Saturday, 10 September 2016

"Cutting edge" technology issues just wouldn't go away

DOUG COLLIE concludes our three-part expose of a not so NEAT technology

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency [SEPA] was still not prepared to issue a vital certificate to allow the planned £21 million refuse disposal facility for Scottish Borders Council to operate more than two years after elected members decided to incorporate the energy from waste technology in the project.

Failure to deliver the brand of gasification and pyrolysis which was supposed to transform tens of thousands of tonnes of household waste into heat and power resulted in the council and their contractors New Earth Solutions Group (NES) abandoning their 24-year deal, a move which cost the partners many millions of pounds. Millions more will now have to be spent on an alternative strategy to deal with Borders waste.

As we have reported previously, council external auditors KPMG have maintained the New Earth Advanced Thermal [NEAT] technology was "not core" to the £80 million deal originally signed off by SBC in 2011. Council taxpayers who were stung to the tune of £2.4 million by the failure of the venture may find the auditors' conclusions both bizarre and puzzling.

SEPA was certainly in no doubt in October 2014 that the Renewable Energy Facility proposed for Easter Langlee was not ready to receive its crucial Pollution Prevention and Control [PPC] permit. The agency listed a number of outstanding issues in an email to New Earth Solutions which has been made available under Freedom of Information.

A year before the message was written the company was suggesting pressure should be brought to bear on SEPA by Government agencies and by SBC in a bid to have the technological problems ignored so that the PPC variation could be issued.

The October 2014 email from SEPA is mainly of a technical nature. But it contains a suggestion that NES might consider withdrawing the REF part of their application and then submit a new request once the outstanding issues linked to the pyrogas/engines were dealt with.

New Earth are told: "We are of the opinion that the information provided to date does not provide adequate demonstration that either the gases have been purified so they are no longer a waste prior to their incineration, or that they can cause emissions no higher than those resulting from burning natural gas.

"This means that at the present time we are unable to progress the determination of the REF part of the application for substantial variation based on the current design."

Not Just Sheep & Rugby believes some of the technical matters outlined in the note are worthy of publication, and no doubt there will be readers with a sufficient grasp of the sciences to interpret SEPA's narrative.

For example: "Pyrogas H2S, organohalogens (especially vinyl chloride) and chromium levels exceed the thresholds for natural gas referenced in the Environment Agency Syngas Briefing Note. The level of HCN and other species e.g. benzene and acetaldehyde in the Environment Report."

And another passage states: "Little/no data has been provided for total Sulphur, xylenes, ammonia, HCI, HF which are covered in the quality protocol for biomethane injection, or physical parameters, all of which were requested in Q9e of the Schedule 7 Notice.

"There is little detail of breakdown mechanisms/predicted removal rate of different pollutants during syngas purification in your response to Q8 and details of reactions involving NaOCI have not been provided."

SEPA goes on to say the variable nature of the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) feed-stock means the pyrogas is also likely to change in composition over time. SEPA needs confidence that any End of Waste (EOW)/Chapter IV exemption with an associated spec for purified pyrogas would be achievable on an ongoing basis - it is considered that further information and data is required to prove this.

There are additional paragraphs dealing with other yet-to-be-resolved issues, but the information set out above provides ample evidence that the technology was proving to be a major stumbling block in delivering the Easter Langlee facility.

Only NES, who firmly believed the PPC variation should have been issued months earlier, and later on KPMG in their "investigation" into how SBC dealt with the contract were convinced respectively that technical issues and the NEAT technological system were of little or no importance to the overall success of the project.

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