly known as Wheelabrator. Construction was due to start in July and the plant is due to be fully commissioned in 2025. Skelton Grange, which is located in West Yorkshire near the city of Leeds, will be able to process up to 410,000t/yr residual waste and have a capacity of up to 49MWe (gross).

EfW plant developer Powerfuel Portland said it was “on track” to respond to a local authority’s questions over its development by the end of July. According to the spokesperson: “We're anticipating the application will go to committee by the end of the year, but that is still to be confirmed.” When Powerfuel applied for an environmental permit in June it revealed the facility will be a single-stream design able to treat up to 202,000t/yr of feedstock, however, it will have a nominal capacity of 183,000t/yr. The EfW plant will supply 15.2MWe at the nominal design capacity. Powerfuel has previously explained the plant will have a total capacity of 18.1MWe.

Investment funds Equitix and Iona Capital secured the final element needed to operate their Somerset-based EfW plant in Bridgwater.  The EA granted the development an environmental permit confirming the Bridgwater-based plant can process up to 122,640t/yr of RDF. It will have an overall capacity of 9.58MWe with 7.75MWe exported to the grid.

Local authority Hampshire County Council will not decide whether EfW firm Veolia can build a fourth facility in its region until the autumn. NGO No Wey, which opposes the development, said the plans would not be considered “until September at the earliest”. The plant is planned to process up to 330,000t/yr and have a capacity of 30MWe. The waste company already has three EfW plants in Hampshire, located in Portsmouth, Chineham and Marchwood, which have a combined processing capacity of 462,000t/yr.

The EA extended a consultation into a permit variation that would allow a new EfW plant to operate in Horsham by Britaniacrest Recycling. The permit is a variation of one already secured for the site and Britaniacrest hopes to add mechanical sorting of waste and the EfW facility to Britaniacrest Recycling’s site off Langhurstwood Road in West Sussex. The plant is planned to take 230,000t/yr of waste and has a proposed capacity of 21MWe. 

EfW plant developer BH EnergyGap (Doncaster) took another step towards opening its facility after securing a draft permit. The permit states the plant can take 426,612t/yr. Although, it clarifies that depending on the calorific value of its feedstock it will “likely” process 301,000t/yr. The plant will have a total capacity of 38.9MWe and be able to export up to 34.3MWe.

The EA has issued a permit to developer WEPP for its Stoke-based facility. WEPP is developing the facility on land off Scotia Road in Stoke to process up to 16,000t/yr of “bagged yellow, orange and ‘tiger stripe’ waste and other offensive materials”. Steam generated through the combustion of the waste is fed to two screw expander generator sets, which have a total capacity of about 7MWth. While steam will be used to provide heat on-site, the facility will also have a total electrical capacity of up to 524KWe, “some of which will be exported to the national grid”, according to the permit. 

Facilities updates: Biomass 

Environmental NGO Biofuelwatch started legal action against the UK government over the way it agreed to fund what would be the world’s largest purpose-built biomass-fired plant once operational, MGT Teesside. Law firm Leigh Day is involved in the action for which Biofuelwatch says continuing “with the project is unlawful and irrational, as is the assertion that the underlying validity of the contract cannot be revisited”. However, the plant’s developer hit back, with its counsel Anju Sanehi telling ENDS that biomass-derived energy “is accepted as low carbon, both nationally and internationally”. Sanehi further explained: “Biofuelwatch's action is misconceived and moreover its statement contains a large number of inaccuracies which we will now be discussing with Biofuelwatch.''

Utility company EDF confirmed it will end development of its Ecocombust initiative, in effect ending plans to convert its coal-fired Cordemais plant to allow it to process waste wood pellets. The move was condemned by workers at the facility, which has previously implored EDF to carry on with the project. The workers’ statement also criticises the French government for not doing more to back the project, which it claims could cut up to 400,000t/yr of CO2 from the country’s energy production. A website, linked to trade union CGT, further accused EFD of hiding behind false pseudo-financial arguments to [drop] the conversion of the plant.”

Finland-based Valmet won a contract to build a biomass-fired cogeneration plant in the Austrian city of Salzburg. The plant was ordered by Salzburg AG, which is an energy and technology company. No value for the deal was given. Valmet will be responsible for delivering the facility on an EPC basis, which includes delivering fuel handling, a boiler, a turbine, a flue gas cleaning system and its DNA automation system.

Denmark-based Stiesdal revealed it is developing “game changing” technology that will not only produce biofuels but also operate a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system. Its Skyclean project is in development at the Greenlab industrial business park in Skive. The “core” of Skyclean is converting organic waste from agriculture and forestry into biochar, gas and oil by heating to a high temperature without the presence of oxygen. In the pyrolysis process, half of the carbon already in the feedstock is converted to biochar, while the other half becomes oil and gas. 

Veolia is seeking a bespoke permit for a wood recycling operation at a site in Fareham, Hampshire, with some of the output supplying biomass plants. The company proposes to treat up to 75,000t/yr of waste wood from household recycling centres and commercial premises. The wood will be shredded into woodchips for use in manufacturing and energy recovery. 

Facilities update: Biogas 

Anaerobic digestion plant builder EnviTec Biogas is building what will be Germany’s largest biogas-to-bio-liquified natural gas (bioLNG), a supplier to the project has revealed. Chemical company Evonik said the project will use its Sepuran membrane technology for upgrading the biogas produced by processing 150,000 tonnes a year of mainly “agricultural waste”. The new works will also allow the facility to produce up to 9,000t/yr of bio-LNG, according to the statement. Currently the facility can produce the equivalent of 500GWh of biogas.

Gasification technology company Eqtec has submitted a planning application for phase two of its under-development refuse-derived fuel gasification facility in Deeside, Wales. The application for the expansion faces a Welsh government moratorium on “incineration”, which was confirmed in May to cover new and under-construction projects. The existing planning permission allows up to 182,000t/yr of waste to be processed into RDF and a 2MWe biogas plant. 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.

Developer Exeter Waste to Energy was granted an environmental permit for its Hill Barton-based gasification-facility after changing the development’s technology. The EfW plant will process up to 87,000t/yr of pre-treated waste a year. The feedstock will be made up of RDF and “other combustible wastes from waste treatment sites”. In 2010 Stuart Partners originally secured planning consent to build an 80,000t/y pyrolysis and gasification unit at Hill Barton, which was included in Devon County Council’s waste plan in 2014. However, the project has been hit by delays and it was not clear whether the development would proceed further.

Biogas plant operator BD Gas Permits secured an environmental permit allowing it to produce and export biomethane from its Nottingham-based facility. It is now allowed to process up to 8.7Mm3 of biogas into biomethane annually. Currently the 2.5MWe site can process up to 150,000 tonnes a year of food waste. 

Waste management firm Hera and meat-producer the Cremonini Group revealed a joint venture aimed at boosting biomethane production. The pair are investing €28m in building a biomethane-producing plant in Spilamberto and establishing the new venture, which will be called Biorg. The proposed site is already owned by Hera’s parent company Herambiente in Spilamberto and “will be renovated using the best technologies available”. The biomethane production plant will go into “operation by 2022”.

UK-based investment fund SEEIT revealed a US$31m (£22.5m) deal to buy a biogas plant located in Indiana. The plant processes an unspecified amount of cattle manure and food waste and has a capacity of 6MWe, which is sold under an eight-year take-or-pay fixed price power purchase agreement with utility company NIPSCO. The project is operated by Bio Town.

Local authority North East Lincolnshire Council approved plans to expand an under-development Grimsby-based waste-gasification facility. A series of changes to the EfW will see its waste-processing capacity increase from 176,000t/yt to 226,000t/yr. According to the plans, the plant will use a gasification system to process refuse-derived fuel and have an overall capacity of 18MWe. The plant is being developed by Sinoman Flofix, which had taken over the project since it first secured planning consent with the smaller capacity in August last year.

Local authority East Riding of Yorkshire Council approved plans for an anaerobic digestion plant and associated infrastructure on land west of a wastewater treatment works in Melton. Developer Melton Energy Tech was given the go-ahead to build the facility in Gibson Lane South. A near identical proposal had been approved in April 2019 but the current application sought to relocate the plant 200 metres to the west of the approved site for “operational reasons”. The biogas plant itself will be able to process 100,000t/yr of feedstock consisting of organic fines, green waste and recycled water. It will also have a capacity of 4.38MWe. 

Sugar company Sunoko revealed its €9m Vrbas-based biogas plant is up and running. The 2.4MWe facility is only the 16th in the country, despite its heavily agriculture-based economy. Feedstock tonnages for the facility were not given, but the statement did say the technology was supplied by Germany-based Wabio Technologie.

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