By Chris Alden
First ‘intelligent’ combined heat and power plant chalked for capital
Work is set to begin in East London on what is billed as the country’s first ‘intelligent’ combined heat and power (CHP) plant. The “super-efficient” machine will be installed at the site of a National Grid gas pressure reduction station at Beckton – and will burn locally sourced vegetable oil, according to the company behind the plans, Blue-NG.
Marketed as “CHiP” (combined heat and intelligent power), the plant is to burn liquid biomass to generate electricity – but its output heat will be captured, used to heat the existing gas stream, and then used to create further electricity. It should be, on average, 72% efficient according to Andrew Mercer, chief executive of Blue-NG, a joint venture between the National Grid and clean energy company 2oc. That compares to 51% efficiency for a combined-cycle gas turbine, or 35% for a coal-powered plant, Mercer said. “We use the gas stream as a mechanism for capturing heat and turning it into more electricity,” he explains. “Taken together, they beat nearly every other form of generation in terms of electrical efficiency.”
Blue-NG, which won planning permission for the plant last year, with backing from Greenpeace, is currently seeking the go-ahead for another in Southall, west London. Mercer hopes to start building both of them by mid-May, and to introduce the technology at a further six National Grid sites.
But the proposals have split NGOs. Campaign group Biofuelwatch opposed the plans, warning that market pressures, such as rising food prices, had in the past forced German companies into using less sustainable sources of biomass, such as imported palm oil. “Increased use of domestic rapeseed oil for bioenergy has been one of the prime causes of increasing palm oil imports into Europe,” said spokesperson Almuth Ernsting.
Greenpeace agreed that the challenge is to ensure the fuel is sustainably sourced. “We support strict sustainability criteria for any source of biofuel – and that’s where we’d be looking for strong steps from any company, including Blue-NG,” said Robin Oakley, Head of Climate Change.
Mercer confirmed that Blue-NG has signed what he called a “green handcuffs” agreement with the Greater London Authority, committing it to using sustainably sourced crops. “For our first two sites, vegetable oil will be sourced, grown, crushed and driven around within 50 miles of London,” he told Green Futures.
Oakley added that because biofuels and bioenergy are limited resources, they must be used in the most efficient way possible. “CHP is one of the most efficient options,” he said.
Green Futures is published by Forum for the Future and is one of the leading magazines on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.
Photo credit: Green Futures.
Blue NG's own document from October 2008 titled "Blue-NG’s Commitment to Biomass Sustainability" has this to say about biofuels:
"We accept that even sustainable bioliquids derived from biomass has downsides, for example potential food and land use competition. But we believe that at this stage it has a place alongside a portfolio of biomass solutions e.g. biogas from waste, solid biomass like wood chip."
Their definition of 'sustainable' therefore allows for what they call downsides. But it is not for a commercial company to define their own version of sustainability to support their business model. For a resource to be truly sustainable it must have no downsides, for today and for ever.
Biofuelwatch is right to oppose these power stations. If all 8 get built they will be consuming 120,000 tonnes of vegetable oil per year. In the last year for which data is published, the UK produced just under 2 million tonnes of rape seed oil. So Blue NG is proposing it can take 8% of the current UK prodcution without a) affecting the price to food manufacturers, or b) requiring more oil to be imported overall, or c) forcing set-aside land in the UK to be put back into production with attendant loss of bio-diversity.