EWB Insight report: August 2021

This month: 700,000t/yr EfW deal effectively awarded, no appeal over non-inclusion of EfW in EU ETS, Veolia highlights energy importance of EfW, and the usual facilities round up

An artist's impression of the EfW plant

The biggest energy-from-waste contract awarded in the UK for a number of years still has not been officially presented, but its outcome would appear to be set. 

Local authority-owned waste company the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) said last October that three firms were in the running for its huge 700,000-tonne-per-year EfW build. 

The government gave the vast 70MWe Edmonton facility the greenlight in February 2017 and it secured an environmental permit a few months later. But it has been controversial with a legal challenge against it thrown out in 2019. 

ENDS reported shortly after that France-based CNIM was only “nominally” involved in the process to give the project three potential winners, but would actually prefer not to win after suffering financial issues with a series of other EfW builds.

It then emerged in late August that Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) and Spain-based Acciona would work together with the former giving the latter its “technical expertise” on the project. 

CNIM’s problems with EfW have been well documented with it having to pick up the pieces on EfW builds after the insolvencies of project partners Lagen and Interserve. 

As CNIM has retreated from the EfW sector, HZI has expanded to fill the void but perhaps its decision to work with Acciona may be a hint it is reaching its capacity in the UK. 

Now Acciona will be part of a second project in the UK having secured a £150m (€174m) deal last year to build the 150,000t/yr NESS Energy project in Aberdeen. It is working with Belgium-based Indaver on the project.

While the NLWA says the tender process has followed all the rules, a legal challenge is not out of the question given that the plant has already faced attempted legal action. 

Policy update

A challenge against a decision to not include EfW plants in the UK’s emissions trading system (ETS) has been scrapped after a court ruled in favour of the UK government, it has now been confirmed. Legal firm Leigh Day confirmed an appeal had been launched in August, but it says it has now dropped the appeal to instead focus on the UK’s Climate Change Act and its requirement to “limit” CO2 emissions rather than “reduce” them. 

Leigh Day also explained that another of its clients NGO Biofuelwatch is now “not intending” to bring a legal challenge against the government over the vast 299MWe biomass-fired MGT Teesside plant. Biofuelwatch and Leigh Day had said in July that continuing with the 1.2 million tonne a year facility was “unlawful and irrational”. MGT had already told ENDS that Biofuelwatch’s “action [was] misconceived and moreover its statement contains a large number of inaccuracies which we will now be discussing” with the NGO. MGT did not comment formally on the case being dropped when contacted by ENDS. 

Agricultural trade body the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) hit out at Northern Ireland’s government saying it was “placing additional stress” on its members by demanding repayment of biomass subsidies under its failed Renewable Heat Initiative. 

Ireland opened a consultation into the potential introduction of a new Renewable Heat Obligation, which is seen as a potential boost for biomass and biogas facilities. The government says it wants to back technology including biogas and biomethane, bioliquid, biomass and ‘green’ hydrogen, which is produced from renewable electricity. Ireland currently only supplies 6.3% of its heat sector demand from renewable sources, which is the lowest percentage of any EU member state and is well below the bloc’s 22% average. 

Biogas-backing trade body Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) has called for more UK government support for its sector. According to ADBA, the recently released Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UK hosting COP26 later this year, should both act as catalysts for change. ADBA added that if “fully deployed”, biogas-producing plants could deliver a 6% greenhouse gas emission cut by 2030.

Trade unions representing Environment Agency (EA) staff rejected or were poised to snub a government pay offer described as “miserly”. GMB, Unite, Unison and Prospect wrote to the government seeking an urgent meeting with DEFRA over a pay offer to employees they say amounts to a real terms cut.

Market update 

The importance of EfW to the UK’s electricity-production infrastructure was illustrated by new generation figures from operator Veolia in August. It reported its 10 plants delivered a quarter more energy to the grid than wind power over a 14-hour period on 22 July. At one point, Veolia generated 111MWe versus a total of only 58MWe from wind, it said in a statement.

The troubled vision of delivering heat from an EfW plant in south London took another twist with the MD of the company set up to operate the system quitting. Amanda Cherrington, who was the boss of Sutton Decentralised Energy Network (SDEN), left her role a month after London-based local authority Sutton Council criticised the district heating system over poor service and allegations of financial mismanagement. SDEN signed a deal with Viridor to source heat from its then under-development EfW plant, however, the heat network is currently running on landfill gas. 

China-based Beijing Enterprises is considering selling its European-based energy-from-waste business EEW Energy from Waste. It bought the company from Sweden-based EQT Infrastructure II in 2016 for €1.6bn, but is said to be considering selling it for around €2bn. 

US-based investor Platinum Equity’s takeover of Spain-headquartered Urbaser has been signed off by the European Commission. The commission said it had cleared the deal under the EU’s merger regulation policy. Platinum revealed in June that it had agreed a €3.4bn deal with Urbaser’s previous Asia-based owner China Tianying, which was at that point subject to “shareholder and customary regulatory approvals”.

In the UK Urbaser acquired Hartlepool firm J&B Recycling for an undisclosed sum. The deal will provide Urbaser with a network of four material recycling and processing facilities, managing more than 180,000t/yr. 

Waste management firm FCC said it has produced 420 tonnes of biomass feedstock from its latest crop of miscanthus grass grown at “several” old landfill and quarry sites across the UK. FCC said the crop would “typically” produce 1,983MWh of heat. 

A report by consultancy Footprint Services says several years of biogas sector growth appear to have slowed in the past 12 months. The sector exceeded 6Mt of capacity in the past year, up on the year before but at a slower rate. However, its slowdown should “not necessarily be seen as evidence of a market slowdown” overall. Growth is still driven by biogas-producing facilities with in-vessel composting continuing to lose capacity year on year.

Industry concerns over a lack of qualified HGV drivers continued with Veolia offering a cash bonus to attract new drivers. A £1,500 (€1,746) “sign on bonus to new HGV drivers as national shortage threatens municipal collections”. Veolia said the bonus was “part of a comprehensive strategy to attract new talent and keep vital recycling and waste collections moving for communities”.

Northern Ireland-based waste management firm Re-Gen Waste struck a deal to ship RDF to Norway in what it has claimed is an industry first. Re-Gen said it would export 100,000t to Fortum Oslo Varme’s Klemetsrud EfW over the three-year deal. 

UK-based control systems integrator Cougar Automation has revealed it is changing its name to Actemium Automation. The company revealed the move in a statement, released last week, saying it was “one of the UK’s largest automation providers”. 

Facilities update: EfW 

Greater Manchester Police was called in to investigate after a chemical recycling plant put into storage disappeared, leaving the owners bewildered. Waste Technologies UK has appealed for information in an attempt to recover its equipment, which weighs 91 tonnes and is valued at £4.2m (€4.9m). A substantial number of vehicles must have been used, considering it took 11 lorries to transport it from north-west Scotland in early 2019. The absence of the plant, which processes waste plastic into hydrocarbon fuels, was only noticed in July. 

Landowner Peel formally applied for planning consent to build what would be its second plastic waste-gasification plant. Peel said the paperwork had been submitted to local authority West Dunbartonshire Council. The facility will take “around 15 months to complete” once construction starts. The £20m (€23.4m) facility would process 13,500t/yr of non-recyclable plastic. 

Czech-owned EP UK Investments (EPUKI) is likely to face an expected three-month wait before hearing if it will gain planning consent for its under-development South Humber Bank Energy Centre. The Planning Inspectorate delivered its recommendation report to the UK government, in effect starting the clock on a three-month deadline for a decision to be made. EPUKI confirmed in 2019 that it was starting the process of applying for a DCO to allow it to expand its previously consented 49.9MWe capacity of the plant to 95MWe. 

The EA apologised and extended a consultation into a Dorset-based EfW plant after admitting loading up an incorrect document as part of the process for a permit for Powerfuel Portland’s plant to build a 202,000t/yr EfW facility.  

Separately, Powerfuel also told EWB it had submitted further information about its proposed project after a request from a local authority. The developer responded to a Regulation 25 request for information, which Dorset Council had asked for in April. Powerfuel has previously told ENDS it hopes to get a decision on the project before the end of the year.

An MP questioned the consultation period for EfW developer MVV’s latest facility, which is planned for Medworth. MP Steve Barclay wrote that the process was “flawed, premature and not to an appropriate quality for a national infrastructure project”. MVV has previously stated that the plant will be able to process about 523,500t/yr given an energy value of 10.9MJ/kg, or up to 625,600t/yr at 9.8MJ/kg. It also said the plant would have a capacity of up to 53MWe and could “potentially” produce steam for heat supply.

Germany-based Martin confirmed it had installed its 1,000th grate at an EfW plant in Switzerland as part of work to add a new line. The EfW plant is owned by Zweckverband Abfallverwertung Bazenheid (ZAB) and located in Bazenheid. It can process up to 115,000t/yr, has a capacity of 2.3MWe and has been operational since 1984. The first fire with the new grate is due in the middle of September.

The first part of a hearing into plans by Alternative Use Boston Projects (AUBP) to develop what would be one of the UK’s largest ever EfW plants is now scheduled to start in September. The development covers a 102MWe gross (80MWe exportable) gEfW plant with lightweight aggregates facility, wharf, waste reception and storage areas in Boston.

Port Czystej Energii (PCE) revealed the latest progress at its Gdansk-based EfW facility. Works related to pouring foundation slabs and erecting walls of the buildings had continued, while the assembly of the first elements of the technological line also started. The “crowning achievement” of July works was the assembly of the supporting structure for the grate, which was brought to the construction site in June. 

Finland-based Valmet revealed it has secured an order for a multifuel-fired plant for Kipaş Kağit Sanayi Isletmeleri’s paper mill. Valmet said the deal was “in the range” of €25m to €35m. It did not appear to give precise tonnages for the new plant, but states it will process a mix of “water treatment sludge, plastic rejects and coal”.

Another year has gone by with a Derby-based waste-gasification plant still mothballed after a failed attempt to commission it by previous developers Resource Recovery Solutions (RRS). RRS – a joint venture between construction firm Interserve and waste business Renewi – was developing the plant for Derby City and Derbyshire County Councils with the aim of opening it in April 2017. However, in 2019 Renewi announced that Interserve had failed to commission the facility and was now looking at the "complete termination" of the contract.

The Rookery South EfW project in Bedfordshire reached a “significant milestone” in August, said operator Covanta, by achieving the first fire for one of its three grate furnaces. The plant is expected to open fully next year, providing 50 permanent jobs and processing 545,000t/yr. It will be nine years after it first received development consent as a nationally significant infrastructure project.

Facilities update: Biomass

The team behind a Barry-based biomass-gasification plant have resummed trying to commission the facility in August. Biomass UK No 2 is developing the 10MWe, 86,400t/yr waste wood-processing gasification facility, which has become notorious for gaining planning consent without an EIA.

Biomass-fired Drax started work on improving the efficiency of one of its four biomass units. Over the next four months contractors will install a new high-pressure turbine barrel and new pipework, and survey the condition of the plant’s boilers. It is the third and final such upgrade as part of a £40m (€47.1m) investment programme that began in 2019. The upgrade is part of Drax’s efforts to reduce its running costs by around a third by 2027, when support under the Renewables Obligation Certificate and Contracts for Difference subsidy schemes end. By that time, the firm hopes to receive income from a new subsidy scheme for CCS.

Eqtec confirmed it has completed a deal for a 1.2MWe biomass-gasification plant in Belišće, Croatia. Its joint venture with Croatia-based Sense ESCO, known as Synergy Projects, bought the facility through a €550,000 loan and a €1.6m 10-year loan provided by an unnamed third party. Originally commissioned in 2016, the plant was built around Eqtec gasification technology, but has performed below expectations so far. 

Facilities update: Biogas 

Privilege Finance and Investec revealed a long-term partnership aimed at releasing up to £90m (€105m) worth of funds for biogas plant owners. The funding will be offered to “existing anaerobic digestion customers to refinance projects as they hit operations”. By using the funds from Investec to refinance projects after the initial project finance phase, Privilege will be able to redeploy the money to allow investment in additional renewable energy or carbon reduction projects, according to the pair. 

Envar is proposing a large-scale overhaul of its Cambridge-based site where it currently uses in-vessel composting to process refuse. According to plans lodged with Cambridge County Council, Envar plans to build a dry AD facility, healthcare waste processing EfW plant and biomass storage at the Woodwalton site. The biogas produced will be compressed on-site and used to power the company’s fleet of vehicles as well as having the “potential” to supply extra biomethane to the national grid. 

The Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd (REAL) announced a 100th biogas-producing plant has joined its Biofertiliser Certification Scheme (BCS). The Barkip AD plant became the newest member of the BCS scheme in August and can process 75,000t/yr and has a capacity of about 2.2MWe.

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