Amercentrale, a biomass and coal-fired plant owned by RWE in the Netherlands, will soon run on 80% biomass.
The conversion of Amercentrale’s fifth turbine will be completed at the end of summer, at which point 90% of the electricity and heat produced by the plant will be generated by wood pellets.
RWE intends to be climate-neutral by 2040 and by 2030 the firm will already have reduced its carbon emissions by 70%. RWE is working to convert the fifth of the station’s six turbines from firing coal to firing biomass.
According to Amercentrale’s director, Chris Scheerder, this is a complicated process. “As a product, wood pellets are completely different to coal,” said Scheerder. “For example, they are more affected by rain. This forces us to make far-reaching changes to the plant’s internal logistics.
“Different to coal, we are using a closed system with conveyor belts to transport the biomass from the barges to the turbines. But to move the wood pellets, we also need to set up an extra fan, for example, one that’s the size of a house. All these adaptations have to be made while the rest of the plant remains in full operation.”
Despite the conversion, the plant will continue to use coal until 2025. The power station’s sixth turbine will continue to fire coal and serve as a back-up if one of the biomass turbines has to power down for any reason.
“The logistics process for pellets is more critical than for coal,” said Scheerder. “Coal is still in wide use and has an extensive logistics network throughout Europe. It’s a regular commodity, with a lot of buyers.
“Wood pellets lack this network for the moment. Starting next year, we will be buying 1.5 million tonnes per annum. Our Eemcentrale power station is also firing pellets. But if one of our turbines is out of operation, selling a ship’s hold full of wood pellets to some other party is by no means straightforward. Storage can also be complicated since the product is quite susceptible to weather.”
Commenting on the public debate surrounding biomass, Scheerder insisted all of RWE’s pellets come from responsible forestry operations in the Baltic States and North America. “They satisfy the most stringent sustainability standards and are made from a variety of flows, including prunings and residuals from sawmills,” he said.
“Our operations have nothing to do with the destruction of tropical rainforests. Thanks to strict criteria that we have drawn up in consultation with conservation and environmental organisations, which are furthermore set down in law and the SDE+ regulations, we have no problem proving this.”
RWE is also looking at using agricultural residues, said Scheerder. “Sugar cane cultivation, for example, yields a huge volume of residuals like stalks and straw. It is so large that besides other applications for this stream, in the longer term, this could also lead to a new market for bagasse pellets.”