RWE opens world's largest wood pellet plant

By Anna Austin | May 16, 2011

European power utility RWE Innogy has officially opened its 750,000 metric ton-per-year wood pellet manufacturing plant on a 740-acre site near Waycross, Ga., following a ribbon-cutting ceremony held late last week.

At a total cost of about €120 million (about $195 million), the plant and surrounding structures, as well as development of a port, took just over one year to construct.

Wood pellets produced at the plant will be transported via train to the port of Savannah, Ga., about 100 miles away from the facility, and then shipped to Europe. They will be used primarily by RWE’s coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands, where up to 30 percent of coal-fired power plants are already cofired with biomass, according to the company.

RWE plans to completely repower its Tilbury, U.K., coal-fired power station with biomass by the end of this year, and believes it will be the largest biomass power plant in the world at 750 megawatts post-conversion.

Europe has a goal of producing 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. Fritz Vahrenholt, CEO of RWE, said the feedstock requirements to help meet that goal cannot be met from resources available in Europe. “In the U.S., and mainly in the Southern states such as Georgia, the situation is quite different,” he said. “Here, the surplus of sustainable cultivated biomass was around 35 percent over the past 10 years. Thus, Europe can benefit from these overseas resources to attain its CO2 reduction targets.”