King Coal Could Lose It’s Crown As Biomass Is Moving In

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 Scunthorpe Telegraph DRAX is a big deal when it comes to the regional economy, contracting and keeping the UK’s lights on. It reliably provides between 7 per cent and 8 per cent of Britain’s electricity, with coal traditionally used to fire the six huge units housed within a site that spans an area of a small town. ​ SHIPPING IN: Artist’s impression of the Immingham Renewable Fuels Terminal at ABP’s Port of Immingham Just a few miles from Selby, close to the start of the Humber and the M18/M62 junction, Europe’s second largest power plant doesn’t always command the most positive of headlines. The process used to keep modern lives on track – be it mobile phones charged, television programmes running, food cool and wi-fi active at home, or industry’s wheels turning at work – requires a level of coal that is difficult to comprehend. Much of it comes into Drax via Immingham, but with emission targets and carbon reduction strategies cascading down from Kyoto through Brussels to Westminster, the heat has been on to move away from a fossil fuel that for years has been a necessary evil, on which much of the world has depended. With plans for carbon capture at Drax now rapidly accelerating following the Government backing on Budget day, how to deal with what comes out of the plant, and into the air, is being worked on. And Immingham is at the centre of what will increasingly be going in as a raw material. The biomass power boom isn’t so much being capitalised on by Drax, but being steered by the executive team at the heart of the UK’s energy infrastructure. It has lobbied successive governments hard on what is required, and the £700 million investment reported on this past month underlines a confidence in the political and economic structure around such a monumental shift. Half is being spent on site. A huge in-situ fabricated automated conveyor system – capable of carrying 2,800 tonnes of biomass an hour – is snaking round the existing units with a new rail handling facility being built under ground. Bespoke wagons, without so much as stopping on their journey west from the North East Lincolnshire port, will discharge the wooden pellets, formed in the US and shipped more than 5,000 miles to Humber International Terminal, into vast chambers, where they will be stored, then crushed into little more than sawdust, blown into the boiler, and gone within two seconds, playing a part in what comes through our plugs. Adding to the 259m tall chimney and the dozen 114m high cooling towers that mark Drax out in an area of Britain where five counties are drawn together, are four 50m high, 70m wide domes, to store the arriving biomass. Inflated, then coated, they are an emerging new addition to a skyline that currently features a myriad of cranes. The whole project is an industrial engineering feat to behold. Peter Emery, production director at Drax, was my tour host. He said: “Over the next three years we will convert half the station to biomass. The first unit has been converted. We hope to start running 100 per cent biomass during this month and we will then progressively commission the project over the remainder of this year. “In 2014 we will convert a second unit, and we are trying to accelerate plans for another one in 2015. If we get confident in the technology in the first two units, and the biomass supply chain is looking encouraging, we will try and bring the conversion forward.” The plan is to have the full distribution system operating on site in November. So where does £700 million come from? “We raised new equity last year – £190 million – and raised another £225 million in new debt, and together with funds from our own earnings that gave us is £650 million to £700 million to fund the whole transformation. “A total of 50 per cent is what you have seen today, the domes, the conveyor systems, the unit conversions. The balance of the £700-million is being spent in the US, and ensuring we comply with Industrial Emission Directives in 2016.” Of that finance, £125 million is on cheques bearing the Queen’s signature, too. Mr Emery said: “£75 million is an HM Treasury grant, with £50 million from UK Green Investment Bank. “That is a very strong signal to the market place that biomass is here to stay.” Without seeing the work underway, it would be easy to assume much of the money is being spent on the electricity generating equipment that handles incredibly high pressurised steam, but that is not the case. “We are spending far more of the capital expenditure on the rail, unloading, storage and fuel distribution,” said Mr Emery. The design is based on three principles. It has to be robust, efficient and reliable. “All the conveyors are doubled up and completely enclosed, we want to keep dust away as it can cause fires, be explosive and hazardous to health,” said Mr Emery. “You have to treat it with respect and keep it away from people. We are trying to make sure people can work on the plant without any breathing apparatus, so it will never be exposed to the open air.” Strict quality tests will be carried out throughout the supply chain, and with each dome capable of holding more biomass than a Panamax vessel will ship across the Atlantic, anything found to be amiss can be quarantined. When it comes to the efficiency, biomass has to play catch up with the black stuff. “We could lose up to 1.5 per cent efficiency converting,” said Mr Emery. “Biomass is half the density of coal but two thirds the calorific value, so we have to put more in to get the same load out. “It is two to three times the price of coal, too, so that is why we need the subsidy to work. The roll-out depends on government policy. One of the reasons we are going down this route is because of the economic incentives. The Government has put in place a carbon floor price and that will increase the price of carbon out to 2020 then out to 2030. If government sticks to that policy it is quite possible the biomass units will become more and more competitive in a world where the price of C02 is high.” While the US is the focus of Drax’s self-sourcing of biomass, it wants to have a strong and diverse supply chain. Actually operating in the market will allow the publicly limited company to then buy elsewhere with increased knowledge. “A lot does come from Canada, US, Balkans, Scandinavia, Russia, and a small amount from Africa, and what we are really trying to do is build up the diversification,” said Mr Emery, explaining the American model that will see plants either side of the Mississippi feed a new port facility at Baton Rouge, and then the Humber. “A lot of forests in the US are managed as sustainable forests, for a long period of time serving paper and construction industries,” he said. “Demand is dropping because of new technology and forest owners are looking for new markets. We have been greeted with open arms. It gives us a great place to start. We will start work this summer and it will be 12 to 15 months (to commissioning). Some time at the end of 2014 we will get pellets from the two plants in this region.” This led to the Immingham development, roughly £75 million of the £100 million to be spent in the Humber ports, with the North East also feeding in. Mr Emery said: “We already have an agreement with Port Of Tyne, we have agreed a one million tonne capacity terminal at Port Of Hull, and a contract with ABP at Immingham, where we will be building new three million tonne per year capacity there. “If we look at three units, we need 7.5 million tonnes of biomass a year, and port capacity in excess of that.” Then there’s the new rolling stock too, eight trains worth, with half already committed to. Boosting capacity and British manufacturing. “Bigger trains are important for two reasons, it makes planning easier for biomass coming into Drax, and reduces the carbon footprint if you can carry more tonnage on the same loco,” said Mr Emery. “We need to bring biomass to the UK with a low carbon footprint, and if you put it in a 50,000-tonne vessel you can travel a long, long way with a negligible carbon footprint. Scale is very important here.” And how exactly does biomass compare environmentally as a feedstock? “It is a very attractive carbon footprint versus fossil fuels,” said Mr Emery. “It is 10 per cent to 15 per cent of coal, 20 per cent to 50 per cent of gas. “There are regulatory risks here and we have to work with Government (when it comes to long term policy). We have got a very good, very reliable coal plant. If we have 50 per cent biomass capability and 50 per cent coal capability. We will complement wind, too. We will be here to support the market in times of high demand, particularly in the winter,” he said, looking at peak capacity. The long term, is another challenge, however. “I would be surprised if we are still burning biomass in plants in 40 years time,” he added. “We are not looking at what the next generation of technology is at the moment, but we will be soon.” Read more: http://www.thisisscu…l#ixzz2QjXrbn32 Follow us: @thisisscunny on Twitter | thisisscunny on Facebook

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