Finding new solutions – Energy from Waste, Biomass and Fossil Fuels

Robin Hood statue Nottingham bigstock
This was a very informative and well organised conference, as was the previous one held in 2016. Run by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, it covered the latest developments in conventional boilers used for power generation in the UK and abroad. The programme reflected the rapid changes in the power industry in light of the phasing out of coal in the UK as well as minimising its share in energy mixes of other countries such as Germany. It also touched on Brexit and its potential impact on the UK energy sector – but I am far from talking politics here…

There were many excellent talks which covered topics such as coal power plant flexibility, environmental issues and also the conversion of existing coal boilers to run on other fuels such as biomass or waste.

Conversion from coal to alternative fuels is a growing trend in the UK and EU. Multiple examples were highlighted during the event, including the conversion from coal to biomass of four of the six units of Drax power station in the UK. This conversion meant that Drax cut its emissions of CO2 but involved modification of various areas of the power plant as every aspect of using biomass – transporting, storing, milling and burning it, is more complicated than that of coal. Hence careful design of changes was a must, as noted by Andrew Corbally, Drax’s development lead engineer.

One of the most interesting talks was on ‘Supporting the circular economy in power generation’ by Stephen Jones, from SpiralWeld™, a UK company. Stephen highlighted the importance of the circular economy and its benefits as opposed to a linear economy. He described how thermal plants can minimise their environmental impact by having worn-out parts remanufactured rather than replaced by new ones. The benefits of remanufacturing parts include: recycling up to 60% of the original material, costing about 40% of a new part, taking weeks rather than months to produce, as well as using up to 85% less energy, materials and water in comparison to making a new part. In coal power plants the core components that can be recovered include HP and IP steam turbine governor valve spindles, strainer baskets, boiler feed, process pump shafts, impellers and stator components, and boiler control and safety valves. It was good to hear that UK power stations have been using remanufactured parts since 1989, something which I was totally unfamiliar with…

As the share of coal in energy mixes is changing and the challenges increase, the industry is adapting and finding new solutions so we can all keep our lights on.

The full programme of the conference can be found here

Maggie attended the conference ‘Boiler User Group 2019: Energy from Waste, Biomass and Fossil Fuels’, in Nottingham, UK on 9-10 October 2019.