New Earth ACT plant begins operations

New Earth MBT ACT

Avonmouth integrated waste treatment and energy recovery facility, with MBT plant shown left and ACT plant, right.

NEAT Technology Group Limited (NEAT), the thermal technology branch of UK waste operator New Earth Solutions Group (New Earth), has announced that its advanced conversion technology (ACT) facility in Avonmouth has begun exporting energy to the National Grid.

Billed as the UK’s ‘first commercial thermal energy plant of its kind’, the 13-megawatt (MW) plant uses pyrolysis and gasification technologies to produce electricity from refuse-derived fuel (RDF). Pyrolysis is used to heat the RDF to a high temperature in the absence of oxygen to produce gas and carbon char, with the latter material being processed through gasification to produce gas and some ash residue. The gas produced, known as ‘syngas’, is then burnt for electricity. 

Process details 

The RDF utilised by the ACT is produced at New Earth’s adjacent 250,000 tonne per annum (tpa) mechanical biological treatment (MBT) plant, and is sent to the facility via a 30-metre connecting conveyor. Electricity is then exported back to the MBT plant to power its reprocessing operations, with any excess electricity sent to the National Grid. Previously, the MBT facility exported its fuel for use in thermal processes, such as incineration.

Speaking of the electricity generation, Graham Lockyer, NEAT’s Business Development Director, said: “We started hot commissioning the plant in February and since then we have successfully processed 10,000 tonnes of prepared RDF with a cumulative total of over 10,000 operational hours... We are now generating and exporting renewable energy to the grid and New Earth’s MBT is running on electricity produced from waste it processed just hours before.” 

The Avonmouth MBT plant currently processes around 120,000 tonnes of residual waste collected from the West of England Partnership (comprised of North Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council and Bristol City Council) as part of its waste management contract, as well as a further 40,000 tonnes of waste from Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen County Borough Councils. The remaining capacity is brought in from ‘additional sources’. 

Mark Scobie, New Earth Group’s Chief Executive, said: “We are delighted and proud to be able to provide the West of England Partnership with a complete closed-loop waste-to-energy solution. The MBT has been operating successfully since 2011 and helps achieve a 95 per cent landfill diversion rate. The addition of ACT allows us to internalise RDF that would otherwise be exported to the continent. We look forward to rolling out NEAT’s ground-breaking technology in support of our existing facilities and offering other local authorities a complete closed-loop solution in future bids.” 

Bristol Mayor George Ferguson recently visited the site, and cited its ‘circular economy’ operations as one of the reasons that Bristol was successful in its bid to become European Green Capital in 2015.

Remaining capacity

ACT plant

Inside of ACT plant

To date, just 6.5 megawatt hours of electricity (MWe) of the ACT have come online as part of the first phase of commission. The remaining 6.5 MWe is currently being installed as part of phase two, and is expected to be generating power in the autumn.

Scott Edmondson, NEAT’s Technical Director and lead engineer explains: “Modularity is at the core of NEAT’s design philosophy. Our vision was to design one tonne per hour modular units. In the Avonmouth design there are 16 units as the energy solution has been sized to meet the needs of the RDF production rates of the adjacent MBT. We’re able to supply solutions that fit local needs rather than minimum economic tonnages that are often associated with larger-scale thermal processes.”

Lockyer added: “We see this not only as a breakthrough for NEAT, but for the whole of the advanced thermal waste-to-energy market. The Avonmouth facility proves that pyrolysis and gasification is effective at a commercial scale.” 

Read more about NEAT’s Avonmouth ACT plant and New Earth Solutions’ MBT facility