January 4, 2011, Vaasa, Finland - According to a report on the British Gas client website, Vaskiluodon Voima Oy's 140-megawatt bio-gasification plant will be the world's largest when it starts later this year, replacing 25 to 40 percent of current coal use with locally-grown forest residues.
If it proves to be a success, it could pave the way for a commercially
viable alternative to purely coal-fired power stations around the world.
Biomass gasification is a process whereby natural plant matter is
burned to create gas that is then fed into a combustion chamber along
with conventional fossil fuels like coal. This reduces the amount of
coal it is necessary to burn in order to generate electricity, cutting
down on the overall amount of carbon dioxide produced as a result.
The plant matter used in the process can be anything from sawmill
wood chippings to old crop waste, much of which currently goes to
waste, however the new Finnish plant, supplied by Metso, will use material requisitioned
from a nearby forest just outside the city of Vaasa.
new biomass gasification plant will be located next door to an existing
coal-fired station, and if all goes to plan it could reduce the amount
of coal burned by 25-40 per cent, saving some 230,000 tonnes of CO2 a
year. The project has cost an estimated €40million to complete. However,
when compared to the price of mining and transporting coal, or of
fitting expensive carbon capture technology to existing power stations,
it is a comparatively cheap way of reducing emissions in line with EU
Whether it will prove successful or not remains to be seen. A
similar project that launched in Yorkshire in 2001 closed after just
eight days of operation, never to reopen, leaving biomass gasification
in an unpopular light in the UK.
However, the failure of the Yorkshire project was down to a
number of factors, many of which were tied to the financial situation of
the plant’s parent company and the bankruptcy of one of its key
contractors. If the plant in Finland can succeed where others have
failed, carbon campaigners are cautiously optimistic that it could mark
the first step in reducing the world’s dependency on coal for energy.