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In the Wake of a Destructive Fire

This week, an enormous wood pellet-fired power plant in the U.K., possibly the largest in the world, suffered a major fire, and won’t be back at full capacity until late July.
By Lisa Gibson | March 02, 2012

This week, an enormous wood pellet-fired power plant in the U.K., possibly the largest in the world, suffered a major fire, and won’t be back at full capacity until late July.

German utility RWE npower just began using biomass in the 750 MW Tilbury, England, plant in January, having converted it from coal. The Tilbury plant is still operating under U.K. legislation enacted in 2008 that cracks down on large, older coal-fired power plants. Those plants were given the choice to make improvements, or opt out and agree to close after operating for an allowed 20,000 final hours. RWE opted not to make the upgrades to the 40-year-old Tilbury plant, but planned to finish its hours using solely biomass. At the end of those 20,000 hours, around mid-2013, RWE can choose to commission the plant as a dedicated biomass plant and continue operating. Dan Meredith, corporate public relations manager for RWE npower, told me the company will decide in the middle of this year whether or not it will continue using biomass.

I really hope the recent fire doesn’t affect that decision.

By all accounts, the fire was catastrophic and Reuters quoted the fire chief as saying it was the most challenging fire of his 20-year career. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, but fires and explosions are a well-known safety risk in the wood pellet industry. With proper measures in place, they are avoidable.

The fact that RWE npower has its own pellet mill in Waycross, Ga., supplying its pellet needs in Europe, including that of the Tilbury power station, hints that the company is in the pellet industry for the long haul. But that pellet mill sustained explosion and fire damage, coincidently about a month after it began operations, also.

RWE hasn’t indicated it won’t stick it out through its troubles, and I hope that means it’s still in the game. I guess we’ll find out later this year, when the company announces its plans for the Tilbury plant.

 

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