EWB Insight report: Dec/Jan 2023

This report covers the unusual move by FCC to start the permitting process for an EfW facility it does not yet have the rights to develop, the entry into force of the UK generator levy, Aviva’s plans to sell a stake in its Newport EfW plant and more problems for the delayed MGT Teesside biomass-fired project

What does it say about the time it takes the Environment Agency (EA) to process an environmental permit application when a developer submits an application for one before it has even been awarded the project

Well that is what FCC has done, and in January the EA launched a consultation over a permit for the planned Tees Valley Energy Recovery Facility (TVRRF). But, FCC remains in competition with rival energy-from-waste plant operators Viridor and Suez to develop the facility. 

On the record, FCC would not comment on whether the premature application was the result of confidence in its chances of winning the bid for the local authority-led project, or a lack of confidence in the EA handling its permit application quickly. 

However, the fact that a potential EfW plant operator has launched the process before a contract has been won indicates it might well be the latter. FCC could also argue that it could sell on the permit, should it ultimately be unsuccessful.  

Another EfW business has previously told EWB it pulled out of a project after the EA told it it would take a year to appoint an officer, just to oversee the application. Again indicating delays within the agency. 

Further confirmation of the problems facing the EA currently, were revealed by its own staff as they prepared to go on strike during January with further industrial action looming.

Senior EA permitting officer Kevin Rushden, said of the action: “It’s getting to the point now where we’re losing our most experienced staff, it’s really high turnover and we can’t get staff in to replace them. So we’ve got loads of vacancies, which means we can’t do the job we want to do, which is to protect the environment.”

Policy update 

The UK government announced changes to its planned electricity generator levy that appear to increase the cost to bioenergy and EfW plants, the tax started in mid-January. Confirmed in December, the generation threshold at which the levy comes in has been slashed in half to 50GWh/yr, from 100GWh originally proposed. Trade body the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said the note confirmed UK renewable investment was “under threat” due to the levy. 

A commanding majority of EU MEPs want to strengthen EU rules on the transport of waste beyond reforms proposed by the European Commission, with a total prohibition on plastic exports, and stricter rules for hazardous materials. A report called for an immediate end, in the case of non-OECD countries, to the practice of sending plastic abroad for disposal or recycling. In January, the UK also said it would not ban waste exports. 

The EU Innovation Fund granted €108m to a project involving two planned Limburg-based facilities aimed at creating hydrogen out of residual waste. Utility company RWE, which is still yet to make a final investment decision, is behind the project officially known as “fuse reuse recycle”, or FUREC for short. Its overall project cost would be an investment of “more than €600m” and would see about 700,000t/yr of MSW processed. 

UK MPs accused the EA and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of presiding over a “theft of the public purse” through their failure to get a grip on landfill tax fraud. Labour MP Kevan Jones said he “suggests that the way the government has dealt with [landfill tax fraud], with a lack of regulation and lack of oversight, has allowed criminals to benefit”.

An independent review of the UK’s approach to delivering its net zero target has been backed by EfW plant owners. The review, carried out by Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, says the government needed to be more ambitious on carbon capture and storage (CCS). It also recommends working to end the export of plastic waste from the UK.

Trade body the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) said it fears the government is setting a “precedent” by consistently ignoring waste wood as feedstock for biomass-fired plants. The WRA said it was voicing concern around a lack of direction for waste wood-to-power and heat ahead of the publication of the government’s much-anticipated Biomass Strategy, which is due early this year.

Utility company Kredsløb said it was ready to invest up to DKK3bn (€403m) into CCS at its Lisbjerg-based multi-fuelled power station, but government policy was holding it back. It aims for the plant to capture 450,000t/yr of CO2, which would otherwise have ended up in the atmosphere. 

Envirovue has published a list of the top ten local authorities it claims are sending the most waste to landfill with Cambridgeshire County Council leading the chart. The council criticised the methodology of the report, which found Cambridgeshire landfilled 331,765 tonnes more than the 286,676 tonnes landfilled by second-placed Chichester District Council and third-placed West Sussex County Council combined. 

Market update 

Aviva Investors is in talks to sell up to half of its delayed Newport-based EfW plant to an “established” businesses in the sector. A source familiar with the sale process told EWB that Aviva wanted additional funds and expertise to get the stalled project over the finishing line. The source said talks were taking place with big-name companies, which already had operational portfolios of EfW facilities in the country. While Aviva would not comment on the process, EWB understands discussions around sourcing a “potential strategic partner” for the Newport EfW plant are ongoing. 

In a related development, Newport developer CoGen was hit with a winding up order by HMRC only months after avoiding being struck off by Companies House. The process was started in mind-January, but at this stage further details are not available. CoGen was contacted for a comment, but had not responded at the time of publication. 

Covanta Europe became Encyclis in a rebrand move following its separation from the US-based arm of the company last year. The company has also taken over the 478,300t/yr BH EnergyGap (Walsall) EfW project and Corby Limited’s Willowbrook Industrial Estate-based EfW project. The latter facility is planned to process up to 195,000t/yr of RDF.

The East London Waste Authority (ELWA) is starting the process of tendering its waste contract with its current deal due to expire in four years’ time. The ELWA is looking for bidders and has a deadline of 13 February for expressions of interest. EWB understands that the non-recyclable element of the waste stream will be treated through energy recovery as the preferred option. Renewi has held the contract since 2002 and said in 2020 it has dealt with more than 7 million tonnes of waste up until that point. In 2019/20, it dealt with 447,000 tonnes, of which  “99% was either recycled or used for energy recovery”. 

Green Giraffe’s director Michael Ware says the biogas sector is “very hot” among investors currently. Ware said he had “five biogas manadates on the go and all the investors are oil companies”. Cash-rich oil businesses were looking to follow Shell, which last year Denmark-based Anaerobic digestion giant Nature Energy in a near €2bn deal, according to Ware.

The new plastic recycling company formed by waste aggregator Geminor and chemical recycling business Quantafuel in December will be called Polynate, the new business has confirmed. The new company will be led by Ralf Schöpwinkel, who leaves his role as chief strategy officer at Geminor, and brings 25 years of industry experience to Polynate. 

In a related update, Geminor said its growth was less than expected in 2022 despite the company handling 144,374 tonnes more last year than in 2021. The Norway-based business said it had moved 1.82Mt of waste across Europe last year. However, it also said the “common denominator for 2022 was a substantial increase in the competition for waste volumes in the market”.

Brett Aggregates says it has entered into an exclusive arrangement to market a new IBAA produced at Fortis’s new Ridham Dock processing facility in Kent. Part of the Raymond Brown Group, Fortis describes itself as one of the UK’s leading IBA processors.

SEPA has ordered a smelly landfill to stop accepting waste after a rise in complaints of odours. It had “partially suspended” Patersons of Greenoakhill Limited's pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit from 25 January. SEPA said the suspension would stay in place until the company “takes action in relation to offensive odour impacts”.

The company behind a Malvern-based EfW plant confirmed EWB’s report last year that the facility has been mothballed, although it officially refers to it being in “temporary preservation”. In September EWB reported that investment fund Equitix was understood to be in the process of mothballing its 8,000t/yr clinical and hazardous waste-processing plant in Malvern, after failing to get it up to processing capacity. Equitix would not comment on the story at the time, however the company it uses to run the facility, Clinitek (Malvern) LLP, published financial results in January, confirming the story. 

In another related development, Viridor has revealed it has formed a joint venture with infrastructure-investor Equitix to complete development of the Westfield Energy Centre project. Back in 2021, Equitix took a 20% stake in Viridor, and the new statement explains the Westfield deal is “growing their existing relationship”. It is unclear what the split is in the new development, as Viridor would not comment. Fife-based Westfield moved to construction early last year and will be able to process up to 240,000t/yr.

Facilities update: EfW 

Local authority Aberdeen City Council revealed ongoing issues with the delivery of its NESS EfW project could “affect the anticipated delivery timeline and budget”. The latest issues for the project were revealed in an agenda prepared for the council’s finance and resources committee, which is due to meet in early February.

US-based Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) made a surprise return to the UK’s EfW market with a deal to complete the 600,000t/yr Lostock Sustainable Energy Plant (LSEP). B&W said it had been awarded the contract for about $65m (£53m) to complete the project, which stalled when previous contractor France-based CNIM went into administration in January last year. LSEP is owned 60/40 by Denmark-based investor Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) which holds the larger share, and Spanish-owned waste company FCC Environment.

Encyclis and Biffa’s Protos EfW plant secured an environmental permit upping its capacity to 500,000t/yr, increasing its capacity by 100,000t/yr. The two-line facility made financial close in December 2020 and is due to be fully operational next year.

Investment funds Equitix and Iona Capital told EWB their Bridgwater EfW plant has very nearly crossed the finishing line and is in the final stages of performance testing. The EfW plant is being built by Italy-based STC Power, which is building the Somerset-based facility on a turnkey contract. Currently, the EfW facility is due to process up to 130,000t/yr of refuse-derived fuel and have an overall capacity of 9.58MWe with 7.75MWe exported to the grid. 

UK-based waste aggregator Andusia signed what it has called “the largest refuse-derived fuel contract the waste industry has ever seen” with Germany-based EEW Energy from Waste. Andusia said it would supply 1Mt of RDF over a five-year period with the feedstock being shipped from the UK to Germany. 

US-based engineering firm Bechtel has signed a deal with SAF producer Velocys to develop up to three facilities, two in the UK and one in the US. Two of the facilities are planned to produce SAF, while a third UK-based power-to-liquids facility known as “e-Alto” is under development. 

Veolia is to replace the stack of its Portsmouth-based EfW facility in a large overhaul of the plant that has been described as a UK first for the business. The plant, which can process up to 210,000t/yr was put into operation in 2005 and can supply about 14MWe to the grid. However, this spring Veolia is set to overhaul the facility with the work including replacement of the facility’s stack. The downtime was revealed by neighbouring waste management firm TJ Waste and Recycling, which hopes to change the operating hours of its MRF at the same site to process waste, while the EfW plant is out of action. 

A consultation has been opened into an environmental permit for Viridor’s Essex-based EfW plant. The consultation runs until 13 February, and seeks permitting to allow the site to expand its processing capacity to 350,000t/yr. Back in 2020, the UK government signed off the EfW plant as an expansion of a biomass-fired plant, which is now operational on the site. This allowed the EfW plant to process no more than 350,000t/yr of non-biomass based feedstock. This permit application would bring the plant inline with this consent. 

Viridor also confirmed another breach at its Beddington-based EfW facility happened shortly before Christmas. The breach, which concerned a limit breach through the release of hydrogen chloride, happened on 23 December. The breach was only disclosed in January, when Viridor updated emissions figures for the facility covering the second half of last month. 

The Isle of Wight EfW plant is now four years behind schedule, having not been confirmed as operational before the end of 2022. Local authority the Isle of Wight Council and waste management company Amey are developing the plant, but when its construction first began at the site back in May 2017, work was expected to be fully complete by the summer of 2019. A spokesperson for the council, which deals solely with media requests about the plant, told EWB: “It’s not up and running yet and there is no further update at this stage.”

The UK government missed its latest deadline to decide on a vast 1.2t/yr EfW plant and pushed a decision back until 6 July. The decision was meant to be made on or by 10 January, but the government confirmed “there remain significant outstanding matters”, which called for a further six-month delay to the process. 

West Sussex County Council backed plans for a new small-scale EfW plant at the Rudford Industrial Estate in Ford. The plant can process up to 15,000t/yr. The project was put forward by South Coast Skip Hire, and would be developed to operate in a cogeneration with most of the facility’s production capacity directed to produce 5.4MWth and 1.25MWe. 

MVV held a series of events ahead of submitting a planning application for its latest EfW project in “late spring”. The EfW business, which is also in the process of seeking the UK government’s consent for a project in Wisbech, hopes to build a new facility at the Canford Resource Park on the outskirts of Bournemouth. However, the Canford project is a smaller facility and therefore due to be decided by local authority Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council. 

Facilities update: Biomass 

The long-delayed MGT Teesside project removed a large section of its boiler for a full overhaul in Denmark in what has been described as a “last throw of the dice” for the biomass-processing facility. GMB organiser Mark Wilson told EWB the union was informed of the full extent of the problems with the facility, which is planned to eventually process up to 1.1 million tonnes a year of imported biomass feedstock, and was meant to be operational back in July 2018. MGT did not comment on the report. 

Bioenergy Infrastructure Group (BIG) confirmed it signed a contract to provide operations and maintenance (O&M) for three biomass-gasification plants. BIG said the facilities are in Hull, Barry and Boston with handover of the O&M “scheduled for early 2023”. EWB has previously reported that investment fund Aviva owns the plant, although BIG did not confirm this. 

Valmet revealed a deal with multinational utility company Veolia to convert two units at the Oroszlány-based coal-fired power plant to biomass. Valmet said the Hungary-based power station was owned by Veolia’s subsidiary CHP-Invest Kft. 

UK-based biomass-supplier Enviva revealed a new 10-year “take-or-pay off-take fuel” supply contract with an existing European customer. However Enviva, which has previously supplied the likes of Drax in the UK, Denmark-based Ørsted, and EWB understands with the vast MGT Teesside facility again in the UK, has not named the customer this time.

A biomass-derived pellet manufacturing facility will be built at the Cordemais power station following backing from the government. Trade union CGT, which represents workers at the facility, said it had received the “long-awaited” letter backing the project from the government in January. It said the victory had come after a seven-year fight and that work would now move on to contracts to develop the project. 

Sweden-based Vattenfall failed to strike a deal to build a new biomass-fired heating plant in Berlin at its Heizkraftwerk Moabit power plant which has been partly converted to biomass. The company’s Germany-based subsidiary Vattenfall Wärme Berlin Aktiengesellschaft confirmed that two lots covering a boiler island and fuel logistics had been dropped. 

Utility companies Fortum and Fjernvarme Fyn were awarded DKK10.6m (€1.4m) for their joint CCS project. Finland-based Fortum and Denmark-based Fjernvarme Fyn said the work was contracted on the latter’s Odense district heating plant and Fortum’s hazardous waste plant in Nyborg. According to the pair, the funding follows their initial establishment of the CCS project precisely a year ago. 

Utility company Ørsted confirmed it will build its FlagshipOne e-methanol-production facility at a biomass-fired facility. Ørsted is now the full owner of the project having taken over from Liquid Wind for an undisclosed fee and at the time the project was described as a “late-stage development”, which could eventually see Liquid Wind establish a series of facilities across Sweden to decarbonise the maritime sector. 

Drax revealed increasing costs for wood pellet has affected its operations, however, its profits still look to be higher than previous forecasts. The majority-biomass fired power station published a trading update which stated: “Over the past 12 months the cost of biomass in the European spot market has increased significantly, with cargoes trading at over three times their historic average.”

Indaver and Veolia confirmed their joint venture biomass-fired project, known as E Wood, has been commissioned. 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 last year, so it was slightly behind schedule when it was completed in December. 

Facilities update: Biogas  

Utility company Varo Energy will develop one of the biggest biogas-producing plants in Europe after completing a deal for a majority 80% stake in Netherlands-based Bio Energy Coevorden (BEC). Switzerland-based Varo said it had bought the shares from existing shareholders, but did not give further financial information. Currently, BEC owns a biogas plant, which processes about 195,000t/yr from livestock farming, agriculture and the food industry.

Oil giant TotalEnergies confirmed its anaerobic digestion project, known as BioBéarn, has been commissioned. The company confirmed the facility was operational, adding the plant “will be the largest in the country” and its 18th biogas-production facility in France. Initially the facility will produce about 69GWh/yr, before “gradually increasing its power to meet a rapidly growing demand for biogas”. 

Veolia made a “major step forward in renewable energy generation” at Scotland’s largest wastewater treatment works. It confirmed the Seafield wastewater treatment works now generates all of its own power and supplies the grid with enough renewable electricity to power 800 homes each day. The site has been equipped with an anaerobic digestion plant, thermal hydrolysis and 3.9MW combined heat and power facility. 

Adapt Biogas’ Shepton Mallet-based anaerobic digestion plant sent its first biomethane to the grid and is currently ramping up to its full capacity. The company said the first biomethane had been sent to the grid in December. The plant is currently ramping up to full production and is receiving feedstocks from local food and organic waste producers. 

Ireland-based planning authority An Bord Pleanála awarded planning consent to a biogas-producing facility that has faced strong opposition locally. Developer Sustainable Bio-Energy Limited (SBEL) is to develop its facility on the outskirts of Gort, overturning Galway County Council’s previous refusal of the project. SBEL first revealed plans to build the plant in 2018, but withdrew its initial application. A second application was submitted the following year, but was turned down, prompting the appeal. In total, the plant will process 90,000 tonnes a year, the majority of which (54,000t/yr) will be grass silage, with 22,500t/yr of cattle slurry and 13,500t/yr of agri-food residues making up the rest. 

Denmark-based Nature Energy revealed it will invest DKK6bn (€806m) in building up to 10 biogas plants in Quebec. The company said it would work with Quebec-based gas utility company Énergir on the project. It added the move was Nature Energy's “largest investment” outside its native Denmark’s borders to date.

Finland-based Gasum confirmed plans for a new biogas-producing plant in Vormstad, Norway. Gasum said it was part of the Trøndelag Biogass consortium, alongside Norway-based investment funds Aune Holdingselskap and Salvesen & Thams. The plant, which is being built near Trondheim, is planned to move to construction spring of 2024 and be operational by the end of 2025. The facility will process up to 500,000 tonnes of organic waste a year and produce the equivalent up to 200GWh of biogas, according to the statement. 

A biogas plant has been put into operation after a £17m (€19.2m) build allowing it to process up to 100,000t/yr of food and organic waste. The project was led by investment funder Privilege Finance and operation of the site managed by Eco Verde Energy (EVE). The facility is located in Attleborough, Norfolk. 

Scandinavian Biogas says it will work with farmers in the Mönsterås region as it develops a facility to produce bioLNG from manure. The facility is due to go into operation towards the end of next year and will process up to 300,000t/yr of manure. 

Netherlands-based Bright Renewables secured a contract to build a biogas-to-biomethane facility in Spain. Bright said the facility was located in Murcia and would convert 400m3/h of biogas into 154m3/h of biomethane. At the biogas production facility, the biogas will be upgraded to biomethane using Bright’s PurePac Compact technology. 

Anaerobic digestion plant developer Acorn Bioenergy confirmed plans to develop three facilities in Moray using distillery by-products, crops and waste from local farms as feedstock. The company intends to invest “around” £50m (€58.2m) in two plants planned for land near Longmorn, on the outskirts of Elgin, and also at Hill of Rathven by Buckie. Both projects were submitted to local authority Moray Council in December, while earlier in November Acorn also put in a planning application to the Highland Council for another facility at Fearn Airfield.  


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