World's largest biomass gasifier opens in Finland

Sensemaking / World's largest biomass gasifier opens in Finland

New power plant will run on forest waste, save 230,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

21 Oct 2011

New power plant will run on forest waste, save 230,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Finland has announced plans for the world’s largest biomass gasification plant, a 140MW facility running mainly on forest waste. Its performance is set to be closely watched by renewable energy experts, utility companies and governments across the globe, who will be keen to monitor both the robustness of the technology and its cost-effectiveness.

The €40 million project involves installing a bio-gasification plant next to an existing 565MW coal-fired power station. The plant will mainly use forest residues for fuel, with the resulting gas then combusted alongside coal. It is due to begin operating by end-2012. If everything goes according to plan, it should replace between 25 and 40% of the coal currently burned – reducing carbon dioxide emissions by some 230,000 tonnes per year.

The plant is being supplied by the global technology and services supplier Metso to the Finnish power company Vaskiluodon Voima Oy in the city of Vaasa.

Mark Candlish, Director of the Renewable Energy Association, believes the project’s mix of fossil fuel and biomass, combined with the fact that the new facility was installed alongside an existing coal-burning plant, makes it a very cost effective method of generation. It demonstrates a way of putting biomass into practical use very quickly, he adds, and its “evolutionary” approach would suit the naturally cautious line on technological advance taken by global utilities. “Future applications for gasification will be more sophisticated than this, but we have to accept that this is an important intermediate step... Biomass is a terrific and grossly underused resource. This is a world first, so everyone will be watching it.”

David Fulford, Director at Kingdom Bioenergy and Consulting Technical Assessor at the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, agrees, but warns that there have been problems in the past with biomass gasification. He points to the failure of the £30 million Project Arable Biomass Renewable Energy (ARBRE) in Eggborough, Yorkshire. The plant closed after only eight days of operation following technical difficulties with blockage of the heat exchangers.

However, says Fulford: “If this works, it will be fantastic, and the Finns are the people who know most about it.”

As reported by Green Futures [see ‘Replacing coal with biomass: a viable solution?'], the UK’s largest coal-fired power station, Drax – also in Yorkshire – has invested in turbine upgrades allowing a coal-biomass mix. It is now considering the conversion of one of its six 660MW coal-fired units to run entirely on biomass. – Andrew Collier

Photo: Oleg Mitiukhin/Thinkstock

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