Waste to energy power station keeps Tata Chemicals in the UK

Posted on 2 Oct 2012

Tata Chemicals has been given Government consent to construct a 60 megawatt energy from waste plant to provide heat (primarily steam) and electricity to one of its manufacturing sites in Cheshire.

The plant will save Tata Chemicals, which has two sites in Cheshire, up to £1m a year by moving away from the volatile price of gas.

The energy will be produced by a combustion process turning household waste from the surrounding area into power for its energy-intensive operations at its site in Lostock, Northwich, which produces soda ash and sodium bicarbonate products essential to the glass, detergent, food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

Every penny per therm increase in the price of gas equates to an additional £1m a year to Tata Chemicals’ energy bill, with the UK’s high energy prices creating a situation that could have seen it shut down its UK operations.

Tata told planning assessors that it would find it “extremely difficult to absorb future gas price increases and that the superior energy performance is vital to the survival of the business.”

Martin Ashcroft, Tata Chemicals’ European managing director, said: “As an energy intensive business we are faced with ever-rising gas prices which are increasingly difficult to absorb. The new plant will give us fuel price stability which will allow us to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and to plan our long-term future.”

Power arrangers 

The decision is somewhat of a milestone for energy from waste in the UK as it is only E.ON’s second UK plant to be granted planning consent (the big energy firms have been slow in supporting this technology).

It will use pre-treated waste otherwise destined for landfill. Construction of the new plant is likely to begin next year and be operational towards the end of 2016. A spokesperson for Tata Chemicals said “The move away from gas not only makes good commercial sense but also accords with European and national environmental policies.”

Food for thought

Energy from waste is much more reliable than wind or solar power and could be the key to supporting a greener economy less dependant on imported gas.

Average industrial gas prices have risen by 21% last year, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Although energy from kitchen and garden waste have technological limits and resource constraints, manufacturers are increasingly seeking this form of power to cut the high energy costs that has scared manufacturing overseas.

Tim Crotty, director at chemicals group INEOS said that the Carbon Floor Price is adding a hefty fee to the price of producing energy from fossil fuel sources, a price that is then passed onto customers.

He explained: “Having competitive pricing on energy is essential, otherwise we will stop making chemicals in the UK and make it somewhere else. It’s as simple as that.”

Energy accounts for around 60% of its chlorine business operating in Cheshire, which demands the stability that can be provided by locally produced sustainable power. Chlorine produced by a hugely energy-intensive electrolysis process which Crotty says “is made or broken by what the price of energy is.”

However, there has been a lack of Government support to help with the initial costs of setting up energy from waste plants, which would retain more manufacturing in the UK and prevent global companies such as Tata or INEOS shifting chemical production overseas.

“The amount of R&D spend has got to go up considerably,” commented Christopher Dodson OBE of Mortimer Technology and Torftech Group. “We are not as adventurous as other countries in renewable and waste energy and there are other countries with better programmes.”

An anti-green Chancellor

George Osborne is under fire for not supporting energy-hungry manufacturers with low-cost energy
George Osborne is under fire for not supporting energy-hungry manufacturers with low-cost energy

While Prime Minister David Cameron claims the Government is the greenest in history, Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins has labelled George Osborne an anti-green Chancellor.

“Politicians from all parties must stand up to George Osborne and his reckless dash for gas,” he said. “The Energy Bill [a framework for delivering secure, affordable and low carbon energy] must contain a clear target for decarbonising the UK electricity sector by 2030, to tackle climate change, create jobs and wean our economy off dirty and expensive fossil fuels. Investing in clean British energy is the best way to tackle soaring fuel bills and give us power we can all afford.”

The UK Electricity Generation Costs Update from the Department for Energy and Climate Change noted that the technology is “at a stage where only incremental advances are expected” and will never generate anywhere near the amount of power generated by nuclear power stations (energy from waste power plants typically produce 50 megawatts at full capacity while a typical coal power station produces around 650 megawatts and a typical unit in a nuclear power plant 1,200 megawatts).

However, energy from waste lends itself to a new framework whereby local energy is produced from local waste, significantly reducing the UK’s reliance on imported power.

The UK is able to tap into a growing fuel source with a report by the National Grid claiming that renewable gas (mainly produced by a process of anaerobic digestion or thermal gasification of the UK’s biodegradable waste) could meet up to 50% of UK residential gas demand.

As the demand for energy grows worldwide, raising input costs, it makes sense for businesses and households to increase levels of recycling as rising number of low-cost waste-to-energy plants boosts the supply of power and slash the amount of waste that would otherwise be going to landfill.

Coming full circle

The UK generates approximately 290 million tonnes of waste each year according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, creating an abundance of raw material ready to be turned into energy while finite fossil fuels will continue to rise in price as supply deteriorates.

A spokesperson for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said: “It is essential we have a balanced energy mix in the future to provide low cost, efficient energy to households and businesses. This plant takes waste and turns it into something of great value.”

Recycling is supplying the manufacturing sector’s energy demands turning food waste into power to make products that end up back in British homes. In this case it is food waste that will power the production of power soda ash and sodium bicarbonate used in food packaging that contains the next batch of power for the next run of packaging. A perfect food web.