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EDF achieves a major milestone in the industrial implementation of Ecocombust

In France, energy utility major EDF has revealed that the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition has approved a programme of work leading up to a decision on the company's Ecocombust project – a biomass conversion technology to be integrated into a coal-fired power plant. Between now and autumn 2019, this programme of work should help validate the technical trials, environmental impact studies and economic model for the project.

Morning mist surrounds EDF’s Cordemais coal-fired power plant outside Nantes, western France. Originally commissioned in 1970, the plant currently consists of two 600 MW units. EDF is planning to build an “Ecocombust” unit at the plant whereby waste wood is converted into a coal-like biomass fuel and used as fuel at the facility (photo courtesy EDF).

At the end of a meeting held on January 24, 2019, EDF and the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition approved a programme of work leading up to a decision on the Ecocombust project. This programme of work should help validate the technical trials, environmental impact studies and economic model for the project at EDF’s Cordemais power plant outside Nantes in northwest France.

By then, subject to satisfactory conclusions from a technical, economic and environmental perspective, and once discussions have been held with the Government and local communities, EDF will embark on the industrialisation stage, aiming to start producing the advanced biomass fuel at the Cordemais plant in 2022.

According to EDF, its Ecocombust project fits in with the July 2017 Climate Plan, the National Low-Carbon Strategy (Stratégie Nationale Bas Carbone, SNBC) and the November 2018 Multi-Year Energy Programme (Programmation Pluriannuelle de l’Energie, PPE), which foresee an end to the production of electricity using coal by 2022 and the development of biomass resources.

Coal phase-out and plant upgrades

Under the directive on large combustion plants, EDF decided to shut down 10 coal-fired units between 2013 and 2015 – 2 850 MW at five sites. Meanwhile, a large-scale programme was carried out to renovate and upgrade the three most recent units – 600 MW in Le Havre (northern France) and two 600 MW units in Cordemais (north-west France).

Called “Charbon 2035”, the project, representing a EUR 450 million investment, is designed to extend the life span of the facilities until 2035 and to improve their technical, economic and environmental performance.

At the Le Havre site, EDF has also carried out experiments with a pilot carbon capture system (CCS). Developed in 2012 in partnership with Alstom and DOW Chemical, the demonstrator investigated the Advanced Amines Process (AAP), a technology specially designed to capture carbon dioxide (CO2)in the combustion flue gases generated by a coal-fired power plant.

Ecocombust project

Ecocombust is the result of work started in 2015 by EDF teams to study the development of a new kind of biomass-based fuel, originally designed to power its coal-fired plants. The Ecocombust project involves producing an innovative, ecological fuel to be used to run facilities that produce heat or electricity currently powered by coal.

The fuel will be produced on-site and will lead to the creation of a new sector to recycle wood waste that cannot currently be used and is usually sent to landfill.

Within the context of securing the electricity supply for the North-West of France, and Brittany in particular, and if the RTE studies commissioned by the Government confirm there is a need for it, if applicable until 2026, some or all of the biomass produced could be used to power up to 80 percent of current units to respond to the need to secure Western France’s electricity grid during peak hours when consumption is at its highest.

In this scenario, given the high level of substitution of coal and the limited annual number of operating hours, annual CO2 emissions would be approximately 25 times lower than they are at the moment.

EDF is delighted with this progress. Our teams remain fully mobilised to respond to the Government’s demands to validate Ecocombust, an innovative and ecological new kind of fuel. Approval of the Ecocombust programme of work means that EDF can pursue its mission, and fits in perfectly with the framework laid down for the multi-year energy programme, commented Jean-Bernard Lévy, EDF’s CEO and Chairman.

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