Wood-to-electricity power plant gets go-ahead in UK first

A new power plant that turns waste wood into electricity will slash greenhouse gases by 2.1m tonnes

A power station that will supply more than 17,000 homes with electricity derived from wood is to be built in Birmingham.

The £47.8m Birmingham Bio Power facility, due to be completed early in 2016, will be fuelled by 67,000 tonnes of wood waste every year.

It will be the UK’s first plant to use a process that converts the carbon in wood into gas, which in turn is combusted to raise steam and drive a turbine to generate electricity.

The scheme is partly funded by the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB), which was launched by government in November 2012 to accelerate the country’s transition to a greener economy.

Business secretary Vince Cable said: “This investment will create green jobs and help the environment by reducing carbon emissions and converting wood diverted from landfill into cleaner energy for thousands of homes and businesses.”

However, some environmental groups are more skeptical. Almuth Ernsting, co-director of Biofuelwatch said: “Dumping waste wood in landfill is definitely not sustainable and not good for the climate. A report commissioned by the government suggests that it generally results in higher greenhouse gas emissions than burning it for energy. But while in theory it’s possible that Birmingham Bio-power might divert waste wood from landfill, there’s a much greater chance that it will divert waste wood that would otherwise be made into long-lasting products where the carbon contained in the wood would not enter the atmosphere at all.”

Construction of the 10.3MW plant in the Tyseley district is expected to create 100 jobs, with 19 full-time jobs available once the plant is operating.

Wood will be supplied under a long-term contract with a local company and power generated will be sold to the National Grid.

It is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 2.1m tonnes over a 20-year lifespan compared to fossil fuel equivalents, and save 1.3m tonnes of waste wood otherwise destined for landfill.

GIB has invested £12m directly – alongside a consortium including Balfour Beatty, Eternity Capital Management and GCP Infrastructure Fund – and £6.2m indirectly through its backing of an energy investments fund.

Shaun Kingsbury, chief executive of GIB, said he hopes the project “offers a positive demonstration that others will follow.”

MWH Treatment won the contract to design, build and maintain the plant from the developer Carbonarius, a joint venture between O-Gen and The Una Group.

Canadian company Nexterra will design and supply the gasification system, having already supplied seven similar facilities in North America.