In the summer of 2011 I visited the lovely small Austrian town of Gussing. I’ve used it as an example of the intelligent and sustainable use of biomass in lots of talks, blogs and articles. The town, and indeed the whole surrounding region, now use wood chip gasification and anaerobic digesters as the basis of their energy economy in a way that seems to work for both ecological and economic benefits. Yet wood chip gasification remains highly controversial, especially in UK where several projects seem to have ended in either financial or technological failure. With most innovative sectors of the economy there is a high rate of failure. However several environmental groups argue that large scale biomass projects are fundamentally unsustainable. Biomass technologies are many and various, and I would argue some have huge potential to be beneficial.
Orthios have plans to build two large biomass projects in Wales, the first on the site of an old aluminium smelter in Anglesey and the second on the site of an old steel works at Port Talbot in South Wales. They would import large volumes of woodchip (from forestry stewardship approved sources) to put through a gasification process, generate electricity and use both the surplus heat and the CO2 in a combined aquaculture and hydroponic system to produce king prawns and vegetables, and the gasification-pyrolysis process would also make bio-char, a way of long term carbon sequestration and also of improving soil fertility. They also plan education, research and development centres at each of the Eco Parks. This basket of interlinked technologies is something I’d read about as a theoretical possibility, and had followed various experimental projects over many years. It seems really good to me that a company are planning to bring all these elements together and at scale. The fact that SinoFortone, a Chinese investment group, have put £2 billion into the projects seems to indicate that they believe all the aspects can be made to work successfully together. The Anglesey project could be operational by 2017 and producing a very useful 299MW of electricity, along with sizable quantities of shellfish, marine vegetables and Biochar. I for one am keen to see this project go ahead, and very interested to see if it can be made to work as successfully as its promoters suggest.
The Orthios Project http://www.orthios.com/chinese-2bn-investment-build-biomass-food-centres/
The arguments against large scale biomass http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2015/biomass-gasification-and-pyrolysis/