Biomass plant will be put to the test

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COMMISSIONING begins today of the first phase of a £65m development at Immingham which will handle three million tonnes of wooden pellets a year going to Drax.

Four silos, 65m high, will receive biomass arriving on ships from North America and Canada. Another four will be built in a second phase, doubling capacity to 6m tonnes next year.

It follows yesterday’s official unveiling at the port of Hull of a smaller facility which handles 1m tonnes a year of pellets.

One of the tallest structures on the city’s skyline, it sends the biomass by rail to the Selby power station which is converting three of its six generating units from coal to become the biggest biomass-burning power station in the world.

If Drax ultimately decides to convert four of its generating units it will require 10m tonnes - nearly double the UK’s total annual wood production.

Chief executive Dorothy Thompson was among the guests at the opening, also attended by Drax customers, rail operators and Spencer Group, which built the facility. ABP Humber director John Fitzgerald said the ports remained integral to energy supply - whether coal in 1914 or biomass in 2014.

There has been controversy over the use of wood pellets, with claims by Friends of the Earth that burning biomass on an industrial scale is threatening forests abroad and could be worse for the climate than burning coal.

However Drax says it has “developed and implemented industry-leading sustainability criteria” and all its biomass goes through a rigorous carbon accounting process. It claims average emissions saving over the full life-cycle of generating power from sustainable biomass in place of coal is above 80 per cent including processing and transport.