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Breakthrough for biomass handling

Through the investments Drax Group and its partners have made, the UK’s largest coal-to-biomass conversion project has generated over £710 million (≈ EUR 846 million) in gross domestic product (GDP) since 2009 in today’s prices. Of this, almost £280 million (≈ EUR 333 million) is attributed to capital investments into UK logistics and infrastructure. For Siwertell, it has meant a breakthrough in the UK for its multi-fuel handling solutions.

The two first Siwertell multi-fuel ship unloaders in the UK were installed at ABP Port of Immingham each with a 1 200 tonne-per-hour discharge capacity. In July 2015, the two unloaders discharged the world’s first Panamax-class shipment of pellets.

The two first Siwertell multi-fuel ship unloaders in the UK were installed at ABP Port of Immingham each with a 1 200 tonne-per-hour discharge capacity. In July 2015, the two unloaders discharged the world’s first Panamax-class shipment of pellets.

According to a report commissioned by Drax Group Plc and carried out by Oxford Economics, an independent global advisory providing reports, forecasts and analytical tools, the investments made by Drax and its partners in the coal-to-biomass conversion process has given rise to over £710 million (≈ EUR 846 million) in gross domestic product (GDP) since 2009, measured in today’s prices.

Biomass infrastructure at scale

Published in September 2016, the report “The Economic Impact of Drax Group in the UK” also highlights that the Drax project has necessitated the parallel development of an entirely new infrastructure and at an unprecedented scale. Drax and its partners— the Port of Tyne, the Humber Ports of Immingham and Hull, the Port of Liverpool, DB Cargo UK and GB Rail freight —have together developed a large, specialised freight and logistics infrastructure dedicated to the import, storage and delivery of wood pellets.

Port operators, freight service providers and rail wagon manufacturers all undertook work linked to the biomass conversion. According to the report, these capital investments have contributed almost £280 million (≈ EUR 333 million) to UK GDP in the eight years to 2016, measured in 2016 prices. They also supported around 4 400 annual jobs. Beyond the construction phase, this biomass infrastructure now supports a range of permanent jobs, from operations at the port facilities to the provision of logistics services for biomass cargo.

Seen as a whole the development is nothing short of remarkable given that wood pellets have fundamentally different physical properties to coal– they need to be kept dry and be handled gently end-to-end along the entire logistics chain to avoid fuel degradation and hazards associated with combustible dust just to mention a few issues that need to be addressed.

Port of Tyne

Associated British Ports (ABP) Port of Tyne began its preparations to receive biomass shipments in 2009, after entering a long-term agreement with Drax. Around £16 million (≈ EUR 19 million) was invested in constructing a biomass handling facility with rail loading capacity to manage up to two million tonnes per annum.

Dredging to deepen water in its berths to accommodate larger vessels was also carried out. The first vessel with wood pellets was unloaded in September 2010 and the Port of Tyne has handled over six million tonnes in total since then.

Port of Hull

The largest share of the infrastructure investment has been into the ABP Humber Ports at Immingham and Hull. The first part of the £150 million (≈ EUR 178 million) investment was the construction of a £26 million (≈ EUR 31 million) specialised rail loading facility at Hull, which opened in late 2014. The award winning facility can hold 1 800 tonnes of pellets and it takes approximately 35 minutes to fill a 25-wagon trainset. On an annual basis, it can handle up to one million tonnes.

In December 2015, a new £4 million (≈ EUR 4.8 million) warehouse for the storage of dry bulk cargoes was opened. The specially designed multi-purpose facility is used to store up to 26 000 m3 pellets. Features include ledge free internal walls to prevent dust accumulation, incipient aspirating fire detection system, LED lighting, wireless carbon monoxide and heat monitoring, an expanding foam fire suppression system, smoke extraction capabilities and an internal and external mist air system to control dust.

Port of Immingham

Across the estuary in Immingham, the second part of the investment was to develop the Immingham Renewable Fuels Terminal (IRFT). The Port of Immingham is already the UK’s largest port by tonnage, handling in excess of 55 million tonnes per annum. Oil and coal account for around 30 million tonnes whereas dry bulk commodities, including biomass, account for the balance.

EC finds that increased demand for wood pellets could be “fulfilled by the market without undue negative side-effects”.

Specially developed Drax rail wagons at the Immingham Renewable Fuels Terminal.

Consisting of two multi-fuel ship unloaders, eight 25 000 tonne storage silos and a rail-loading facility, the IRFT is designed as a multi-customer terminal with Drax the first customer to use the facilities. In July 2015 the facility received and discharged a Panamax-class vessel carrying almost 60 000 tonnes of pellets, the world’s largest ever single shipment.

The IRFT has been designed to handle pellets arriving in dedicated self-trimming bulk vessels of between 25 000 and 50 000 dwt. At full capacity, the terminal will handle about 6 million tonnes pellets per annum with the unloaders in almost constant operation.

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