EWB Insight report: Mar/Apr 23

This report: The EA under the spotlight, CCS joy for two EfWs, while Drax and Lynemouth forced to wait, Newport-based EfW goes into administration and a Stoke-based facility faces being mothballed

The work of the Environment Agency has been heavily in the spotlight over March and April with both those in the waste energy recovery sector and those opposing it feeling let down. 

Firstly, EWB revealed the EA felt it did not need to tell the public when a biomass-processing plant wants to change its feedstock to waste. 

EWB revealed in March two of Aviva’s previously biomass-fired power plants, located in Hull and Boston, which are still officially referred to as Biomass No1 and Biomass No3, had switched to processing waste instead of biomass. 

However, the information was only uncovered in Annual (Environmental) Performance Reports for 2022 for both plants, which were passed to EWB and are not publicly available, so were obtained through a freedom of information request without which the swap would not be in the public domain. 

UKWIN's national coordinator Shlomo Dowen told EWB: “If the EA interprets the guidance in a way that leads them to the absurd conclusion that there is no significant difference between burning wood and burning plastic, or between storing wood and storing food waste, then the guidance is clearly not fit for purpose.”

The EA itself said the decision to “combust refuse-derived fuel (RDF) in addition to waste wood, as these were not substantial variations, nor high public interest applications.” The plant’s environmental reports showed they were only processing waste. 

The EA was also under scrutiny as EWB confirmed it was planning to consult on changes to the transfrontier shipment of waste (TFS) notifications process centering on increasing charges. 

Earlier in April, EWB revealed the EA was currently between seven and eight weeks behind on processing TFS notifications, which are vital to those in the waste export sector. However, it has now emerged the regulator, which has been hit by industrial action from staff concerned about a lack of funding, recruitment and retention, wants to increase the fees it charges for the TFS process. 

Finally, in March data issued by the EA revealed the amount of “active high risk illegal waste sites” it is dealing with increased by ten to a total of 190 - although the actual number is likely to be far higher. 

The data covers 2022 to 2023 quarter three (Q3), which started 1 October last year and ended 31 December. As a result, the EA’s “ceiling target” of 185 sites being dealt with by the end of the quarter was breached, meaning the regulator’s traffic light signal for rating its performance changed to amber from green. 

Policy update

Viridor’s Runcorn EfW and the under-construction Protos EfW, owned by Encyclis and Biffa, were celebrating after making it through to the final stage ahead of joining two UK government-backed carbon capture clusters. Both are part of the North West-based HyNet Cluster. However, other EfW projects previously keen to join the cluster were Uniper’s EMERGE facility, which left the process last year, and Protos Biofuels, which is led by Advanced Biofuels Solutions Limited (ABSL), which is also out. EfW projects in the East Coast Cluster fared even worse with not one project making it through to the final stage. One source involved in the sector told EWB the North East-based cluster had taken a “real hammering”. 

Coal-to-biomass converted power stations Drax and Lynemouth both failed to gain track one status for their respective bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) projects.  The government announced the facilities going forward, without arguably two of the most advanced-such projects in the UK included. Drax said of the decision, that it will “enter formal bilateral discussions with the Government immediately”. 

In a related move, Drax paused investment in BECCS as it calls for clarity on future government support for the technology. Drax said it was waiting  for a decision on financial support from the government. 

Suez recycling and recovery UK confirmed it still hopes to be involved in the UK government’s East Coast Cluster following announcement about the project progressing to the next stage. Despite having its EfW located on the planned route to the cluster, Suez’s facility was previously dropped from the process. 

The Danish energy agency Energistyrelsen said it received “two final offers” from EfW plant I/S Vestforbrænding and biomass-fired facility owner Ørsted Bioenergy and Thermal Power to join its carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) project. Energistyrelsen further said it “expects to be able to enter into a contract during the month of May”. 

Scotland’s recycling rate dropped as the country sent more waste to energy recovery and landfill, according to the latest figures. Scotland’s environmental watchdog SEPA said an estimated total quantity of waste from all sources, generated in Scotland in 2021 was 9.58Mt. This was down 16.3%, or 1.87Mt, from 2018, which is the most recent full year available after SEPA was hit by a massive cyber attack in early 2021, which means the agency does not have complete data for 2019 or 2020. 

Without targeted government support, the UK’s aviation industry risks falling behind the rest of the world and missing out on “industries of tomorrow”, warns Sustainable Aviation, the industry coalition of the UK’s airlines and airports sector. A two-year action plan to support the target of decarbonising the sector by 2050 sets out how it would help to speed up the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by continuing to invest millions of pounds in SAF plants. 

The UK government announced it is “banning nitrous oxide” (NOx) in a move welcomed by the EfW sector. The government confirmed the move under a series of measures aimed at cracking down on anti-social behaviour. Viridor told EWB it was “hopeful that legislation will drive down their presence in the waste stream.” It has previously linked canisters of nitrous oxide, which is also called laughing gas, to permit breaches at its Beddington-based EfW plant. 

Market update

The company set up by infrastructure investor Aviva to build an EfW plant in Newport has had administrators called in after running into financial difficulties. EWB has confirmed insolvency practitioners FRP Advisory Trading took over the project company known as RDF Energy No1. EWB understands there is interest in taking on the facility from the EfW sector. 

The chief executive of chemical recycling business Quantafuel Lars Rosenløv warned shareholders who have not yet accepted Viridor’s offer that the market price “will be more uncertain” after this week. Rosenløv confirmed Viridor was “close” to acquiring 80% of Quantafuel’s shares, with main shareholders, BASF and Kirkbi, having accepted its offer made in early March for about £90m (€102m). 

In a related move, Norway-based Geminor is now “100%” owned by its founders after Quantafuel sold back a 40% stake it bought only three years ago for NOK80m (about €7m). Geminor confirmed the buy back of the shares, which followed Quantafuel having taken a 40% stake in it, back in 2020.

Private equity firm I Squared Capital (ISQ) signed a “definitive agreement” to buy waste management firm Enva. The investment fund said Enva would be acquired through its ISQ Global Infrastructure Fund III. No financial terms of the purchase of Enva, which is active in the waste markets of the UK and Ireland, are disclosed in the statement. 

Ireland-based Beauparc completed a deal to buy Ashbourne-based Peak Waste Recycling. Beauparc said its newly acquired business has a permit to process 100,000t/yr at a MRF and “supplies services to businesses and consumers as well as third party tipping and waste-to-energy”.

Coffee-to-biofuel business Bio-Bean confirmed it has gone into administration and all its operations have been shut down. Cambridgeshire-based Bio-Bean, which had celebrated its 10th anniversary in February, confirmed just before the Easter break it was unable to keep operating after a “devastating series of circumstances” including a fire at main premises. 

The West London Waste Authority (WLWA) estimated it will receive £9.4m (€10.6m) in income through its public-private partnership (PPP) deal with Suez for 2022/23. Under the deal, residual waste from West London is processed at the Severnside Energy Recovery Centre (SERC), an energy-from-waste facility in Hallen, Gloucestershire.

EfW market expert Adrian Judge says about two million tonnes a year of waste is now handled by criminals and the amount was only likely to rise in the future. Judge, who is director of consulting firm Tolvik, said it was “not over dramatic to say 10%” of the UK’s waste was moved by criminals, when he spoke at the Energy from Waste 2023 conference in London in March.

Lincoln-based wood-pellet supplier 3F Pellets called in administrators after running into financial difficulties. Insolvency practitioners Moorfields said it had been appointed on 2 March, after the 3F entered the insolvency process towards the end of February. 

TotalEnergies bought Poland-based anaerobic digestion business Polska Grupa Biogazowa (PGB) for an undisclosed fee. PGB owns and operates 17 biogas-producing facilities and has another one under construction. 

Facilities update: EfW 

Investment fund Equitix is understood to have halted operations at its 16,000t/yr clinical and hazardous waste-processing plant in Stoke. Industry sources told EWB of problems with the Stoke-based plant, which appear to be along the same lines as those experienced by its sister facility in Malvern. The Stoke plant itself secured an environmental permit in 2021, which revealed steam generated through the combustion of the waste would be fed to two screw expander generator sets, which have a total capacity of about 7MWth. 

Equitix and fellow investor Iona Capital’s Bridgwater-based EfW plant will not fully operational until later this year, EWB revealed. Sources in the waste sector said the facility’s take over had been delayed until at least October this year.  A spokesperson for the developer did not deny the latest set back to the project could see it delayed until October. They added: “The plant is operating to near capacity, but there are some issues that need to be addressed before takeover can occur.” 

Local authority Southend-on-Sea City Council signed a deal worth up to £45m (€50.8m) for Suez to process its non-recyclable waste for at least the next five years. The deal covers Suez dealing with 36,900t/yr of residual waste and 7,400t/yr of bulky waste, but does not provide a guarantee of minimum tonnage. Waste will be sent to the “Suffolk Energy from Waste facility”, which EWB understands is Suez’s Great Blakenham-based plant.

Local authority Wolverhampton City Council launched the tender process for an operations and management (O&M) deal for its EfW plant. The council started talks on a new contract this week, with plans for a deal to start in June this year until June 2025. 

The process for a new contract to cover operations and maintenance (O&M) works at a Stoke-based plant has been started by two local authorities. The plant is a separate facility to one owned by Equitix and mentioned above. Documents prepared for a meeting of Stoke on Trent City Council confirmed plans for a new O&M deal at the EfW facility, which is officially known as Hanford Energy Recovery Facility, between April 2025 until March 2030. 

The team behind delivery on the Aberdeen-based NESS EfW plant’s boiler confirmed the first fire on waste has been successfully achieved at the site. Engineering firm Standardkessel Baumgarte (SBG), which is responsible for the planning and delivery of the boiler system, said it had achieved the milestone in March. Waste was first delivered to the 150,000t/yr project in February.

Norway-based EfW plant developer Varme Energy revealed it is developing the 150,000t/yr Hams Hall Energy Centre in Birmingham. Speaking today at the Energy from Waste conference in London, Varme director and head of EfW Andreas Karlsen confirmed the facility was the company’s first UK-based project. Varme, which is a subsidiary of Norway-based Green Transition Holding (GTH), has taken on the project, which gained planning consent in 2017 under its initial developer Rolton Kilbride. Varme is working towards financial close. 

More than four years after work at the biomass-fired Port Clarence facility was abandoned, plans to convert it to processing refuse-derived fuel have been confirmed, along with what appears to be a new owner coming on board. The EA consulted in March and April on a variation of the site’s existing environmental permit to allow the switch in feedstock. 

Local authority Cambridge County Council has turned down plans by Envar Composting to build a small scale EfW and a biogas-producing facility at its site in Woodwalton. The site is currently allowed to process up to 200,000t/yr of waste – which will not change – with up to 135,000t/yr made up of green and food refuse. EWB has previously reported, the dry AD facility will process about 70,000t/yr with up to 12,000t/yr of healthcare waste making up the feedstock for the new EfW plant. 

Vital Energi appears to be moving forward with plans for its Bilsthorpe-based EfW facility. When contacted by EWB the company would not comment officially, but a locally-based opposition group says a planning application is set to be submitted around the time of the UK’s local elections, which are due on 4 May. EWB understands the company has already sought pre-application advice from local authority Nottinghamshire County Council with plans to process about 200,000t/yr at the new facility.

Engineering consultancy COWI confirmed it has completed the pre-FEED phase of a carbon capture and storage project at Viridor’s Runcorn-based EfW site. COWI said the project was its first CCS venture in the UK.

The EA confirmed the draft permit issued to the delayed Kingmoor EfW plant has been made into a full one. The facility is being developed by Fortum Carlisle. According to the permit, the facility is planned to process up to 250,000 tonnes a year, but depending on the feedstock and operational times, it will process a maximum of 274,000t/yr.

Birmingham City Council has ruled out initiatives such as carbon capture, heat supply and electrification of HGV under plans to extend its O&M deal for the Tyseley EfW plant. In documents prepared for a council meeting the authority’s officers recommended the council accept a report to renew its existing deal with Veolia, which is currently due to expire in January next year. 

Technology-supplier Aker Carbon Capture confirmed it has signed a deal with Fortum Waste Solutions for a “test campaign and feasibility study” for carbon capture at the latter’s EfW plant in Nyborg. 

Holiday firm Jet2 revealed it will make a “major” but undisclosed investment in an under-development sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) plant in North West England. The company, which owns airline Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, said it was buying into the Fulcrum NorthPoint facility. 

A decision on an appeal against a local authority’s refusal of an EfW plant has been pushed back again by the UK government - this by two months. The government was originally due to decide on the future of the 60,000t/yr Hownsgill Energy Centre EfW plant by 15 March, however a decision is now due “on or before” 26 June. 

Geminor says it has come through Brexit, Covid and “significant weather conditions” to officially open its Hull-based waste hub. Geminor formally opened the facility, which is now almost ready to produce and supply up to 150,000t/yr of RDF.

Local authority East Devon District Council started the process to find an ESCo to expand its Cranbrook Heat Network Expansion project. The project “will benefit from decarbonised heat by connecting” to EfW plants based in “Hill Barton”. The statement explains “three EfW units” will supply the heat through an interconnect pipe to SkyPark energy centre, which is a separate source of heat opened by utility company E.ON nearly a decade ago. 

Enfinium announced a “first-of-a-kind” project that would on its own deliver 3% of the UK Government's 2035 target for negative emissions. It said it had signed an MoU with Navigator Terminals, which is a bulk liquid storage provider based in the North East of England using the East Coast Main Line rail link.  Engineering giant Bechtel is also onboard to support the feasibility work underpinning the concept. 

Powerfuel Portland will have to go through the appeal process to build its Dorset-based EfW project after Dorset County Council’s strategic and technical planning committee unanimously voted to support the officer’s report to refuse the facility.

Workers at Suez’s Haverton Hill-based EfW plant are to be balloted over potential strike action in a move the waste management company says came as surprise as pay talks were ongoing. Union the GMB confirmed “a full strike ballot will begin in the coming days”, in a statement, issued yesterday. It also said around 100 GMB members working at the EfW plant “are ready to walk out”. 

The local authorities of Derby County and Derby City Councils officially started the tender process for completing their EfW plant four years after work was abandoned on the project. According to a Prior Information Notice (PIN), the councils’ potential deal centres on the facility officially known as the Derby and Derbyshire Waste Treatment Centre (DDWTC) in Sinfin Lane, Derby. The PIN values the contract’s estimated value including VAT £888m (€1bn) or £740m (€842m) without VAT. 

Viridor’s Beddington-based EfW plant processed less waste in the latest figures released about the facility. Documents for rhe South London Waste Partnership (SLWP) joint committee stated Beddington processed 12,197 tonnes (8%) less year-on-year.The figures, covering the period 1 April last year to 31 December, and showed the SLWP boroughs delivered just over 145,500t of residual waste to Beddington. 

Veolia secured an operation and maintenance contract of Turkey's first EfW plant in Istanbul.The city’s, and Turkey’s, first EfW plant was built on the European side of the Bosporus Strait and went into operation in October. A tender for a second facility, to be built on the Asian side of the strait, is due this year. 

Local authority Falkirk Council revealed it will send its residual waste to the Grangemouth-based Earls Gate EfW plant when it starts up later this summer. The council said it had appointed waste contractor Cireco on a ten-year contract that would see waste going to the plant, which is owned by EfW company Encyclis and infrastructure investor Brockwell Energy.

Facilities update: Biomass 

Drax has said it will start work on decommissioning its coal-fired capacity meaning the facility will only process biomass from now on. North Yorkshire-based Drax said it would start the work following the end of the winter contingency agreement with the UK government, which ensured power supplies. Decommissioning will start with the flue gas desulphurisation plant that was built in the 1990s. 

An appeal over whether Aviva’s highly-troubled Barry biomass-gasification plant should be knocked down is to be postponed after it emerged the wording of an enforcement notice might not be “sufficiently precise”. The Vale of Glamorgan Council planning meeting heard a planning inspector had questioned the enforcement notice served on the plant, officially known as Biomass No2 UK, which was built mainly under a planning consent from 2015. 

Finland-based Valmet confirmed a new deal to improve the performance of a biomass-fired plant it built in Spain three years ago. Valmet said it would work with Greenalia on its r Curtis-Teixeiro biomass-fired plant having signed a three-year service agreement. 

The EA has confirmed the environmental permit for the 12MWe Enfield Biomass plant has been handed back. The biomass gasification plant was designed to process up to 60,000t/yr of waste wood. It was previously developed by React Energy, which was also formerly known as Kedco, and was meant to move to construction nine years ago. The facility’s final developer was Eqtec.

Infrastructure investor the Bioenergy Infrastructure Group (BIG) and carbon capture technology developer OCO Technology signed a deal for the processing of Air Pollution Control residues (APCr). The deal covers APCr from BIG’s Ince Bio Power and Mersey Bioenergy, both of which process waste wood, and its Energy Works Hull EfW plant. No financial terms were disclosed. 

Utility company RWE posted bumper profits for the start of 2023 driven by the performance of its biomass, hydro and natural gas assets. The preliminary figures show adjusted EBITDA expected at €2.8bn, which is “significantly above previous year”, which totalled €613m. The results cover the first three months of this year against the first quarter of 2022. 

The UK Pellet Council (UKPC) said it is working closely with the UK government to tell large-scale pellet users that a temporary suspension of rules to only source pellets classed as ENplus A1 will end this winter. UKPC said it was also working with industry regulator Ofgem to inform the sector the suspension, brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was coming to an end on 22 November this year. 

Construction business Acciona Energía started building a new biomass-fired plant under a deal it secured from the government. The plant will process up to  261,000t/yr of biomass derived from agricultural and forestry operations in the region. The plant, which is being built in Logrosán in the Extremadura region, is due to be operational in the second half of 2025. 

A consultation was launched into granting an environmental permit to a steam-producing biomass-fired plant in Hull. The plant, which will process virgin wood, is officially known as the Croda Hull Biomass Power Plant, with chemical giant Croda having previously said it was partnering with AMP Clean Energy on the biomass project. 

Biomass-gasification plant developer Monnow Valley CHP (MVCHP) revealed it needs more cash to restart and keep operating its stalled biomass-gasification facility. The company revealed the “disappointing” news it has a further “cashflow problem, as we do not have sufficient cash to fully restart and ramp up the plant”. In February, the developer told investors it needed a nine-month extension before it starts to repay them. 

Biomass business Brooke Energy applied for a permit for a new waste wood-processing facility. According to an EA-run consultation the facility will handle about 35,000t/yr of non-hazardous mixed waste wood for biomass-fired plant feedstocks. Brooke Energy, which has biomass-fired plants in Jewells, Exeter and Winchester says the waste wood will be used at their own facilities and sold to third parties “to a strict specification”.

Facilities update: Biogas 

Biogas plant developer and operator Nature Energy says it has struck a deal with fellow infrastructure developer Nordion Energi to build more anaerobic digestion facilities. Nature Energy said it would “explore opportunities” to increase the amount of biogas produced in Sweden with an emphasis on biomethane-to-grid supply. It already operates 13 biogas plants that produce about a third of the biogas in the Danish gas grid. 

The owner of a biogas plant in South Tyneside has been fined after failing to stop foul smells being released from its anaerobic digestion facility. The EA said BioConstruct New Energy had appeared at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on 28 February, where it pleaded guilty to one charge of breaching its environmental permit by allowing odour to be released, and further charges of failing to comply with two enforcement notices. BioConstruct New Energy was contacted for further comment, but did not respond. However, the EA’s statement says the court accepted the company “had shown remorse and accepted responsibility for the offending”.

A review of methane emissions originating from anaerobic digestion (AD) plants to support and advise the industry, European policymakers and plant operators has been conducted by the European Biogas Association (EBA), in collaboration with international biogas experts. The report highlights the pivotal role that biogases have in reducing EU methane emissions in the agricultural, energy and waste sectors, as recognised by the 2020 EU Methane Strategy. 

Local authority Staffordshire County Council resolved to approve a proposal to extend the end date for an anaerobic digester at Poplars landfill site, Cannock, subject to referral to the secretary of state. Permission was granted for the AD plant in 2010 on a temporary basis linked to the life of the landfill site which was expected to be 19 years. The site lay within the south Staffordshire green belt. 

Anaerobic digestion plant owner and operator Bio Capital revealed plans for expansion with potential acquisitions and new markets opening up, in an interview with EWB. Bio Capital chief technical officer David McKee, said the company saw growth in several sectors of the biogas market, but was focused currently on biomethane to transport/gas grid, digestate and acquisition of new assets. McKee explained that focus was on the whole of the UK, but it did not rule out projects in the Republic of Ireland, if they met Bio Capital’s criteria. 

Local authority Moray Council considered two proposals of application notices (PANs) from biogas plant developer Acorn Bioenergy. Both applications were submitted for a 10-hectare site near the A941 road and Ben Riach distillery at Longmorn, Elgin, and six hectares of farmland to the east of the A98 road, near Buckie.The company told EWB about the two plants and another facility it plans to develop last year. All are planned to process distillery by-products, crops and waste from local farms as feedstock. 

Utility company Gasum unveiled a “new ambitious goal” to increase its biogas production from last year’s 1.7TWh to 7TWh by 2027. Gasum confirmed the move in a statement, issued last week, which explained: “In practice, Gasum aims to shift the emphasis of its business and operations more towards renewable gas and electricity.”

CNG Fuels says it has created ‘one of Europe’s largest’ biomethane suppliers for heavy transport after buying a majority stake in Renewable Transport Fuel Services Limited (RTFS). CNG Fuels said it bought RTFS as part of its plans to  “help meet the skyrocketing demand for biomethane”. The new business will combine CNG Fuels’ currently expanding UK network of public access bioCNG refuelling stations with RTFS’s biomethane sourcing activities to create one of Europe’s largest fully integrated renewable biomethane suppliers for heavy transport.

Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) revealed it will for the first time install its KompoMethan technology at a plant in Germany. HZI said it would overhaul the Amtzell-based facility, which features Kompogas-powered technology. As a result, the plant’s organic waste treatment will almost triple, from 18,000t/yr to 50,000t/yr. In addition, it will allow the plant to process 600m³/h of biogas, producing 300-400m³/h of biomethane. The project is due for completion in April next year.

Ence Biogas said it would build six biomethane-producing plants in “various parts of Spain” as part of its target to deliver a total of 20-such facilities in the country.  Ence Biogas said it would work with Engineering firm Sener on the “conceptual, basic and detailed engineering” for the six plants.

Norwegian Hydrogen and Danish energy entrepreneur Jens Peter Lunden have agreed a 50/50 joint venture in which they will use wind power and electrolysis to produce liquid biogas. Gron Brint ApS, the new company, will own and operate electrolysis plants to generate green hydrogen that will then be mainly used to produce liquid biogas. 

The owner of a UK-based biogas plant has submitted a retrospective planning application for a series of ‘digestate stores’ at the site, amidst claims that operations have been taking place without planning consent. Campaign group Fish Legal and the Gwent Angling Society said they sent a "formal complaint" to the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA) stating that the digester, which is operated by family run company GP Biotec at Great Porthamel Farm near Brecon, has been operating without planning consent.

 Finland-based Wärtsilä said it will build a facility at Transwaste’s site near to Hull, from December this year. The plant will be a dry anaerobic digestion facility capable of handling organic matter with a consistency of about 20 to 40% dry matter.  EWB reported the plant gained planning consent back in 2021 and can process up to 100,000t/yr. 

Landfill gas company Waga Energy revealed it has developed its first biomethane production unit to use biogas from more than one production source. Waga is working with Valtom, a publicly-owned company in charge of waste management in Clermont-Ferrand. The work has involved landfill gas produced at the Puy-Long landfill, as well as biogas from an anaerobic digestion plant located close to the site and operated by Vernéa. Both sites are owned by Valtom.

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