Barging into the future

Could freight by water be the way forward for waste? As British industry seeks cost-effective alternatives to road-based transport, Malcolm Chilton makes the case

Centuries of British seafaring ingenuity have proved the effectiveness of transporting goods by water. The onset of the Industrial Revolution during the mid-18th Century saw the development of a 5,000 mile system of canals which linked the major industrial centres across the Midlands, the North-west of England and beyond.

These waterways proved to be an economical and reliable method to transport large quantities of goods over long distances and catapulted Britain to the forefront of the industrial world. Between 1760 and 1840, more than 30 million tonnes of goods were transported across the country via these critical arteries.

Later, the introduction of rail transport during the Victorian era, followed by the advent of widespread motorway networks during the 1960s, effectively put an end to the notion of canals as a viable means of transport.

However, with increasing pressures on all aspects of society, industry and commerce to reduce our carbon footprint, it is important to re-evaluate more cost-effective and environmentally friendly options for freight transport. Transportation of goods by water offers one such sustainable alternative.

British Waterways, the organisation responsible for maintaining some 2,000 miles of inland waterways, believes that waste and recyclables are an ideal cargo for transportation via water, owing to their high-bulk and low value.

Figures from the Department of Transport’s Planning for freight on inland waterways guide state that one tug-and-barge journey carrying waste saves the equivalent of up to 50 lorry journeys, which results in a considerable reduction in the waste industry’s carbon footprint.

In the North-west of England, one joint venture, which aims to increase recycling, reprocessing and energy recovery while also creating a centre of excellence for the emerging resource economy, is planning to use the country’s inland waterways to transport materials and reduce its carbon footprint.

Covanta Energy, a leading operator of energy-from-waste facilities (EfW) has joined forces with Peel Environmental, a major infrastructure, transport and real estate company to create Ince Park; a £500M 125-acre eco park that will transport waste and recycling via the Manchester Ship Canal once the joint venture is completed in 2014.

The canal is a 36-mile long seaway linking Liverpool (and the River Mersey) to Manchester. Owned by Peel Ports, the Manchester Ship Canal currently handles in excess of seven million tonnes of cargo a year and forms the central component of Peel Ports, Mersey’s 20-year vision for growth and development at the Port of Liverpool.

The Manchester Ship Canal will enable the movement of materials to and from Ince Park, reducing the reliance of fuel intensive road transport. The park is also well positioned to take advantage of national rail sidings and the nearby M56 motorway.

Figures from the park’s outline plans show that once operational, some 34% of goods will be imported and 23% exported via the canal. The plans also indicate that 29% of imported material will arrive by rail and only 37% by road. When it comes to exporting the material from the park, it is anticipated that 14% will leave via rail and 62% by road.

The Ince Park application includes planning for a dedicated berth capable of accepting ships of 8,000 to 9,000 tonnes’ capacity. It is anticipated that a large volume of imported material will be destined for Covanta’s proposed EfW plant at the heart of Ince Park.

Planning consent has already been granted for the facility, which Covanta will design, build and operate. The plant will use municipal and commercial non-recyclable waste as a fuel to generate up to 95MW of electricity.

The facility is also combined heat and power enabled and will supply heat and steam, created as a by-product of the EfW process, to surrounding neighbourhoods and businesses. Some electricity will be supplied to adjacent industrial businesses within the park, with the remainder exported to the National Grid.

Director of Peel Environmental, Myles Kitcher, says: “Using the links to the Manchester Ship Canal to transport goods to and from Ince Park is an environmentally acceptable solution.

“Covanta’s EfW facility will be taking full advantage of the canal to transport household, commercial and industrial waste from all over the country. By using the canal, we are strengthening its operational remit and at the same time reducing our carbon footprint.”

Ince Park will also be served by freight trains which will reduce the need to move materials by road. This will not only ease road congestion and cut carbon emissions but also offers a more economical solution to transporting waste and recyclables.

The rejuvenation of strategic parts of the UK’s canal network offers an alternative to transporting waste, which can help reduce the industry’s reliance on carbon intensive fuels. This is an excellent opportunity to reintroduce the “green solutions” of the past which can be put into practice today.

Malcolm Chilton is UK managing director of Covanta Energy

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