U.K.'s First Gasification Plant Gets Go Ahead

Facility will turn waste into electricity and hydrogen for fuel cells.

By Sean Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Advanced Westinghouse plasma gasification technology supplied by AlterNRG, Calgary, Alberta, is at the heart of a new energy-from-waste (EFW) plant to be built in Teesside, North East England. When complete, the 50-MW plant, which is being constructed by Air Products, Walton-on-Thames, U.K., will be the first of its type in the country and the largest of its type in the world.

The process produces 42% less carbon dioxide per MWh than traditional methods.


The gasification process exposes feedstock, which can include household and industrial waste and biomass, to plasma torches at temperatures over 5,000°C in the presence of controlled amounts of steam, air and oxygen. This produces syngas and a glassy slag, which can be recovered and used as building aggregate. Eighty percent of the energy input is converted into syngas, which is cooled, purified and used to produce electricity. The process reportedly produces 42% less carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (MWh) than simply burning the waste.

"Our investment in advanced gasification EFW technology is a natural extension of our onsite business model. Offering an innovative growth opportunity, it allows us to further extend our leading position in the global energy market and continue to deliver on Air Products' commitment to sustainability," says John McGlade, the company's chairman, president and CEO.

"The U.K. is committed to diversifying its sources of energy, strengthening its energy security and reducing carbon emissions. This pioneering clean energy technology model is well-suited to these requirements, offering a sustainable solution to the U.K.'s waste management strategy. The facility will also create skilled jobs in the area and we are hopeful it will provide an indirect boost to the local economy through the use of local service companies, hotels and other businesses," he adds.

The plant is expected to produce enough reliable, controllable and renewable electricity to power up to 50,000 homes. Situated in a location with access and connectivity to the local and national electrical distribution infrastructure, and close to landfill disposal facilities, the plant will divert up to 350,000 metric tons of non-recyclable waste from landfill per year — helping the U.K. meet waste diversion targets.

Hydrogen from the plant could also be used to power fuel cells in vehicles, after being distributed via Air Products' newly-opened hydrogen fuelling station at Heathrow airport near London. That station is currently being used in a trial involving five hydrogen-powered taxis that were first introduced during the recent Olympic games in London.

Air Products has secured the necessary environmental and planning approvals and the renewable energy facility is scheduled to enter commercial operation in 2014. Work has already begun to prepare the site. Full-scale construction activities will begin ramping up in the fall.

"Advanced gasification has a key role to play in delivering renewable energy and I warmly welcome the decision by Air Products to proceed with its Tees Valley Renewable Energy Facility. Air Products' announcement reflects the U.K.'s commitment and support for clean energy, combined with our stable and transparent environment for investors," says U.K. deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

In a related development, Waste2Tricity, London, is to build a demonstration facility at the gasification plant. The company specializes in using fuel cells to increase the efficiency of waste-to-energy technologies and in March received a £1-million ($1.57-million) loan from AFC Energy, Cranleigh, U.K., a developer of low-cost alkaline fuel-cell technology.


In part, Waste2Tricity used the capital to acquire exclusive U.K. deployment rights for AFC Energy alkaline fuel cells. It's also working to integrate AFC Energy's new generation alkaline fuel cell with Westinghouse plasma gasification technology for future projects.

According to the company, this novel combination will increase electrical output by 50% for the same feedstock input — for no significant additional capital expenditure per MW — and with a lower projected operating expenditure.

The company expects to have demonstrated the combined technologies at commercial scale by 2016. Waste2Tricity sees this as the first step in bridging the funding gap for the technology, allowing it to plan the deployment of AFC Energy fuel cells and demonstrate a commercial model both more profitable and with greener credentials than anything currently available on the market.



SEÁN OTTEWELL is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net.

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