Major pyrolysis/gasification unit gains PPC permit

Global Olivine, a small New Zealand-based company, has received authorisation from the Environment Agency to operate a huge pyrolysis/gasification and plasma vitrification facility in Peterborough that would treat a wide range of commercial, industrial and municipal wastes, as well as sewage sludge and agricultural residues. However, the project has yet to gain Government approval or agree all the necessary waste contracts.

Global Olivine is a supplier of pyrolysis, gasification and plasma technology. The company does not operate waste facilities but has sold plant that is currently in operation in Canada, the USA, Australia and Japan. Its UK subsidiary was established in 2002.

In May 2004 it applied for a pollution prevention and control permit (PPC) to operate a waste treatment and recovery facility processing up to 1 million tonnes of waste and biofuels per year at an industrial site in Peterborough. The permit was issued on 9 February.

Because of the significant amount of electricity that the facility would generate, the company will have to apply for consent to the Department of Trade and Industry rather than the local planning authority. Managing director Chris Williams expects to apply shortly.

Mr Williams estimates that the facility would cost some £250-300 million. If consent is granted and the facility goes ahead, it would be the largest project of its kind in the country. It would also be the first facility operated by Global Olivine itself.

According to the Agency, the facility would process up to 150,000 tonnes per year of agricultural biomass, 80,000 tonnes of sewage sludge and 20,000 tonnes of tyres.

It would also take residual municipal waste and commercial and industrial waste, and, said Mr Williams, could take a range of hazardous wastes from batteries and fluorescent tubes to asbestos. Mr Williams claimed he could secure all the waste the facility needs within 30 miles of the proposed site.

Cambridgeshire is just starting the tendering process for a new 25-year waste contract and is due to select a preferred bidder by August 2006.

Waste would first be treated in a pyrolysis/gasification process. Gases from the process would feed into a boiler, which would generate steam to power turbines generating electricity. According to the permit, the facility would be able to generate 118MW of which 72MW would be renewable. This, said Mr Williams, is equal to 15% of the East of England's renewable energy target.

Like other pyrolysis/gasification facilities, the plant would be able to sell renewable obligation certificates for the biodegradable proportion of the waste being treated.

Such technologies have yet to take off in the UK waste treatment market - although they are used fairly widely in countries such as Germany (ENDS Report 295, pp 22-25 ). But such facilities could become more attractive in commercial terms as the landfill tax escalator pushes landfill tax towards £35 per tonne.

Bottom ash would be screened and crushed to produce aggregate. Metals would be removed using magnets and an eddy current separator. Some of the fines would be processed into cement additives or concrete products.

The rest of the fines plus the air pollution control residues would be processed with selected waste streams such as batteries or fluorescent tubes in a plasma vitrifier producing metal alloys and glass products. The emissions would be treated to remove hydrochloric acid, mercury and sulphur.

Some glass, together with the residues from the vitrifier filter, would then be processed in an electric arc furnace - again on site - to produce leaded crystal.

According to Mr Williams the facility would generate zero waste to landfill - a factor that could persuade local authorities that it is a better environmental option than mechanical/biological treatment.

Certainly, the proposal could be less controversial than conventional incineration. "It does appear that the proposals are a significant improvement on current incinerator types," says a report by Peterborough Friends of the Earth. "But are they good enough?"

Theoretically, the facility could produce 140,000 tonnes per year of aggregate, 70,000 tonnes of glass products and 24,000 tonnes of hydrochloric acid as well as 3,000 tonnes of sulphur, 2,000 tonnes of non-ferrous alloys and 12 tonnes of mercury.

The proposed site, identified in the waste local plan as suitable for major waste treatment and recovery, is next to a material recycling facility, a gas-fired power station and Anglian Water's Flag Fen sewage treatment works - whose discharge would be used as the facility's process water.

At one time, Anglian itself had planned to build a number of gasification plants to treat sewage sludge - only to decide it was too risky (ENDS Report 346, p 8 ).

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