Business anger as government drags its feet on ACT funding

Air Products director of hydrogen and bio-energy systems, Ian Williamson, writes exclusively for edie of his frustration at government funding and how it is holding up progress on his company's 49MW EfW

The decision by Stockton-on-Tees Council to grant Air Products planning permission for a 49MW energy-from-waste plant recently took us one step closer to bringing advanced gasification to the UK.

This form of advanced gasification has the potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s renewable energy and environmental targets.

However, while we are working on the remaining regulatory steps, we are still awaiting commitment from the government on the financial support that will enable this emerging form of efficient, sustainable renewable generation to be financially viable and compete on a level playing field with existing baseload, waste-conversion processes.

The Tees Valley Renewable Energy facility will take pre-processed household, industrial and commercial waste which has had recyclable materials removed and heat it using torches which can reach temperatures well above those of conventional energy-from-waste technologies.

This process breaks down the waste to produce a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as syngas. The syngas is cooled, cleaned-up and scrubbed to remove particulates, and then fed into gas turbines to generate renewable electricity.

Advanced gasification will be a valuable source of baseload renewable power – the Tees Valley facility has the potential to produce enough energy to power up to 50,000 homes, regardless of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

The Tees Valley facility will divert between 300,000-350,000 tonnes of waste every year away from landfill, where it would otherwise produce methane – a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

While both advanced gasification and conventional energy-from-waste incineration processes help to reduce waste sent to landfill and provide baseload power, gasification has significant advantages over the latter.

Firstly, the higher efficiency of advanced gasification means it has a lower carbon footprint than incineration.

Secondly, the heat involved in gasification and the reduced oxygen levels greatly minimises the potential for production of dioxins from the process which are a concern with conventional incineration.

Thirdly, instead of ash, an inert slag is produced which can be used as an aggregate.

The government already recognises the benefits of advanced gasification along with other energy-from-waste processes known collectively as advanced conversion technologies (ACTs). ACTs are currently eligible for two Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) under the Renewables Obligation (RO).

The Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) is currently reviewing the RO banding regime and proposals are expected shortly.

Air Products and other potential investors in gasification are eagerly awaiting the report to see whether the current banding will be maintained and hope that there will not be any further delays which may impact investment decision timing.

Two ROCs per MWh are essential if emerging technologies such as advanced gasification are to get off the ground.

The Tees Valley project would be a significant investment in the UK that we hope to bring online within the next three years.

The continuation of this support through the government’s existing renewables programme could mean the energy generated at Tees Valley can be sold at competitive prices.

The Renewables Obligation banding decisions will not just affect the Tees Valley plant, but the entire future of several emerging renewable energy technologies in the UK.

In order to achieve the UK’s renewable energy targets by 2020, the government should seriously consider the opportunities and advantages offered by ACTs and help this waste diversion and baseload power technology realise its potential by continuing their commitment to double ROCs from 2014 onwards.

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