May 25, 2018
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British power plant burns in biomass fire

By Catherine Airlie and Matthew Brown, Bloomberg News.

LONDON — RWE’s Tilbury power station in southeast England, Europe’s largest biomass plant, was ablaze after a fire broke out in the facility’s wood-pellet stockpiles.

About 120 firefighters were sent to the site after the incident at 7:45 a.m. London time, Kelly Brown, a company spokeswoman in Worcester, said Monday. The local fire brigade is covering the site in high-expansion foam and hopes to extinguish the blaze within three hours, it said in an update on its website at 12:35 p.m.

The power station has three wood-pellet burning units and can produce as much as 750 megawatts of electricity. Britain is encouraging utilities to burn biomass as a way of curbing carbon-dioxide emissions and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The Tilbury plant was to be Britain’s first industrial-scale facility to supply renewable electricity to National Grid, the nation’s network operator. The fire follows an October blaze at a 100,000 cubic-meter wood-pellet storage facility at the Port of Tyne in northern England.

“It doesn’t have to mean catastrophe for the industry,” said Isabel Boira-Segarra, a partner at EC Harris Group, an adviser to the energy industry. “Once we find out what happened, we can find out how to mitigate the risk.”

RWE, Europe’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, ceased power output at the station from March to December to convert it to burn wood pellets instead of coal. It has been generating electricity since then as part of testing.

“If biomass is stored in large volumes, with little aeration, it is very likely to catch fire as it can get very hot,” Claire Curry, a bioenergy analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said. “Normally biomass plants will pass streams of cool air through the biomass to avoid fires happening.”

Last year’s biomass fire at Port of Tyne was caused by spontaneous combustion, reported at the time.

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