Waste and biomass replacing coal CHP in Europe

Date: 27/08/2015

Natural gas is undoubtedly the most popular fuel for modern cogeneration systems in Europe, with older coal-fired schemes gradually giving way to those based on gas, waste fuels and biomass – that’s the general trend, even for countries with extensive coal reserves. So it’s a puzzle to see news in the last month of new coal-fired CHP schemes to be built in Germany and Poland.

A closer look reveals that these new plants are themselves part of a drift away from coal, or at least towards more efficient plant.

First, Foster Wheeler is to supply a circulating fluidized bed boiler for a new 220 MW CHP and district heating scheme to be built in coal-rich Poland. But the new multi-fuel plant will burn a mixture of coal and refuse derived fuel, replacing outdated coal-only units. Similarly, a newly-commissioned 900 MW coal-fired CHP scheme is supplying heat to district heating networks in Mannheim, in lignite-rich Germany. But even this is not about expanding coal use – the new plant has allowed two older, less efficient coal-fired units to be taken offline.

Perhaps more tellingly, a new 190 MW CHP plant to be built to serve the district heating scheme in Kiel, also in Germany, will use solely gas to fuel 10 Jenbacher engines – these will again replace old coal-fired plant. Indeed the German government is currently planning to increase support for gas-fired CHP.

Although gas has been the fuel of choice for new CHP schemes around Europe in recent years, biomass is not too far behind. One rather large UK development could mark significant progress. Earlier this month, MGT Power moved its proposed Tees Renewable Energy Plant a few steps forward, appointing a preferred bidder to construct the 300 MW scheme to supply heat to industrial customers on Teesside in northern England. If built, the scheme would be the largest biomass-fuelled CHP plant in the world.

Also in the UK but at a rather smaller scale, the Green Investment Bank is among backers of a proposed 6.5 MW biomass-fuelled CHP scheme to be built in Sheffield.

While the total share of Europe’s power generated from CHP plants has remained almost static at 11% in recent year, the share of schemes in the European CHP fleet based on renewable fuels – mainly biomass – is growing, reaching 16% in 2012.

By Steve Hodgson, Contributing Editor, COSPP