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UK Readiness to meet 2020 targets - biomass supply chain infrastructure

The Renewables Roadmap, published in 2011, stated the government‘s plan to triple the current UK biomass electricity capacity. NNFCC were asked by DECC to conduct a study into the constraints of the infrastructure and supply chain and the associated risks in meeting the UK renewable energy targets.

Date Posted 10 Jul 2013
Story Source NNFCC
Relevant Industries Biobased Products

NNFCC were asked by DECC to define a baseline to the existing UK biomass supply infrastructure and understand the fundamental dynamics of the expected supply chain in order to determine whether there would be sufficient infrastructure in the UK to meet the demands towards 2020.

The project focussed on plants above 100MWe using virgin biomass feedstocks. Aspects of the supply chain under consideration were those from port to end-user (including ship off-loading). These objectives were achieved through:

1. Understanding developer intentions for biomass supply routes
2. Determining the status of existing UK biomass infrastructure
3. Estimating infrastructure necessary to support deployment projections
4. Identifying likely bottlenecks and constraints

NNFCC collaborated with major industry biomass developers to establish their intentions towards developing biomass power facilities and using the resulting data, produced biomass projections to 2020. In tandem with this, estimates for future port handling capacity were calculated and an assessment of the potential for biomass to be distributed on the rail network was undertaken and the outputs used to predict whether infrastructure constraints may act as a limiting factor to expansion of the UK biomass market.

The findings of research into developer intentions are as follows:

• The 23 million tonne demand for biomass from the UK power sector by 2020 will be provided by imported pellets which will come through UK ports and then transported onwards on the rail network, requiring 10 million tonnes per year in 2015, rising to 17 million tonnes by 2020.
• Ports will play a major role in sustaining the feedstock supply chain and although no constraints were found in the UK’s ability to meet the needs of the biomass power sector, the future success of this will involve the port operators securing finance to fund infrastructure upgrades, such as the provision of rail paths for the onward transport of biomass on the UK rail freight network.
• Almost all plants are using virgin pellet sourced from overseas forestry, some dedicated plants expect boilers to facilitate other feedstock such as recycled wood or energy crops.
• All developers feel that inland transport will be limited to rail. Road haulage will only be used to provide supplementary feedstock.
• Coal conversion projects will be limited to the use of deep water ports due the size of vessel required. As most feedstock will be imported, investment in the infrastructure at these ports is required.
• Predicting the traffic of the predicted routes is a complex task and there are restrictions on both the East and West coast mainlines with regard to rail path availability, but this can be remedied with improved scheduling and should be sufficient to meet the demands of the power sector.
• Further constraints surround the Freight Operating Companies access to sufficient wagons to transport the biomass. A freight specific cap has been proposed as an additional form of income for Network Rail to help fund necessary upgrades, but this could increase the end cost of biomass to the consumer.
• There are few plans to develop onsite processing facilities with much of the biomass demand being satisfied by converted coal stations. Therefore, a significant investment is required to provide sufficient storage for biomass, which unlike coal must be stored inside.
• Delivery of feedstock to those stations relying on the rail network will involve greater risks as storage facilities at ports and plants is likely to be enough to supply the UK power sector for one month and  rail networks must be upgraded accordingly.

In summary, this study concludes that:

• Significant infrastructure upgrades will be required to enable the deployment of biomass power.
• These investments are likely to be concentrated at a handful of bulk ports and through adaptations to the UK rail network.
• Port capacity is likely to be sufficient to meet the needs of the biomass power sector, provided that operators are able to leverage the necessary finance.
• Access to the rail network could be a constraining factor and is likely to influence which ports are able to successfully develop biomass handling facilities.
• The transition to a just in time delivery structure for a new commodity market is likely to be challenging and comes with substantial risks.
• The lack of large volume wood pellet storage in UK supply chains is a risk to certainty of generation from UK biomass power stations.

More information, please contact:

Dr Adrian Higson
Lead Consultant - Biobased Products
Tel:+44 (0)1904 435182

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