GIB invests in Birmingham biomass gasification plant


The UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) has announced that it has invested £18.2 million in a new recovered wood gasification venture in Tyseley, Birmingham.

The investment (by way of preferred loan stock and equity) forms part of the £47.8 million put towards the project by a consortium of investors comprising GIB, the Foresight Group’s UK Waste Resources and Energy Investments (UKWREI), Balfour Beatty plc, Eternity Capital Management Limited, and GCP Infrastructure Fund (GCP).

Plant details

The project – which will be located on the Webster and Horsfall site in Birmingham – has been developed by Carbonarius (a joint venture between energy company O-Gen UK and environmental group UNA Group) and will be built and operated by MWH Treatment under the name Birmingham Bio Power Ltd (BBPL).

Expected to be the ‘first of its kind in the UK’, the facility will convert recovered wood into steam via a process of gasification, which will then pass through a turbine to produce 10.3 megawatts of electricity.

It is expected that over a 20-year lifetime, the plant will produce enough renewable energy to power 17,000 homes a year, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ‘around 2.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent’, and divert around 1.3 million tonnes of wood from landfill. 

Nexterra Systems Corp has been selected to provide the gasification system, which will include four gasifiers, a high pressure boiler, and a flue gas treatment system (see image below). Nexterra has delivered seven similar gasification facilities in the USA and Canada.

Birmingham-based enterprise JM Envirofuels Ltd, will supply the project with around 70,000 tonnes of ‘grade A-C’ recovered wood per annum.

More than 100 engineering, construction and project management jobs are expected to be created during the construction process, with 19 full time jobs becoming available once the plant is operational.

The facility is expected to be operational by ‘early 2016’.

Image of equipment to be supplied by Nexterra

Facility marks ‘first stage of a consented Energy Park in Tyseley’

Speaking of the investment, Shaun Kingsbury, Chief Executive of UK Green Investment Bank, said: “As the UK works towards its targets to generate more power from green sources, it’s important that we bring on new technologies. I’m pleased the Green Investment Bank has been able to support the first gasification plant of its kind in the UK and hope it offers a positive demonstration effect that others will follow.”

Ian Brooking and David Pike of Carbonarius, added: 
“It has taken some while from the initial discussions with Webster and Horsfall (the landowner) to bring this ‘first of a kind’ renewable energy facility to closure. This exciting development is the cornerstone and the first stage of a consented Energy Park in Tyseley, Birmingham. 

“These are exciting times in our industry and we are delighted to be working with this dedicated investment team on this significant project and we look forward to continue to work with them for our future projects across the UK.”

Business Secretary Vince Cable also commented, saying: “It is encouraging to see this innovative new technology coming to the UK for the first time. This investment will create green jobs and help the environment by reducing carbon emissions and converting wood diverted from landfill into cleaner energy for thousands of homes and businesses.

“It is also good news for the local area helping to build a stronger economy by creating over 100 private-sector jobs in Birmingham.”

Biomass plants have been a source of contention in the UK, after the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, warned that burning virgin biomass stock, such as whole trees, can be ‘dirtier than coal’.

However, the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s ‘Renewables Roadmap’ estimates that by 2020, biomass could potentially provide between 26 and 42 per cent of renewable energy in the UK, and government expects to provide a subsidy for biomass of between £442 million and £736 million (though it is still working out its long-term policy).

Green Investment Bank background

Thought to be the ‘first bank of its kind in the world’, the GIB was launched in November 2012 to support environmentally-friendly projects that cannot obtain sufficient funding from the markets.

It is a ‘for profit’ bank, whose mission is to ‘accelerate the UK's transition to a greener economy’, further the UK's 2020 target in reducing carbon emissions, and ‘create an enduring institution, operating independently of Government’.

As outlined by the European Commission, GIB can make investments on ‘commercial terms’ in the following sectors:

  • Offshore wind;
  • Waste (treatment and recycling and energy from waste);
  • Non domestic energy efficiency;
  • Biofuels for transport;
  • Biomass power;
  • Carbon capture and storage;
  • Marine energy; and
  • Renewable heat.

The Birmingham investment forms the latest GIB involvement in UK waste infrastructure, after it invested £20 million in West London Waste Authority’s (WLWA) new £244-million energy-from-waste (EfW) facility and £20 million in a wood-fuelled combined heat and power (CHP) station in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Read more about the Green Investment Bank or Carbonarius.