EWB Insight report: February 2022

This month: Could biomethane replace Russian natural gas? Problems at a Malvern-based medical waste plant and construction workers raise issues at the NESS EfW plant build

No to Russian biomass and coal, but yes to its natural gas 

The tragic scenes unfolding recently in Ukraine have joined western Europe together in bringing condemnation and sanctions against Russia – but not so much against exports of its natural gas. 

In a statement last week, Denmark-based Ørsted said it would stop sourcing biomass and coal from Russia in the wake of its widely condemned invasion of Ukraine, but it highlighted the “serious human and economic consequences” if it also switched off the gas supply. 

Although not the only buyer of Russia’s fossil fuels, Ørsted is a major customer. The company has successfully decarbonised its portfolio of coal-fired plants to use biomass, but the utility company, like much of Europe, still relies on Russian gas. 

The company sources its natural gas through a deal with Russia’s majority state-owned utility company Gazprom, the shares in which have dropped 10.31% over the past five days as companies such as Shell have started offloading holdings in it. 

Therefore, perhaps more than ever it is time to invest not just in biogas production but the upgrading of it to biomethane. But there is still some way to go. 

In February, the German biogas association (FvB) said “theoretically” the country’s 9,500 biogas-producing facilities could be adapted to all produce biomethane as Europe struggles to source natural gas.

Germany is Europe’s and probably the world’s leader on biogas production, but of its huge portfolio of plants only about 10% supply biomethane to the grid system. While some of this is about logistics and the remote locations of plants, it is also about them being built through subsidies that encourage renewable power but paid less attention to heat. 

FvB said the country’s plants produce about 10 billion cubic metres of gas with an energy content of around 100 terawatt hours a year, or roughly 10% of German gas consumption. However, only about 10TWh is actually fed into the grid with about 90% of biogas plants solely producing electricity.

Policy update 

The European Parliament is revising EU limits on the presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in waste, which could lead to restrictions on the export of fly ash to developing countries. In particular, it is considering bringing limits for polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (dl-PCBs), which are found in fly ash, down from 0.005mg/kg to 0.003mg/kg. The 0.003mg/kg limit would further seek to restrict “the export of fly ash with dioxin levels over one thousand ng [nanograms] TEQ kg-1 [toxic equivalent] from developed countries to countries with economies in transition or developing countries”, reads an explanatory text.

NGO Biofuelwatch revealed the biomass-processing MGT Teesside plant’s government-backed financial support has been extended until 28 November this year. EWB contacted MGT for comment, but no one from the company had responded. Most recently it emerged that the plant was aiming to be operational last December, although that date has now been missed.

DEPV, the Germany-based trade association for business in the biomass and pellet sectors, hit out after the country’s environmental watchdog criticised its market. The DEPV took issue with recent comments by the federal environment agency (UBA) and insisted “modern wood energy is indispensable for the energy transition in the heating market”. The UBA had called for an “avoidance” of heating with biomass due to its potential negative impact on air pollution. 

The length of time that technically competent managers (TCMs) have to attend permitted waste sites will be based on operator performance, with those in “deteriorating or poor compliance bands having an increased attendance requirement”, the Environment Agency confirmed. 

The UK government revealed it will hold annual auctions for its contracts for difference (CfD) subsidy support scheme from next year. The government-owned Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC) confirmed the move to annual auctions starting in March 2023. Previously, CfD auctions were held every two years and the LCCC said the move was a result of an “internal review” as part of the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy. 

Market update 

Workers employed by Slovakia-based Energyco on the NESS EfW plant in Aberdeen are facing an unclear future after their company ran into financial difficulties. Trade union GMB Scotland organiser Dom Pritchard said issues had emerged at the site of the NESS EfW build over the past two weeks. According to Pritchard, Energyco’s woes in Aberdeen had been caused by a “domino effect” after France-based CNIM went into administration in January and closed the site of Earls Gate EfW plant build.

Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova completed a deal to take over rival EfW plant builder Steinmüller Babcock Environment. HZI said the deal for Germany-based Steinmüller Babcock Environment, which it first revealed in December, had gone through in February. 

Oil giant BP has taken a 30% stake in the UK’s largest provider of hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) biofuels. BP said its decision to invest in Green Biofuels (GBF) would help it “decarbonise”. No financial terms were disclosed. 

HZI and Norway-based carbon capture-technology supplier CO2 Capsol struck a deal over the latter’s equipment. HZI said the deal added a third carbon capture technology to its available portfolio for EfW plants.

Viridor and consultancy Turner & Townsend have signed a deal to take CCUS technology forward at the Runcorn EfW plant. Turner & Townsend said it would provide project management services for retrofitting new CCUS technology to the EfW plant in north-west England. In October last year, Norway-based Aker Carbon Capture confirmed it will supply “next-generation modular” CCUS to Viridor’s EfW plant, but Runcorn’s technology is being developed separately from that deal. 

London-based Pioneer Point Partners revealed the final close on its maiden infrastructure fund has exceeded its €500m target and reached €575m. The fund had commitments from 15 “highly reputable and long-established” European and North American-based institutional investors. Since the first close in December 2020, the fund has committed €120m in two investments, including €60m to Stream BioEnergy, a developer and operator of biogas plants in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

It is currently cheaper to export waste wood from southern England than it is to send it to biomass-processing plants in the north of the country because of the ongoing HGV driver shortage, Andusia managing director Steve Burton told EWB. Firstly, Burton said the ongoing HGV drivers shortage in the UK has meant the costs for moving waste from London and the south-east, where it is mainly produced, to the north-east for processing, has become too expensive. Secondly, Burton explained that after a recent lull demand had also increased outside the UK, further boosting the profitability of moving waste wood overseas rather than within the UK. 

Norway-based Geminor reported that waste wood processing increased last year as the amount of RDF and SRF it processed dropped. Germinor explained its processing of waste wood, waste paper and plastics “increased sharply”. Overall, waste wood increased by 70,800 tonnes to a total of 382,727 tonnes, becoming the “second-largest fraction” for Geminor. 

Geminor also extended its UK portfolio by signing a waste management deal directly with a fourth local authority. It has signed an initial three-year deal with Swansea Council, with the contract having already started earlier in February. The deal also includes potential extensions, which could see it run for a further four years. Geminor will take 33,000t/yr to Covanta’s 545,000t/yr Rookery South EfW plant, which only officially opened in January. 

A consortium has revealed plans to turn municipal waste-derived CO2 into sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) at a Portugal-based EfW plant. Porto-based waste management firm LIPOR, power-to-e-fuel trader P2X Europe and France-based Veolia will develop the project at the Maia EfW plant. The project at the EfW plant, which processes about 345,000 tonnes a year, could “revolutionise the waste-to-energy industry while simultaneously decarbonising the aviation sector”, according to the companies. 

The London borough councils of Lewisham and Greenwich confirmed they have extended their contracts with Veolia to process non-recyclable waste at the SELCHP EfW facility.The statement itself does not give tonnages involved, but Lewisham Council sends on average 84,000t/yr. 

Facilities update: EfW 

Investment fund Equitix is understood to be considering options for the future of its 8,000t/yr clinical and hazardous waste-processing EfW plant in Malvern. The 0.26MWe Malvern-based facility had been in the “commissioning process for 20 months and was still not operating as expected”, according to a source familiar with the project. Equitix did not comment. 

Waste management company Levenseat told EWB it is “carrying out a detailed technology appraisal” of potential technology providers for the planned expansion of its EfW plant, which has so far been developed with gasification technology. The first phase of the EfW plant went into operation in 2019, but there are plans to develop another site to process up to 750,000t/yr. 

Infrastructure investor Bioenergy Infrastructure Group (BIG) one of the owners of Levenseat also told EWB that problems at the plant, including damage caused to the plant’s refractory walls during waste processing, have been solved. A spokesperson for BIG told EWB: “A defect was identified with the refractory lining, with replacement works being completed in December 2021. Following this, Levenseat Renewable Energy Limited (LREL) has seen strong, on target, performance in 2022.”

Local authority Hampshire County Council turned down plans by Veolia to develop its fourth EfW facility in the county after more than 5,000 people and organisations wrote to oppose the project. Veolia’s 30MWe facility was planned to be able to process up to 330,000t/yr of residual and commercial waste. 

A Camden resident who was trying to bring a judicial review against the decision toward a construction deal for the replacement Edmonton EfW plant has pulled out of the process. Dorothea Hackman, said she would not be taking the judicial review against the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) forward “due to prohibitive financial risk”. In January the NLWA confirmed it had signed a deal with Spain-based Acciona to build the vast 700,000t/yr facility. 

In a related move, protesters against plans to build an EfW plant to serve north London have turned their attention to trying to block a green bond for the facility. XR Zero Waste said local government-owned UK Municipal Bonds Agency (UK MBA) should not support the Edmonton EfW plant with green bonds. For its part, UK MBA says the bond issued for the EfW facility was “rigorously evaluated”.

Malta’s department of contracts has restarted the tender process to build a consented EfW on the island. A formal contract is due to be issued on 10 March. The notice does not give capacities for the plant, but EWB has previously reported the approved design will see it process about 120,000 tonnes a year, mostly in the form of refuse-derived fuel. The plant will also have a gross capacity of 25MWe.

Local authority Cheshire West and Chester Council approved a variation to a permission for a hydrogen production facility and cogeneration plant that processes waste plastic. Peel NRE proposed the amendments to the approved layout and elevations, which arose from the detailed engineering design of the facility and the need to undertake earthworks to accommodate the ground levels at the site. The application for the Ince Recovery Park, known as Protos, also proposed increasing the number of HGVs allowed to access the facility each day to provide flexibility for the delivery of hydrogen to customers.

Ireland-based Eqtec changed a deal to buy the site of its planned waste-gasification facility at Haverton Hill, Billingham, in the UK. The facility has planning consent to process up to 200,000t/yr of RDF and has a capacity of 25MWe. However, the statement does not give an update of Ireland-based Kibo, which had said it was going to buy a stake in the project last September. Neither does it mention France-based Idex, which was linked with the project last March. 

Facilities update: Biomass  

AEB revealed it knowingly broke an agreement with its owner, the municipality of Amsterdam, to only process feedstock sourced from within a specified area around its biomass-fired plant. Officially the plant is called the AEB Bio-energy plant (AEB BEC) and it was meant to source feedstock from “within a 150-kilometre radius” of the city. According to AEB, the reason it had ignored the requirement was that “due to the overstrained situation on the [waste wood] market, there is insufficient biomass of good quality available. The biomass that is available causes problems in the [facility]. For example, ammonia emissions are higher than environmental standards.”

The 150,000t/yr biomass-fired E-Wood plant is due to start commissioning in May. Germany-based Standardkessel Baumgarte said the facility had come through pressure tests on the steam generator and the economiser. As a result, the start of commissioning was “planned for May 2022”. However, when Standardkessel Baumgarte secured the contract to build the facility in September 2019 it had forecast a 30-month timeline for the project, indicating it would be operational in March. 

Denmark-based Ørsted hired Sweden-based Fortum Sverige to overhaul three of its biomass-converted power plants over the next two years. The work covers the Herning, Studstrup and Avedøre facilities, all of which were converted from coal. 

UK-based investment fund SDCL Energy Efficiency Income Trust, known as SEEIT, has taken an 80% equity stake in an operational biomass-fired cogeneration plant in Mangualde, Portugal. SEEIT paid €22m for the majority stake to Capwatt, a Portugal-based architectural and engineering company, which developed the facility. 

Drax was charged by the Health and Safety Executive last year with two legal breaches in 2006 and 2017 related to exposing its employees to dust from the wood pellets it burns. The company denies the charges and a trial is expected to begin in June 2023 and last for four weeks.

Biomass-fired power station Drax also revealed it was back in profit after being hit by coal phase-out costs and Covid. Drax’s operating profit rose to £197m (€236m) this year from a loss of £156m (€186m) in 2020. Its before-tax profits also rose to £122m (€146m) from a loss of £235m (€281m) over the same period. 

Facilities update: Biogas 

A consultation has been opened into an environmental permit for the under-construction Evercreech Renewable Energy biogas plant, which is due to run until 22 March. Macquarie Capital Principal Finance’s UK-based anaerobic digestion company Adapt Biogas owns the plant, which is designed to process up to 95,000t/yr. 

Worcester-based biogas plant operator Stenergy submitted plans for a farm-based facility. Worcester City Council are due to decide on the 48,500t/yr plant.

Biogas plant developer Stanton Energy secured a permit for what it has previously said could be the first of many facilities in the UK. The 40,000t/yr facility is due to a biomethane-production capacity of 3.5 million cubic metres, enough to provide more than 2,300 families with this renewable alternative of fossil natural gas.

Germany-based Weltec Biopower reported that of the 30 “agricultural and waste” processing biogas plants recently built in Greece it was “significantly involved” in 17. Weltec said one of these AD plants was built in Megara in 2015. However, in the past year, Weltec expanded the plant and since March 2021 had doubled its output of 1MWe.

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