The new generation of Energy from Waste plants

Written by: Paul Gouland | Published:

Paul Gouland, marketing director at Clugston Construction, examines trends in waste disposal and explains how a number of the UK’s new EfW plants could contribute to future energy production

Across the UK, there continues to be a demand for more sustainable approaches to waste management and, despite increased recycling, we still deposit high levels to landfill or export it to Europe.

While there is a debate over the future capacity requirements, with Suez recently predicting a 14 million tonne shortfall in processing capability, contrary to a Eunomia report suggesting oversupply in energy-from-waste (EfW), it is still estimated that 6.8 million tonnes of residual waste is likely to be available every year between 2017 and 2025. As a result, there is certainly a strong case for investment in further plants to both reduce waste to landfill and utilising it to produce energy.

Currently, the UK still lags far behind Western European countries in its EfW capacity. In December 2016, there were 37 operational EfWs in the UK, with a further four in commission, providing a total headline capacity of 11.76 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). There was a further 4.08Mtpa of EfW capacity in construction.

One of the companies heavily involved in supporting the sector and delivering the next generation of EfW plants is Clugston Construction. The company has established a strong track record of providing building and civil engineering services to the waste recovery and energy sector – stretching back to the company being established in 1937, when it set up an operation to recycle waste slag.

In more recent years, however, the company has focused efforts on the mass burn market, working closely with French process specialist CNIM, which together have delivered a large number of major EfW plants across the UK.

Wheelabrator Parc Adfer

A good example of one such facility is a current project, the Wheelabrator Parc Adfer EfW plant at Deeside Industrial Park in Flintshire, North Wales. Once constructed, the facility is expected to process up to 200,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste per year that would have otherwise be sent to landfill, and generate up to 19MW (gross) of sustainable electricity annually for the National Grid – enough to power more than 30,000 UK homes and businesses. It will also be capable of providing valuable steam or heat to local industry and housing when plant operations commence in 2019.

Waste transported to the Parc Adfer plant will go through an initial periodic inspection to ensure only acceptable waste is treated at the facility. Any recyclable materials, such as cardboard, plastic, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, will be removed. Following the initial inspection, suitable waste is loaded into the energy recovery facility by overhead cranes and stored within large waste hoppers, from where it is fed into the integrated fast boiler units within the process hall for combustion.

Following the example of many plants across Europe, the objective of the UK government is to see EfW facilities connected to urban district heating networks. Although it presents countless challenges for developers in terms of planning, co-ordination and costs, locating EfW plants near existing or proposed heat networks, such as industrial and commercial sites, also presents countless opportunities. This is demonstrated at Wheelabrator’s Kemsley combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Kent, which will supply renewable heat to DS Smith’s Kemsley Paper Mill.

The new state-of-the-art plant is designed to process up to 550,000 tonnes of residential and business waste fuel annually. This would otherwise have been sent to landfill or pre-treated and then exported to European EfW plants, as a result generating up to 50MW (gross) of clean, renewable energy to power UK homes and businesses. Electricity generated is exported to the National Grid transmission network with renewable steam supplied directly to the adjacent paper mill. This will help to reduce the mill’s reliance on fossil fuels, as DS Smith looks to decarbonise the production of recyclable packaging for the retail industry.

At Kemsley, Wheelabrator sought to utilise the latest in CHP technology within the facility. As such, the plant will incorporate a two-line moving grate with thermal combustion capacity of 100MW per line.

As the environmental performance and technology involved in EfW have evolved, so have the architectural elements. No longer are such facilities restricted to ‘square box’ designs. Instead, modern-day plants often incorporate eye-catching facilities that reflect the hi-tech kit they house.

While the core elements of EfW plants are relatively consistent, the required process capacity, site constraints and local planning all impact the layout and building design. As a result, no two facilities are the same, with several eye-catching architectural and structural solutions recently being constructed.

Learning from Leeds

This is very much reflected in the scope of EfW sites that Clugston has worked on, including the award-winning Leeds Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility (RERF).Named Project of the Year at the National Structural Timber Awards, the innovative facility features a striking 42-metre high-arched timber frame that houses the process hall and is visible from many points of the city.

The building uses a mix of innovative and sustainable materials and techniques to reflect its environmental role. In addition to the 123m-long and 35m-wide timber arch – manufactured using Glulam laminated timber, one of the most sustainable construction materials available – the facility also incorporates a green wall of robust plants.

Maintaining the sustainability theme, the construction of the site also used recycled products in its foundations. The old concrete slabs that had been covering the brownfield site were broken up and crushed for reuse, which saved importing new aggregate and disposing of the old concrete to landfill, thereby cutting out hundreds of wagon movements.

Leeds RERF is more than just a remarkable architectural feat, however, with the facility having the capacity to divert and process approximately 214,000 tonnes of waste annually. Of this waste, around 20% is recycled and the remainder incinerated to generate up to 15MW of electricity to the National Grid. The facility also provides heat to local sites by capturing steam from the processes and piping it via a local distribution network.

Demand for EfW

Although projection of future demands for EfW facilities remains unclear, following the demise of investment under the public private partnership/public finance initiative regime, the importance of such facilities as providers of reliable electricity generation is clear. In fact, the generating capacity of UK EfW plants totals some 5.57TWh of electricity per annum, with processes being refined to achieve greater efficiency.

With 27 million tonnes of municipal solid waste and 47 million tonnes of waste from businesses produced every year, there is huge potential for growth and further investment in the UK EfW sector.

The Energy from Waste 2018 conference will take place from 28 Feb - 1 March at County Hall in Central London.

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