NGO slams plans for Wales-based biomass gasification plant in critical report

Environmental campaigning organisation Biofuelwatch has published a report which investigates a proposal for the world’s largest biomass gasification plant in Holyhead, and Orthios Group, the company behind it.

The proposed plant would, if successful, gasify pellets or woodchips made from up to 3 million tonnes of wood every year, and it would supply heat to “the world’s largest on-land prawn growing facility and a large soil-less vegetable farm”.

The report highlights that eleven attempts to build - much smaller - biomass gasification power plants in the UK have already failed and claims that “Orthios Group has no record of deploying gasification technology or delivering any energy project at all”.

It questions the viability of the indoor aquaculture and vegetable growing facilities, since those would depend on the successful, uninterrupted operation of the gasifier, something no company in the world has so far achieved on the scale proposed for Holyhead.

According to Biofuelswatch report, the Orthios Group “is a complex and not entirely transparent set-up of at least 28 different companies, all of which share one director, Sean McCormick”.

The report also stated: “Published data show that at the time of their latest accounts, the companies of which McCormick is a director had total net debts of more than £10 million. The supposed investor in the Holyhead plant, SinoFortone Group, was recently found to have to have no money to invest. Orthios Group claims to have found another funder but has disclosed no details so far. Investors would not normally commit finances until full planning permission has been granted, which is not yet the case.”

Biofuelwatch previously reported similar concerns about another large waste and biomass gasification scheme in Milford Haven, run by a company called Egnedol.

Report author Almuth Ernsting said: “It is good news for forests that Orthios and Egnedol have chosen such a high-risk, challenging technology: at least there is little chance of such plants ever being capable of burning millions of tonnes of wood a year and thus causing more forest destruction in pellet-producing regions such as the southern US.

“However, it will be bad news for local communities in Holyhead and Milford Haven if they end up with high-risk experiments in gasification and with long-term planning blight.”

In October 2015, the Chinese company SinoFortone promised to invest £2 billion in Orthios Group’s Holyhead project as well as another in Port Talbot, which appears to have since been abandoned. Last month, it was confirmed that the investment deal had collapsed.

Furthermore, an asset management company which had tried to raise funds for Orthios has pulled out, according to Biofuelswatch.

Bioenergy Insight contacted Orthios for a comment this morning (14 March, 2017) in relation to the story, but nobody has responded.


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