EWB Insight report: September 2021

This month: UK’s district heating market comes of age, Essex is still landfilling after EfW deal fails and EWB investigates Aviva’s problems stemming from the development of three biomass-gasification plants. And the usual facilities round-up

UK’s district heating continues to heat up as Vattenfall expands

In September Vattenfall Heat UK unveiled ambitious plans to create a vast district heating network starting with an offtake agreement with an energy-from-waste plant.

The company, a subsidiary of the Swedish state-owned utility, believes it can eventually supply up to 500,000 homes in London by expanding its planned system linked to Cory’s EfW plant in the capital’s south-east.

Although the company’s blurb does clarify the half million homes is an “equivalent” figures as it will actually supply a “projected” 250,000 homes with the rest made up of “commercial space and public buildings such as schools, council buildings etc”.

Vattenfall held an event to promote the vision at Tower Bridge in central London, with its managing director Mike Reynolds setting out its plans. Reynolds explained: “We’ve got to think big when it comes to removing emissions from heating, on a scale which works for global cities like London. District heating presents the best option for consumers in urban areas. It’s the cheapest source of low-carbon heat, it’s reliable and it’s resilient against energy shocks. 

“Most of London’s 3.5 million homes, and thousands of commercial buildings, are heated using fossil fuels. Yet there are abundant other sources of cleaner heat, such as the ground, water or waste heat from industrial processes. 

“Vattenfall’s European expertise, delivering heat to 1.9 million customers in Berlin, Uppsala and Amsterdam, proves that these types of projects are possible across cities and will work well in urban areas in the UK.  By partnering with organisations like Cory we can build these networks at the scale needed to bring down the costs to building owners and consumers, making district heating the most cost-effective way to decarbonise heat in urban areas.” 

Cory is currently expanding its facility, which secured planning consent from the government last year to build what is in effect another facility next to its current one. Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova is onboard to build the expansion.

Vattenfall’s system is due to start taking heat from the current facility next year, before tapping into the expansion at a later date. It will then link into other projects such as the company’s natural gas-fired heating plant in Greenwich around the O2 arena.

Eventually, the scheme could wrap around both sides of the river Thames, supplying users from the edges of Kent and Essex down to central London.

Policy update

A lack of production capacity for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is emerging as a potential bottleneck ahead of the European Commission’s proposed 2025 introduction of an EU-wide blending requirement. While mindful of the production challenges, Grégoire Le Comte, aviation policy officer at the commission, explained that the proposed ReFuelEU Aviation regulation aims to support the development of the burgeoning market.

EnviTec Biogas said the future for “1000s” of AD plants could be guaranteed through the production of bio-liquified natural gas (bioLNG) as Germany’s pioneering subsidies under its Renewable Energy Act (EEG) start to end after two decades.

In a related development, two German bioenergy groups put forward recommendations for the next legislative period of the EEG, seeking to strengthen government support for bioenergy for power, heat and transport. The Capital Bioenergy Office (HBB) and the German Bioenergy Association (BBE) said the role of district heating networks in the energy transition “must be rethought”, while also calling for a move from E10 petrol to E20, and B10 to B30.

A new biofuels strategy, drawn up by a stakeholder group coordinated by the Swedish government, sees potential for greater uptake of the fuel while signalling risks that recent EU initiatives on forestry will derail the country’s production. Production could rise by 22%, to 193TWh, by 2030, but EU initiatives “may disrupt current logging levels” hitting abilities to meet rising biofuel demand through domestic production.

The largest union representing the UK’s civil servants has rejected a pay offer made to staff by DEFRA, describing it as “unfair, unequal and vastly below inflation”. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said DEFRA’s proposal for a non-consolidated pay rise was constrained by Treasury guidance, and did not reflect the work that staff had delivered in the past year. Non-consolidated performance-related payments are one-off awards made to staff for their performance each year. In contrast, a consolidated award is an increase that is added to basic pay.

An independent review has been completed after local authority Cumbria County Council admitted to an “administrative error” while approving planning changes to a previously consented EfW plant in Carlisle. The council had 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. The council commissioned the Local Government Association's Planning Advisory Service (PAS) to undertake an independent review, which found a “number of identified planning errors”. However, it also ruled the “principal error” was a ‘“simple clerical mistake”.

Market update

Local authority Essex County Council will continue to rely on “unsustainable” landfill as it deals with the fallout from the failure of a facility that had been planned to process residual waste. A number of lots were agreed with offtakers in September for the county’s waste, with Enovert securing the largest deal to take about 240,000t/yr. The council has a long legal history with UBB over a failed MBT plant, which was meant to process the waste.

Waste aggregators no longer see the UK as an export market for RDF in what has been a huge turnaround for a sector that was growing exponentially until a few years ago, according to the most up-to-date figures. Looking at the most recent data from the Environment Agency in the first seven months of this year about 748,800 tonnes were exported from England. Of those exporting the waste, Norway-based Geminor was the largest sending 136,600 tonnes. However, looking back at the company’s financial report for 2020, Geminor said a “decline in overall export market size” from the UK was predicted. It forecast the UK’s exports dropping to between 1.2 and 1.5 million tonnes a year by 2021-22 and “then plateau at this level”.

In a related development, waste management companies Renewi, Hills Waste Solutions and the West Sussex Britaniacrest Seneca Partnership were respectively the seventh, eighth and 13th largest exporters of waste from England in the first seven months of the year. All three companies are working on EfW plants that have been delayed due to planning problems, or more seriously in Renewi’s case, the “failure” to commission its Derby-based waste-gasification plant.

Annual accounts released by the government-owned Low Carbon Contract Company (LCCC) gave an update on the progress of the waste and biomass-processing projects it has supported showing problems for the ACT-equipped plants. The CfD’s biggest “milestone” and only success in the waste sector remains Enfinium Kemsley, while Energy Works (Hull) was the first ACT-equipped project within the CfD portfolio to complete its final installed capacity (FIC) notice, which it did in July 2020.

Oil giant Shell has taken a 21.25% equity stake in Netherlands-based BlueAlp in a deal that should see the latter’s waste-to-chemical feedstock technology scaled up. BlueAlp has developed technology to process hard-to-recycle plastic waste in pyrolysis oil, which can be used to make sustainable chemicals. Shell made the move as part of its “ambition” to recycle a million tonnes of plastic a year in its global chemicals plants by 2025.

Drax revealed a new partnership with the National Farmers Union of England and Wales (NFU) aimed at potentially creating UK-based feedstock supply deals for the facility. Drax’s conversion from a coal-fired to a biomass-fired power station has come in for criticism because most of its feedstock is sourced from the United States. The statement explains the move will “support Drax’s ambition for British farmers to supply some of the biomass” it needs for its bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology.

Waste company Veolia says it is investing £1m (€1.1m) into developing capacity to process “green waste” currently sent for disposal or re-composting. Veolia said the investment has added an additional capacity in the south of England and followed “successful trials”. Veolia has also demonstrated the effectiveness of treating oversized material and removing contamination from the 25% of green waste that ends up being sent for disposal or re-composting.

A project led by the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) has reported the possibility of biomass-fired boilers being almost completely free of particulate emissions through the use of electrostatic filter technology. A Danish-developed electrostatic filter had been shown to be able to reduce particulates from biomass-fired boilers “by up to 96%” over a two-year project. It works by giving the particles an electric charge and then captures them. It does this by passing an electrode with a voltage of 20-30kV through smoke, which then allows the particulates to be captured.

A company is to try again with plans for an incinerator bottom ash (IBA) storage facility after withdrawing them earlier this year. Fortis IBA, which is a subsidiary of the Raymond Brown Group, has applied to local authority Hampshire County Council to build the facility.

Facilities Update - EfW

Co-Gen lost a legal fight over Scottish ministers’ decision to turn down its plans for a 204,000t/yr waste-gasification facility. Co-Gen, through its subsidiary North Lanarkshire Bio Power, had appealed the government’s original decision to snub its project to the Inner House of the Court of Session. However, the court refused the appeal for the 27MWe facility. The Scottish government had turned down the developer’s appeal to it last November after the plans for the Coatbridge-based plant were first rejected by local authority North Lanarkshire Council in April 2018 and then again in June of the same year.

Netherlands-based N+P Group said it is on target to start commissioning its latest Subcoal plant in October with full pellet production by the end of the year. Speaking to EWB, N+P supply chain director Jens Jennissen, said: “The construction is proceeding quite well and we expect to start commissioning the new facility in the middle of October.” Once commissioned, the facility will process about 170,000t/yr of non-recyclable waste into alternative fuels. This will double the site’s previous processing capacity, which was about 85,000t/yr.

Local authority Lincolnshire County Council resolved to support an EfW plant under consideration through the DCO process, despite a recommendation by officers that it was not in accord with the development plan. Plans by Boston Alternative Use Boston Projects for a facility to process up to 1.2Mt/yr of RDF are due to be decided by the government.

Local authority The Highlands Council is pushing ahead with a plan to build an EfW plant to deal with an estimated 80,000t/yr of waste it produces that “cannot be recycled”. It is working on a “partnership vision” aimed at delivering “the ambitious development of a Green Energy Hub in Highland, working collaboratively with key partners”.

Project Genesis is looking at an appeal after local authority Durham County Council turned down its plans for a EfW facility in Consett. The 60,000t/yr plant was recommended to be refused, with the developer saying it was “now considering all options, possibly an appeal, and will work closely with and continue to engage with all key stakeholders moving forward”.

Cory revealed plans to develop a new waste-processing facility at the Port of Tilbury have been revealed in a consultation. In September a consultation into the plans, by which Cory hopes to source up to 450,000t/yr of  MSW and C&I waste.

The planning consent granted to a site for the production of waste-derived fuels remains in place after a judicial review into it was turned down. Local authority Caerphilly County Borough Council confirmed to EWB that the legal action against it, concerning the 2015 consenting of a site owned by waste management firm Hazrem Environmental, had been thrown out.

NGO Community R4C (CR4C) has criticised a financial report into local authority Gloucestershire County Council’s waste contract as a “shameful whitewash”. CR4C said it was “devastated” to learn the document was not a Public Interest Report and branded it “watered down” version of what it had expected. According to the report: “[Grant Thornton] have decided that, on the understanding that the council will ensure that any report we do issue is publicly available and considered in a public meeting of the audit committee, we will not issue a report in the public interest.”

The developer of a 300,000t/yr EfW plant in Northern Ireland has hit out at the length of time it has taken to make a decision on the development. The Indaver-led Becon Consortium is developing the 18MWe plant on behalf of local authorities under the Arc21 umbrella. However, it has been stuck in the planning process “nearly 400 weeks”.

Switzerland-based Axpo’s UK arm has signed what it calls a “long-term” power purchase agreement (PPA) with the under-construction Slough Multifuel EfW facility. Axpo said a deal had been struck with the plant’s joint developers UK-based utility company SSE Thermal and Denmark-based investment fund Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Axpo will buy “100%” of the power exported by the facility, which has a capacity of 49.9MWe.

Ireland-based companies Kibo Energy and Eqtec have struck a deal that sees the former take a 54.54% stake in the latter’s Billingham-based 25MWe waste-gasification plant. Eqtec keeps a 45.46% stake in the Haverton Hill EfW project.

Local authority Orkney Council appears to have ruled out plans to develop its own EfW plant. The council found there was “no suitable energy-recovery technology capable of dealing with the relatively low volumes of waste produced in Orkney”. As a result the council backed treating and exporting its waste for recovery elsewhere.

Local authority Leeds City Council announced it is expanding its EfW-fired heating network to “three iconic buildings” previously run on gas boilers. The first 800 homes were connected to the network in 2020. Known as Pipes, the waste-fired heat will now be supplied to St James’s Hospital, government-owned Quarry House and the newly built Trinity Academy school.

EfW plant operator FCC reported “dramatically” reducing its use of gasoil at its 180,000t/yr Eastcroft facility. A “number of adjustments and improvements including getting combustion and grate automation to work reliably” had allowed it to reduce the use of fossil fuel by 80%. On average FCC has used 67,245 litres of gasoil in the first six months of each year for the past 10 years. However, the new work has led to this being cut to just 16,410 litres over the same period this year.

Local authority Derby City Council says work to understand what condition a failed EfW plant is currently in is “nearing completion”. Taxpayers have spent “over £20m” (€23.3m) on the project since March this year from when it was shut down in August 2019, according to Peatfield’s written question. The costs have been incurred to determine the estimated fair value of the facility, according to the council.

Local authority Kirklees Council confirmed that an “interim agreement” with its waste contractor Suez has been put in place for when the current deal expires in 2023. However, the financial details of the contract are deemed confidential and were not revealed. The council also explained: “The interim contract arrangements will create the stability needed to deliver a successful district heating network scheme as the EfW facility is a critical asset in its development.”

The EA says it now has enough information to decide whether or not to grant an environmental permit to EfW plant developer Northacre Renewable Energy Ltd (NREL). According to the EA, it will “not hold a separate consultation” on the new information, which is available on the consultation page for the permit. The EA had previously consulted on the permit last November.

The project team behind Binn Group’s consented EfW plant is “currently amidst” the EPC tender process, EWB revealed in September. The plant’s backer, investment fund Iona Capital, told EWB that once an EPC deal was signed the team would: “Move towards financial close. All being well, commercial operations would then be due to start late 2024 or possibly early 2025.”

Zürich-based EfW operator ERZ Entsorgung + Recycling Zürich has launched a tender to add a third line to its facility. The company is developing the 2K5 project, which is an expansion of the Zurich-Hagenholz EfW and will be tendered through three lots. The equipment would be a grate-based combustion system and able to process up to 14.5 tonnes per hour – indicating an annual capacity of about 120,000 tonnes depending on downtime. The system would be able to create a gross capacity of 52MWth. According to the notice, the work would start in January 2024 and finish by the end of June 2029.

BH EnergyGap (Doncaster) secured an environmental permit for its facility. According to the full permit, the EfW plant now has nominal capacity of 301,000t/yr and “will process no more than” 350,000t/yr. The draft version had allowed the facility to process up to 426,612t/yr, although it clarified that depending on the calorific value of its feedstock it will “likely” process 301,000t/yr.

Facilities update: Biomass

Trouble keeps mounting for investment fund Aviva’s involvement in three delayed and heavily in debt waste wood-gasification plants as it faces a legal claim for £95m (€111m) from a contractor working on the builds, EWB revealed in September. Aviva faces the potential costs from building contractor Galliford Try, but on top of that it also has an impaired loan receivable balance of £160.8m (€187.7m) related to the plants.

Utility company RWE says it has installed new equipment to deal with a low-frequency tonal noise caused by its steam-turbine generator at its Markinch biomass-fired plant. RWE revealed it had spent £200,000 (€234,000) on new noise abatement technology, having identified the noise issued two years ago. EWB has previously reported that noise from the facility was alleged to have reached 51.1 decibels, despite it being only permitted to be below 45dB. However, RWE says it has now installed a material acting as an “acoustic jacket” around the generator, which was fitted in the first half of this year.

The commissioning of what would be the world’s largest purpose-built biomass-fired plant has slipped further behind schedule. The government-owned LCCC has updated its page on the 299MWe MGT Teesside project to say it is now expected to start generating on 25 September, however that date was also missed. EWB understands the developer now wants to extend the date to December this year. The plant was meant to be operational in the summer of 2018.

Biomass-fired plant developer Parc Calon Gwyrdd appears to have dropped plans to develop a facility in Cardiff less than a year after narrowly regaining planning consent for the project. New plans submitted to Cardiff Council show the company wants to shift its development to focus mainly on 50,000 square metres of “industrial accommodation” and will drop the biomass-fired plant.

Engineering company Sulzer revealed it is building a facility able to produce up to 70,000t/yr of biomass pellets. Sulzer said the pellets were a “carbon-neutral alternative to coal”, which can be dropped into power stations. The project is funded by the EU-backed Arbaflame project, which was revealed in 2018, and focuses on France-based utility’s Engie Rotterdam-based coal plant.

Facilities update: Biogas

Advanced Biofuel Solutions Ltd’s (ABSL) delayed Swindon-based facility will be supplying bioSNG to the grid in October. The news was revealed in a statement issued by utility company Wales & West Utilities. BioSNG produced at the plant will have a hydrogen content up to 1% which has required an exemption to standard requirements.

Utility company Gasum welcomed Swedish proposals to expand support for biogas production. The Finland-based business today issued a statement, saying that “for several years the industry had pushed the issue of Sweden needing to create long-term good conditions for biogas”.

Work has started on the construction of a vast bioproduct mill in Kemi, developer Metsä Group announced in September. The site’s primary role is to produce pulp and other bioproducts, such as lignin, textile fibres and biocomposites, but it also produces biogas and biofuel pellets from sludge.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles
and free email bulletins.

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in
Follow Us:
Sign up for EWB's Free Bulletins

EWB Daily 


Sign up

EWB Energy-from-Waste


Sign up

EWB Biomass-to-Energy


Sign up