EWB Insight report: May 2022

This month: European Commission fails to back bioenergy, UK local authorities face legal action over failed waste-gasification plant and Indaver finally starts building Essex-based EfW plant

Is the UK’s EfW boom over?

Two developments in May may have signalled a slowdown in UK-based energy-from-waste development, at least in the short term. 

First, the much-anticipated review of EfW capacity in Scotland recommended “no further planning permission” be granted to new facilities. While, second, EfW-expert consultancy Tolvik reported a slowdown in UK facility development

And in Scotland, which now appears set to follow Wales in blocking new capacity, Viridor abandoned its 330,000-tonne-per-year Overwood project in March ahead of the review’s publication. 

While the company did not directly reference the review, it would be odd if it had not considered it.  

Scotland has seven operational EfW plants with the consented capacity to take more than 1Mt/yr. One of these is consented to expand further, another three facilities are in development and there is an additional 606,000t/yr currently in construction, according to the EWB Plant Tracker

According to Tolvik’s latest report, UK Energy from Waste Statistics – 2021, EfW capacity is expected to grow from 14.9 million tonnes a year of residual waste processed last year to 19.4Mt/yr by 2026, but it predicts a slowdown in new construction projects. 

Beyond 2026, Tolvik says previous trends have “reversed” as a number of projects have “ceased being progressed, been cancelled and/or have been refused consent” after achieving financial close. 

The report further reveals a much slower rise in operational capacity than in previous years, increasing by just 0.6% from 16.27Mt to 16.37Mt between 2020 and 2021. This contrasts with a 17% rise from 12.48Mt to 14.65Mt between 2019 and 2020 and 5% from 11.9Mt to 12.48Mt between 2017 and 2018. 

Problems with “suitable waste supply commitments and also a construction market that is somewhat constrained at present” are cited by the report. Issues with the construction market for EfW plants have been well publicised with France-based CNIM going into administration in January this year.

With a number of UK-based firms having already left the EfW construction sector, the only options left for developers are to strike a deal with either Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) or more recently Spain-based Acciona. 

Tolvik’s report also states that the “potentially most significant development” for the UK EfW sector has been the government’s move to consider adding the sector to its UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from the “mid to late 2020s”.

Last June the UK government successfully fought off a legal challenge against including EfW in the UK ETS after Brexit following a High Court hearing in April.

Policy update

Five hundred businesses in the bioenergy sector signed a letter to the leaders of the European Commission questioning the lack of sustainable biomass in its REPowerEU Communication. Back in March, the commission announced plans to end Europe’s reliance on imported Russian gas by 2030. However, according to the businesses, REPowerEU has an “ill-fated lack of vision” and businesses are “concerned by the lack of vision within the REPowerEU proposals from the EU Commission that do not include solutions that can offer a quick reduction of [Russian gas dependence], such as an array of bioenergy applications, waste-for-energy, and district heating”.

Forests should no longer be treated as a sustainable source of energy under EU law, the European Parliament’s environment committee declared in a position on reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which also calls for a five-point increase in the 2030 green energy target. Critics have blamed the RED for driving a rapid expansion in the use of wood as fuel since it came into effect in 2009. 

Trade association the European Suppliers of Waste to Energy Technology (ESWET) urged the ENVI Committee to “reconsider its views” on biomass-to-energy after the European Commission’s new action plan backed bioenergy. The European Parliament’s environment committee took a position on reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) that backed an end to support for forest-based bioenergy feedstocks. However, the European Commission issued the second iteration of its RePowerEU plan, which states that “prioritising use of non-recyclable biomass waste and agricultural and forest residues will ensure a sustainable energy production that can contribute to the REPowerEU objectives”. As a result, ESWET said the “rightful support” for the use of non-recyclable biomass would help energy security. 

The European Commission plans to set food waste reduction targets as part of a wider revision of EU rules to reduce waste generation and increase reuse and recycling. The EU executive launched two public consultations seeking views from interested parties. One concerns the setting of legally binding targets to reduce food waste in line with the Farm-to-Fork Strategy. A second consultation concerns the revision of the 2018 Waste Framework Directive, including the reduction of food waste, waste oils and textiles.

The UK government revealed several projects that have made it through to “phase 1” of its direct air capture and greenhouse gas removal innovation programme. Businesses including Advanced Biofuel Solutions Ltd (ABSL), investor Bioenergy Infrastructure Group (BIG) and power station Drax are involved. 

Veolia has been awarded £16m (€18.7m) to replace natural gas-derived heat with heat from its plant, while £10.7m (€12.6m) has been awarded to an unnamed “forthcoming” EfW plant in the Exeter area. The Heat Networks Investment Project confirmed the funding for the SELCHP EfW facility owned by Veolia. 

Four trade associations have joined together to warn the German government against introducing a tax on waste emissions from the EfW sector. In a joint statement EfW backing trade body ITAD, along with waste management trade associations DGAW, VKU and BDE, “drew attention to the negative effects and possible undesirable consequences” of a possible carbon tax. The statement lays out that should a CO2 price be “imposed” on municipal waste there would be “a risk of cost increases for disposal and therefore increasing fees for consumers”. 

Four biomass-supporting trade bodies backed moves by the German government to delay implementing new biomass-sustainability rules until next year. The BBE, DBV, FvB and FVH said the delay until next January was needed. Germany is due to implement the new rules as part of introducing the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), which defines new requirements for proof of sustainability for energy from biomass and were revealed in 2018. 

Market update

Local authorities Derbyshire County Council and Derby City Council confirmed they face legal action from their former contractor over the fallout from the construction of a gasification-equipped EfW plant. A spokesperson for both councils told EWB that Resource Recovery Solutions (RRS), which has been in administration since late 2019, had launched the legal action. The councils were left without a functioning EfW plant in 2019 when their then waste contractor RRS – a joint venture between construction firm Interserve and waste business Renewi – said it had failed to commission the facility it was building for them.

Utility company DIN Forsyning revealed a “serious dispute” has developed between it and the builder of its new biomass-fired boiler project KPA Unicon revolving around welding works. Denmark-based DIN said it had “terminated” the deal it signed with Finland-based KPA in January last year. KPA told EWB it was still willing to finish the project. Based at the Port of Esbjerg the deal originally had a total price tag of DKK1.6bn (€215m). The 60MWth biomass-fired plant was due to be operational by the start of 2023. 

Waste management business Eco-Power Environmental (Hull) Ltd appointed voluntary liquidators, according to the company overseeing the process. Leeds-based Interpath said demand for the SRF-based pellets the company made did not develop. 

Norway-based Geminor said waste aggregators are stockpiling secondary fuels this summer ahead of the winter. “Ongoing transport challenges make it harder to predict the access to secondary fuels this coming winter season”. The market is therefore “encouraging industry players to increase stocks” of RDF and SRF, according to the statement. 

Waste-management firm Renewi revealed progress on its struggling UK-based contracts as its overall financial performance surpassed expectations. The Netherlands-based business showed revenue up 10% to €1.8bn and underlying EBIT up 83% to €133.6m for the year ending 31 March. In the UK, the results show the company has moved past its peak of “onerous contract provisions” which increased between 2017 and 2020, hitting €109.5m in 2018 and have now reduced to €79.9m. 

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) raised several issues with the planned merger of waste companies Veolia and Suez. In provisional findings covering several aspects of the deal, it said the merger was “expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition” in UK waste services. According to the statement, the CMA now wants further market views on whether Veolia should be given the choice of selling the UK-based waste business of either itself or Suez.

Financial results for EfW plant operator AEB Amsterdam show a “net profit” of more than €107m for last year. The good performance was “almost entirely due” to the sale of Westpoort Warmte and the “revaluation of a number of balance sheet items”. The results also reveal AEB posted a positive result for the first time since 2017, with its turnover up from €164m in 2020 to almost €187m, “mainly due to higher rates for energy and recycled metals”.

Three businesses have revealed plans to work together to create “one of Europe’s first” large-scale hydrogen-based value chains in the north of the Netherlands. EEW along with utility company Engie and nitrogen products-supplier OCI announced the HyNetherlands (HyNL) project.

Facilities update: EfW 

Belgium-based Indaver held an event to officially mark construction starting at its Essex-based EfW plant with princess Astrid of Belgium starting off the work. Officially known as the Rivenhall Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF) and Energy Centre, it is expected to start processing in the final quarter of 2025 and to be officially handed over in the following year. Indaver had said earlier this year that it could apply for a development consent order from the UK government to increase the electrical capacity of the site to above the currently consented 49.9MWe.

The Aberdeen-based NESS EfW plant has secured an environmental permit. SEPA gave the greenlight for the plant, which has a capacity of 150,000t/yr. It states that “depending on the operational mode” the plant can “generate around 12.8MWe to 14.3MWe with an associated export of around 10.6MWe to 12.2 MWe. The plant will also have the capacity to supply up to 10MWth, according to the permit, but again this depends on the operating mode. 

Finland-based Sumitomo SHI FW (SFW) has confirmed it secured a deal to supply the boiler at the under-development Protos Biofuels plant in the UK. Protos Biofuels is being developed by ABSL and Greenergy, and is currently at the front-end engineering design (FEED) phase. Energy services company Petrofac is delivering the FEED work and will be the EPC on the build, with SFW supplying the fluidised-bed gasifier system as part of ABSL’s RadGas process in which the syngas is cleaned in a direct current plasma arc furnace. Currently, the project is due for completion in 2025 and is expected to process 150,000t/yr. 

Joint-owner Covanta revealed the build of the Newhurst-based EfW plant is three-quarters complete. The project, which is jointly owned with Biffa, is currently “at the peak of the construction phase” with more than 600 people working on-site. Covanta further explains that “in the upcoming months commissioning will get under way with the target to begin operations next spring.

Local authority North Northamptonshire Council approved a move to increase the stack height at a renewable fuel and recycling facility in Corby after new interest was shown in the project. The unnamed new investor considered there was a need to increase the stack height to meet permitting requirements in relation to process contribution and acidification or nutrient nitrogen deposition for all habitats nearby.

Emissions figures covering Viridor’s Beddington-based EfW plant revealed it exceeded permitted limits for hydrogen chloride (HCI) on 3 May. The report explains that line one of the two-line EfW plant had a “technical issue with the flue gas treatment process” leading to the breach, which was reported to the Environment Agency and “resolved” before the line was restarted. 

Clinitek’s Malvern-based hazardous waste EfW plant reopened after a refit and appears to be processing waste again. The facility’s sole waste supplier Andusia confirmed the plant had “reopened” last week. A picture issued with the release also shows waste at the site. 

Construction started on a £150m (€178.4m) facility that will in just two year’s time process residual waste into a “renewable gas”. Circular Fuels is developing the plant and is backed and majority owned by SHV Energy and UGI International, which are among the largest liquified petroleum gas (LPG) companies in the world. The statement explains Circular Fuels will take non-recyclable residual waste from households and industry and convert it into renewable dimethyl ether (rDME). 

Local authority Isle of Wight Council and waste management company Amey hope the much-delayed Isle of Wight EfW plant will become operational in July. The plant is yet to complete 30 days of continuous operation in order to be issued with an acceptance test certificate. Currently, this is expected to be carried out in June, with the plant officially handed over the following month. 

The EA signalled it will award a West Sussex-based EfW project a permit having granted a draft one. Britaniacrest Recycling is developing the Recycling, Resource and Renewable Energy (3Rs) Facility. The company originally applied for the permit on 13 May last year, although the process was extended during the summer of 2021. 

EfW plant operator Cory and the Norway-based CSS project led by Northern Lights have begun work on a “major project” together. Cory confirmed it had signed a MoU at Norway’s embassy in London with Northern Lights.The pair hope to be able to eventually ship carbon from Cory’s EfW site on the river Thames in London to Northern Lights’ subsea carbon storage facilities off the coast of Norway. 

Separately, Cory also revealed a record 782,000t of residual waste was processed last year at the EfW facility in Belvedere, south-east London. In 2020 the report shows Cory processed 731,000t, so an increase of 51,000t year-on-year. 

Norway-based Aker Carbon Capture revealed work is under way to install carbon capture on Twence's EfW plant in Hengelo. Aker said it was currently installing its Just Catch-branded modular carbon capture technology at the Netherlands-based EfW facility. Back in 2019, EWB reported the pair had struck a €24.1m deal to deliver a CCS system, which would at first focus on part of line three of Twence’s Hengelo-based EfW plant.

Malta’s EfW plant owner Wasteserv confirmed the death of an employee at the facility. The man, who has been named as 38-year-old Joseph Ellul, worked at the Marsa EfW plant.

Local authority Stoke-on-Trent City Council revealed progress on its plans to replace an EfW plant processing its refuse. A council meeting, held last week, revealed three options for plans for a replacement EfW plant are being considered. 

The three options are: 

  • Invest in and or part own a new EfW facility – retaining an interest in financing and partial ownership/operation for an improved gate fee outcome. 

  • Offer a concession for a new EfW facility – hand over all responsibility to the operator for the design, development and operation for the full duration of the contract for a standard market gate fee.

  • Third-party disposal/diversion/landfill – not commercially or operationally desirable.

Facility developer and operator EEW Energy from Waste’s first sewage sludge-processing plant is progressing through commissioning. EEW said it had fired up the boiler for the first time at the Helmstedt-based facility.The statement explains the “important milestone” was achieved at the end of April for the facility, which is due to process about 145,000t/yr of sludge sourced from the Lower Saxony area. 

Facilities update: Biomass 

Utility company Kalundborg Forsyning confirmed a breakdown at Ørsted’s Asnæs power station is causing problems for its heat supply. Kalundborg said there would be “unstable heat supply” until 20 May, although Ørsted hoped the issues would be fixed sooner than that. 

Engineering firm SFW revealed a deal for a 77MWth biomass-fired boiler to expand an existing power plant. The bubbling fluidised bed boiler has been ordered by Sweden-based utility company Jämtkraft. The utility company has also said construction is planned to start this year and be completed “in early 2025”.

Waste and biomass-to-chemicals company Circa signed a deal with engineering firm Valmet to “realise and optimise” its Furacell technology. Circa said the pair had signed a “heads of agreement” to start developing the “production process at scale”. The pair have worked together on the project for the past six months and are currently looking at upgrading Circa’s current ReSolute plant to target an annual production of 1,100 tonnes a year of biosolvent Cyrene, using energy derived from biochar. 

Plans to expand a biomass-fired heating network to a total of 30,000 people have been approved by two local authorities. The Junta de Castilla y León and Valladolid city council confirmed the move. A contract notice was also issued, giving the projects value at €6.5m and saying it would take 15 months to complete. 

Facilities update: Biogas 

Switzerland-based Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) confirmed its subsidiary HZI Schmack has completed Europe’s first industrial power-to-gas plant. The facility, based in Dietikon, Zurich, was ordered by Regiowerk Limeco, but no financial terms are disclosed in the statement.  

HZI is also building a 15,000t/yr biogas plant using its Kompogas technology in Poland. It said the plant would have an electrical capacity of 3,500MWh and was being built for Germany-based Eggersmann Anlagen Concept. The statement explains the facility, which is due to be ready in “early” 2024, is part of the Wielkopolskie Centrum Recyklingu waste-processing complex. 

HZI is also building two bio-liquified natural gas (bioLNG) production facilities in Germany. In two separate statements engineering business HZI said the plants would be in Blankenhain and Apensen. The Apensen-based facility would be able to produce 2,100t of bioLNG from biogas annually by the end of next year. The pair will develop the facility, under a joint venture called Apensen Verflüssigungs, which will be an expansion of HZI subsidiary HZI BioMethan’s currently optional biomethane-production plant. Germany-based Energielenker Group has ordered the facility in Blankenhain, which it also hoped to put into operation by the end of next year. This slightly larger facility will process about 58GWh/yr of biogas into 3,700t/yr of bioLNG. 

Utility company DCC Energi bought a 50% stake in an anaerobic digestion plant owned by Frijsenborg Biogas. DCC confirmed the deal saying it had become an owner of infrastructure “for the first time” and will form a new joint venture to own the facility.

Utility company Welsh Water and the University of South Wales announced a project to explore ways to convert methane derived from sewage sludge into hydrogen. The pair are working on a sludge-to-energy system, where sludge undergoes a hydrolysis process to maximise the amount of methane it can produce. 

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