EWB Insight report: April 2022

This month: Scottish review of EfW capacity with ministers, Covanta carves off European based facilities, Indaver’s Ireland-based plant develops, new owner for the Margam biomass-fired plant and Wärtsilä reveals “world’s second-largest” biomethane-liquefaction plant

Arguably there have been two major successes in the UK since the country’s landfill tax was introduced in 1996: the development of domestic energy-from-waste plants and the export of waste to established facilities.

Both these measures have successfully moved waste away from landfill and both require permitting, which in turn funds the cash-strapped English regulator the Environment Agency (EA).

However, the EA currently finds itself under pressure as it has failed to crack down on illegal waste operations, which include illegal exports of refuse.

As a result, the EA’s chief executive Sir James Bevan has now called for a complete ban on waste exports and tougher prison sentences for waste criminals to help “tackle waste crime for good”.

However, this has caused alarm among waste exporters, the vast majority of which operate legitimately. The move would likely lead to the majority of waste currently exported from England – more than a million tonnes a year in recent years – going to landfill, something the UK has spent nearly three decades reducing.

Waste aggregator Andusia director Steve Burton responded to the EA’s comments on social media site Linkedin. He said: “Irrational views by the EA. Do they think that waste criminals will take any notice of a ban on exports whilst legitimate businesses suffer? Our business has spent over £1m on transfrontier shipment notification costs. Who will fund the EA if legitimate businesses don’t pay for compliance?”

Figures from the EA also showed Andusia has become the biggest exporter of waste from England in the first two month of this year.

Policy update

An “independent review” of EfW capacity in the country has been handed over to the Scottish government. The government commissioned waste expert Dr Colin Church to investigate Scotland’s energy recovery capacity and the waste hierarchy in Scotland last November. Church believes publication of the document is “expected” after the Scottish local elections, which take place on 5 May.

The Netherlands’ government revealed an “immediate stop” to new subsidies for what it calls “low-grade heat'' supplied by processing biomass. It said this would “mainly” affect projects using biomass to heat buildings and greenhouses. Specifically, buildings and greenhouses using low-temperature heat (100°C) from biomass.

The Swiss Federal Council opened a consultation on reforms to its financial support system for renewable energy, including biogas and biomass units. The proposed package of measures follows the Federal Assembly’s decision in October to replace the current subsidy system, which expires at the end of this year. Under the revised scheme, the government would pay 60% of the cost of a new biogas plant running on agricultural residues. For other biogas installations and wood-fired biomass plants, the rate is set at 40%. Energy-from-waste plants would receive a 20% payment, as would sewage biogas units. Biomass plants would be paid quarterly for each kilowatt-hour of electricity fed into the grid.

Market update

Sweden-based investment fund EQT Infrastructure and US-based EfW business Covanta revealed plans to split off their European-based facilities into a separate business. Six plants, four in the UK and one each in Italy and Ireland, would be run by a new company called Covanta Europe, in what the two said is a “key step to unlock significant growth potential and enable further value creation across both platforms”. The move follows EQT Infrastructure’s US$5.4bn (€4.4bn) deal to buy Covanta, which went through last year. Overall, the company has 41 EfW facilities in the US, Canada and Europe.

Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) is carrying on with its four Moscow-based EfW developments as increasing international sanctions are applied to Russia. When asked by EWB if the projects had been affected by sanctions and the decision of many firms to pull out of Russia, HZI said the builds were ongoing currently “in compliance with our contractual obligations. Thereby, we pay strict attention to adherence to the recent sanctions and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

UK-based Peel unveiled plans for a carbon capture network at its Protos site that could eventually expand to support the same technology at other facilities. The Cheshire-based site could capture 800,000t/yr of carbon dioxide with “future phases” increasing this capacity to more than 1.2Mt/yr.

Swedish state-owned utility company Vattenfall unveiled plans to connect 620,000 homes to two mainly waste-fired heat networks in Glasgow and Edinburgh by 2050. The company said it would “collaborate” with organisations including the Scottish government, local authorities and EfW firm Viridor.

The Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has launched an in-depth investigation into the acquisition of AEB Amsterdam by rival EfW operator AVR Afvalverwerking. An initial probe “revealed that the acquisition could lead to higher prices for waste processing, among other effects”. A follow-up investigation will focus on the effects on the household, commercial and hazardous waste treatment markets.

Utility company Gasum revealed Sweden-based logistics company Sandahls Logistik had signed the country’s largest deal to date for biogas-powered trucks. Finland-based Gasum confirmed the deal, stating Sandahls' goal is to phase out fossil-fueled transport in its operations by 2025. Gasum said its biogas fuel-supply agreement with Sandahls was “worth several hundred million kronor” and it will also build two new supply stations at sites owned by the company.

Investor Francaise De l’Energie (FDE) bought 94% of biogas plant owner Cryo Pur for an initial €2.5m with “possible additional remuneration” of €3m depending on “certain conditions”. Cryo Pur, which was established in 2015, has developed its own technology which is used in two biogas plants located in the UK and Norway. In 2021, Cryo Pur achieved revenues of €4.9m.

Netherlands-based consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV and UK-based utility company Anglian Water struck a deal over the latter’s biological hydrolysis technology known as HpH Technology. Royal HaskoningDHV said its deal includes the transfer of the existing HpH patent, but that no financial terms were revealed. The statement explains that following the deal the technology will go to market under the name Helea.

Waste management firm Veolia revealed it has deployed its first biofuel-powered vehicles on collection routes in the UK. The vehicles use hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) biofuel, which is also used by businesses such as Cory in its river Thames-based barges. According to Veolia, the vehicles are now operating in Norfolk and are “solely powered” by HVO under a deal with local authority Broadland District Council.

Germany-based EfW operator EEW made more money and handled more waste last year than in 2020, according to parent company Beijing Enterprises Holding (BEHL). Revenue rose 6.6% to HK$6.04bn (€703m), according to BEHL’s annual report. While electricity sales fell by 1.9%, heat and steam sales rose 6% to 3.16 billion kilowatt hours.

Facilities update: EfW

Belgium-based Indaver is free to resubmit its plans for an EfW plant in Ireland after an NGO’s attempt to block the move was refused in court. NGO Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (CHASE) lost its legal challenge to stop the plans from being submitted. Last October the same judge said he would cancel the planning consent of the 18.5MWe Ringaskiddy-based EfW plant, which is proposed to process up to 240,000t/yr, but allowed the plans to restart in the planning process.

EfW plant developer Uniper confirmed its planned Ratcliffe-on-Soar-based facility has come through the threat of a government call-in for the second time. A spokesperson for Uniper told EWB that the plant, officially known as the East Midlands Energy Re-Generation (EMERGE), had been signed off by the government after a call-in request. The spokesperson added: “The next step will be to put in place the commercial arrangements for the ownership, construction and operation for the facility, which are expected to be confirmed later this year.”

A local authority special purpose vehicle (LASPV) is to be set up to help deliver a 450,000 tonne a year EfW plant in Redcar. Local authority Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council discussed the EfW project in a recent meeting held behind closed doors due to commercial confidentiality. However, minutes from the meeting have been published and show progress has been made on the development, which was first revealed in December 2019. According to the minutes, council officers have been delegated authority to finalise and enter into a “waste supply and support agreement” with the LASPV.

Local authority Wiltshire Council deferred making a final decision on plans for the Northacre EfW plant during a meeting called after a delay to the project while the UK government decided whether to call it in. It was the third time the authority had been asked to make a decision, after it had previously granted the project planning consent twice, once with gasification and once with grate-based technology. Last June, and for the second time, the council gave planning consent to the plant, which is being developed by Northacre Renewable Energy Limited (NREL).

Work is under way in Aberdeen to develop a heat network that will be supplied by an EfW plant, which is currently under construction.The £10m (€11.9m) Torry heat network scheme will provide almost 300 homes with low-cost energy along with a primary school and a social work office. The EfW plant will be sited on the East Tullos industrial estate and will process residual waste from Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray councils. The main contractor for the work is Vital Energi and works are expected to finish late in 2023.

EfW plant operator Stadtreinigung Hamburg (SRH) completed a crucial part of its €55m project to expand heat supply from its Rugenberger Damm facility. SRH said the project is “unique in Germany”. It involves three steam-powered absorption heat pumps, which should allow for heat to be supplied further “and at stable prices”, according to the company.

Investor Gidara Energy announced plans to develop a waste-to-methanol plant in the Port of Rotterdam. The facility, to be officially known as Advanced Methanol Rotterdam (AMR), would be the firm’s second such plant following one under construction in Amsterdam. AMR is expected to be fully operational in 2025.

UK local authority Cambridgeshire County Council granted planning consent for an IBA-processing plant in Whittlesey developed by Johnsons Aggregates and Recycling for the former Saxon Brickworks. No more than 250,000t/yr of non-hazardous IBA and 50,000t/yr construction and demolition waste would be brought to the site in any 12-month period.

The developer behind what would be the UK’s largest EfW plant had not managed to allay objections to the development raised by biodiversity regulator Natural England (NE), the Environment Agency (EA) and other organisations by the time the Planning Inspectorate ended its examination of the project in mid-April. The two regulators continue to object to the 102MWe gross, 80MWe export Boston Alternative Energy Facility on habitats grounds.

The Czech government decided not to call in plans to build an EfW plant in the south Bohemian city of České Budějovice. The Environment Ministry rejected complaints over the development’s scale, noise and air pollution.

Dutch firm Harvest Waste is to build a third EfW plant overseas, with the development of a 50MWe, 1,500t/d plant in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi. A deal was struck with the government of the south-eastern province of Sindh on 1 April, alongside joint venture partner Khan Renewable Energy.

Facilities update: biomass

Investment fund Greencoat Capital has added another biomass-fired facility to its portfolio after a deal to takeover the 350,000t/yr Margam plant from former owner and fellow investment fund Glennmont Partners from Nuveen. The deal adds Margam to Greencoat’s portfolio which also includes the biomass-fired Sleaford plant, which it also bought from Glennmont in 2020. Margam is located three miles south-east of Port Talbot in south Wales and was a £160m (€179m) investment when it was put into operation in 2019, according to Glennmont.

EWB understands investor Aviva has now been granted another extension to submit an environmental statement (ES) as part of the process for allowing it to restart operations at its Barry-based biomass-gasification plant. A source familiar with the project explained that Aviva had asked for a three-month extension from the Planning Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW). A spokesperson for the Welsh government, which oversees PEDW, confirmed to EWB: "The deadline for Aviva’s submission of the environmental statement has been extended to 13 July 2022."

Finland-based KPA Unicon secured a contract to build a 15MWth biomass-fired plant. It signed a deal with Kuhmon Lämpö for the plant. No financial terms were revealed. The plant will use KPA’s Unicon Renefluid combustion system and produce heat for the city of Kuhmo and Kuhmon Lämpö’s sawmill. Commissioning of the plant is scheduled for autumn next year.

Local authority West Berkshire Council agreed to vary conditions for a biomass-fired plant to allow lumber imports. Owner of the facility PJ Forestry secured planning last month, subject to negotiation with the applicant to limit the number of deliveries and delivery hours.

France-based multinational energy company TotalEnergies announced it is collaborating on a feasibility study into producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at a refinery in Yokohama, Japan. The project is a tie-up with ENEOS Corporation and will assess the practicalities of producing the fuel at ENEOS’ Negishi Refinery in Yokohama.

Facilities update: Biogas

Finland-based engineering firm Wärtsilä Corporation said it will build what would be the “world’s second-largest” biomethane-liquefaction plant. Wärtsilä said it had signed a deal with Germany-based utility company Reefuelery. No financial terms were revealed. The facility will be able to produce more than 57,000 tonnes a year of liquified biomethane and will be located in Burghaun near Fulda, Germany. The statement does not list the largest such facility in the world, but EWB reported in October 2020 that a facility appearing to be larger was also being built by Wärtsilä.

Irish gasification company Eqtec is moving forward with plans to build a combined waste gasification and biogas plant in north Wales. Its subsidiary Deeside WTV Ltd had agreed to acquire 32% of the share capital of Logik WTE Ltd, which holds the land and permissions for its Deeside project, for £2.3m. The deal is subject to third-party consent and is expected to complete by the end of June. It amends an earlier agreement first made in December 2020.

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