South Bank site selected for first UK green jet fuel refinery

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 19 Dec 2018

Green jet fuel could soon be produced on the South Humber Bank with scores of jobs created in an investment worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

A specialist company backed by British Airways, Shell and the Department for Transport, is bringing forward the proposal.

Velocys, a UK business with the high profile support, has secured a site in Stallingborough - and work could start in 2020.

If the engineering and business case is proved, it could lead to the development of the country’s first commercial scale waste-to-jet-fuel project, building on the refinery expertise harboured in northern Lincolnshire.

Henrik Wareborn, chief executive of Velocys, said: “We are very pleased to have secured such a suitable site for the project. Immingham and the surrounding ‘Energy Estuary’ area is renowned for fuels production expertise and has a skilled local workforce that can help deliver the UK’s first commercial scale waste-to-jet-fuel plant. We look forward to engaging with North East Lincolnshire Council and the rest of the local community as we move into the planning phase next year.”

The proposed location, looking east from above the former Courtaulds site on Grimsby's western edge, where an agreement has been reached to acquire.

Under the project name Altalto, the plant would take hundreds of thousands of tonnes per year of residual waste left over after recycling, otherwise destined for landfill or incineration, and convert it into clean-burning, sustainable aviation fuels.

It would generate hundreds of local jobs during the construction phase and, once complete, between 50 and 100 direct full-time jobs.

The site of approximately 80 acres, off Hobson Way, is in an enterprise zone and earmarked for industrial development within the Local Plan, as a huge part of the South Humber Industrial Investment Programme. The link road from Moody Lane will connect outside it, and it neighbours the environmental mitigation zone and the South Humber Bank gas-fired power station.

Cllr Ray Oxby, leader of North East Lincolnshire Council said: “We’re delighted that Velocys has selected North East Lincolnshire for its plant. The project aligns perfectly with our plans for the future prosperity of our area, the development of our community and its growing reputation as a centre for renewable energy. With this announcement, and the growing momentum around the Town Deal, it’s clear business confidence in North East Lincolnshire and what we have to offer is growing into real results.”

Cllrs Ray Oxby, left, and Peter Wheatley.

Signed yesterday and announced the markets before they opened, Altalto Immingham Ltd, a subsidiary of Velocys, has entered into an option agreement which gives it the right, to acquire Rula Developments (Immingham) Ltd, the company which owns the site, in the next three years. 

It was once earmarked for a bio-refinery, with Spanish giant Abengoa bringing forward the proposal back in 2007. The recession and a lack of commitment to a higher level of renewable content in fuel saw the plan stagnate. 

Cllr Peter Wheatley, portfolio holder for regeneration said: “The Portlink 180 site is a key part of the South Humber initiative and this proposed investment will, I am sure, become an important component of the local economy. North East Lincolnshire is fast becoming a hot spot for new energy investment, both onshore and offshore, and investments like this are a real recognition of our area’s strengths and wider offer.”

Following the successful completion of the initial feasibility stage, £4.9 million of funding has been secured to deliver the next development phase. It includes a grant of £434,000 from the Department for Transport under the Future Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition.

Shell is supporting with technical expertise, while the UK flag carrier, British Airways, intends to fly with jet fuel refined at the plant. 

It is expected to deliver more than 70 per cent greenhouse gas reduction and 90 per cent reduction in particulate matter emissions compared with conventional jet fuel, contributing to both carbon emission reductions and air quality improvements around major airports.

Alex Cruz, pictured above, British Airways’ chairman and chief executive, said: “We’re very pleased by today’s announcement. Our partnership on this waste-to-jet-fuel project is a significant part of our goal to develop long-term, sustainable fuel options that will help power our aircraft for years to come. Our commitment to this goal is multifaceted, and just this month we launched our Future of Aviation Fuels challenge, working with universities to map a pathway for the UK to lead on the jet fuels of the future.”

Development of the site is subject to planning consent; the formal planning application process is expected to begin next year. The project partners expect to reach a final investment decision in the first half of 2020.

Industry has welcomed the move. Brendan Conlan is chairman of Catch, the process sector focused beacon training facility located close to the proposal.

He said: "This is excellent news. The strong local supply chain will undoubtedly benefit from this and provide benefits to the developer too. It will bring further demand for skills and reinforces the fact that this area has got all that is required from the process industry."

It may well prove to be good timing for those coming to terms with the closure of huge pharmaceuticals plant Novartis, with a two-year timeframe announced when the devastating blow landed in September.

The South Humber Bank is a major aviation fuel provider, with Total Lindsey Oil Refinery linked to Heathrow by a high pressure underground pipeline.  

David Talbot is chairman of the Energy Institute Humber branch and chief executive of Catch. He said: “This is fantastic news for the Energy Estuary. It is testament to the hard work of the council to attract investment such as this. It is also testament to the fact that the Energy Estuary brand and the profile of the region is really gaining traction, and linked to the whole industrial base of the region. 

“We have the right people with the right skill sets and at Catch we will keep a very close eye on the project as it evolves and see what we can offer, and what opportunities there are for the organisation to help it embed in the region.  It is very early days, but we will see what we can do to support.

“On the back of some difficult events, with the likes of Novartis and Vivergo, hopefully this shows a real positive story to emerge for the region.”

Background - The partnership

Background -The process

This plant would use waste that cannot viably be recycled, to synthetically produce a fuel that displaces the consumption of fossil-based fuel and its associated carbon dioxide emissions. It is taking proven technologies and combining them in a new way to deliver a cost-effective supply of renewable fuels at a scale that matches waste logistics.

The project will use waste that would otherwise go to landfill. The plant will have several process stages. The incoming waste will have been pre-sorted and ready for use. It will then be gasified; heated to a high temperature to break it down and convert it into synthesis gas (or syngas) composed mainly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. After cleaning, the syngas is used to synthesise hydrocarbons, which are then refined into the final products: renewable jet fuel, diesel and naphtha (a constituent of petrol). The process is fundamentally different to incineration. There are no toxic emissions, no fly ash or bottom ash and a greater proportion of the energy content in the waste is reused.

Background - Economic benefits

Aviation fuels will be included in the new global climate regulations in 2021, opening up new markets worldwide for sustainable jet fuel. The plant being developed could be a first step towards a flourishing bio-economy in the UK. The country could create an industry for the production of sustainable fuels worth up to £250 million per year in 2030, supporting up to 3,400 high quality and direct jobs in the UK. This industry, built on British innovation and intellectual property, has the potential for global export.

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