The damning evidence which Scottish Borders Council wanted to keep from public scrutiny shows 2013 had been a veritable annus horribilis for the project team aiming to provide the region with a fit for purpose waste management facility costing £23 million.
Council contractors New Earth Solutions were warning of another two-year delay to the project at Easter Langlee, Galashiels as engineers struggled unsuccessfully to get the chosen gas incineration technology - inappropriately dubbed NEAT - to work. Only Borders councillors had been impressed...they approved the untested system in October 2012.
And newly released files from a debacle which cost taxpayers, shareholders and investors many millions of pounds have revealed that the money needed to build the plant simply had not been sourced.
Not Just Sheep & Rugby has brought much of the evidence from 2013 into the public domain after SBC was ordered to end its concerted attempts to surround their disastrous liaison with NESG with secrecy. But the collection of some 80 reports, emails and other correspondence show progress on Project Easter Langlee would also be non-existent throughout 2014.
One of the litmus tests for the NEAT Advanced Thermal Treatment (ATT) appears to have been to get it to function non-stop for 120 hours at New Earth's R&D centre in Canford, Kent. This would be a watershed if banks and other investors were going to commit.
We have already reported on several failed tests during the course of 2013, and 2014 would prove to be little different. The documentation may be technical but the outcome is there for all to see.
This report followed an attempted 120-hour test in January 2014:
"A 120hr trial began at 9pm Sunday 12th January 2014. The whole system was run – pyrolyser, gas clean-up, engine – and the trial progressed well for 64 hours. Whilst operating, the engine produced c.310KWe. At two points within this 64hr run, operations had to cease (for 14 hours in total) due to failures of ancillary equipment: Diesel burner problems (used to heat the pyrolysis tube). The fuel feed pipeline to the diesel burner was restricting the flow. The pipeline was replaced.
"Unfortunately the trial was stopped after 64 hours due to a pressure drop across the ceramic filter indicating a broken filter element. Investigations confirmed that an element had broken. The cause of the breakage is thought to be differential thermal expansion of the cleaning mechanism (as per previous breakages). This will be remedied through increasing the tolerances further."
The following month's test produced this documentation:
"It was proposed to carry-out a 120hr trial in w/c 17th February. The trial commenced on 18th February and initial progress was good with a consistent fuel gas being produced.
However, the trial had to be halted after seven hours of operation as the gas booster fan tripped. The plant was shut down in a controlled manner as required to prevent escape of gas and uncontrolled combustion.
"On investigation it was found that the electrical motor for the fan had collected water within the casing. The site had been experiencing inclement weather for some time and despite the weatherproofing of the fan, rainwater had penetrated the casing. Unfortunately the rain had also penetrated the building containing the combustion chamber and soaked the ceramic fibre insulation which subsequently collapsed into the chamber."
Third time lucky? Not exactly: there were a number of issues to be addressed following a further test in early April 2014:
"On Sunday 6th April a 120hr trial commenced on the plant at Canford. RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) had been dried prior to this to ensure sufficient fuel was available. The trial was stopped after approximately 36hrs as the pressure drop across the ceramic had increased indicating a breakage of one (or more) of the filter elements.
"This is being investigated. From an initial review of the data, the syngas quality was as expected and the fuel feed system worked well at a feed rate of c.500kg per hour. Despite the assumed breakage of filter elements, the quench system did not show signs of particulate indicating that there has been no carry-over from the filters. During the trial the char extract system jammed a couple of times due to large foreign objects – temporary fencing clamps, metal wall ties, metal sweet tins, etc. but these were dealt with without interrupting the process. Further upstream removal of metals may be required to alleviate this."
Ceramic filter breakages continued during further trials over the summer.
COMING NEXT: FULL STEAM AHEAD!