World’s largest straw burning power station.

Ely Power Station at 38MW, is the largest straw burning power station in the world generating over 270GWh each year. The 200,000 tonnes p.a. fuel demand of the plant is supplied by Ely’s sister company, Anglian Straw.

The plant is highly efficient, generating steam at 540°C and 92 bar. Noted for its high reliability Ely achieves one of the highest load factors of any renewable energy plant. Ely is also capable of burning a range of other biofuels and up to 10% natural gas. The station was commissioned in December 2000 and employs 28 people.

Ely Power Station is run by Energy Power Resources (EPR) who in turn were purchased in 2005 by Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund (MEIF) Renewable Energy Limited. EPR own and operate five large biomass fuelled generators within the UK, including one at Eye that is claimed to be the world’s first to be fuelled by poultry litter.

The activities of the Company are supported by Government policy. The Government has introduced an incentive mechanism, the Renewables Obligation (RO), which results in a premium being paid for renewable electricity generation. Each renewable generator issues ROC’s, which are sold to electricity supply companies in order that they can meet their obligation for the proportion of supplied electricity generated from renewable sources. The obligation increases annually in line with the Government’s target for the UK to generate 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010 increasing to 15% by 2015. There is a further target of 20% to be achieved by 2020. Currently renewables represent around 3% of electricity generation so the targets will be very challenging to meet. All of EPR’s electrical generation is eligible for ROC’s either directly or via NFFO contracts.

A leading example of how the use of plant matter and waste can be used sensibly to produce much needed energy.

This entry was posted in Biomass, Energy, Food & Agriculture, Recycling, Sustainablity, Technology, Waste. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to World’s largest straw burning power station.

  1. Dave On Fire says:

    Natural gas fine, chicken waste very good. But straw?
    Farmed biofuels can only lead to competition between the cars/lights/air-conditioners of the rich and the stomachs of the poor. Guess who wins? That’s without considering the increase in land prices and consequent incentive to raze the rainforests.
    Also, at least with the more common maize and soya biofuels (I don’t know about straw), the greenhouse emissions are an order of magnitude higher than those associated with petroleum.
    What do you think of this strange contraption?

  2. matt says:

    Chicken shit? Yes I think it’s a better fuel for a power station than straw. There is probably competition for that land for food or the straw as feed to livestock. It depends how EPR have set up their supply chain. We are of course dealing with the UK only here so, it could be argued quite safely that this scheme ticks many of the right boxes.

    As for your link to the solar tower. I’ve heard of this idea but never seen pictures. Truly bizarre! Not sure about the aesthetics. Looks like many a strange scheme will be hatched from here on in as the great race for new energy sources heats up. 🙂

  3. Pete Smith says:

    I’m probably missing something here, but straw is a by-product of cereal production. It’s dry biomass, ideal for burning in power stations. Otherwise, it’s used for animal bedding and cowboy thatching if you can get away with it. Straw is not a “farmed biofuel”, nor is it fed to livestock.
    Chicken shit is wet, so doesn’t burn well unless dried or given a head start with a blast of something that burns better to get the temperature up. Chicken shit is probably better used in a methane digester.

  4. matt says:

    Well, this is exactly what debate is about, especially important when clueless city folk have little idea with regards anything rural !! Thanks Pete. So the scheme does tick all the right boxes.

    It gets the green light from The Coffee House then. 🙂

  5. Pete Smith says:

    Dave On Fire,

    I’d really appreciate a pointer to the figures that show emissions from biofuels are at least 10 times higher than from petroleum.

  6. Dave On Fire says:

    So that‘s what straw is? I will retreat into the appropriate state of city-boy embarrassment. This scheme does indeed seem worthy of a big green light.

    As to biofuels, I was read the following in George Monbiot‘s blog. Another mistake on my part: it refers to palm oil, not maize or soya:

    A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or ten times as much as petroleum produces

  7. Dave On Fire says:

    That link doesn’t seem to work! monbiot also provides this one, which takes me nowhere either. When will people learn the value of proper archiving?

  8. the Grit says:

    Hi Dave,

    Don’t be so hasty. While is a by product of cereal production, it also has more uses than given above. It’s a valuable landscaping product where it’s used to prevent erosion at construction sites, and it’s an almost perfect mulch for organic weed control. You also have to consider the cost of not tilling it back into the soil. The actual grain part of a crop such as wheat, is a small part of the total plant weight. The straw makes up considerably more. Everything that gets removed from the field, means that much more fertilizer to apply before the next planting, and fertilizer is very energy intensive to produce. Also, bailing straw is just like bailing hay. It requires 4 passes over the field with a tractor pulling various implements, a cutter, a rake that gathers the cuttings into a row, a bailer, and another pass in conjunction with a truck to load and move the final product. Add to that the fuel required to truck it to the power plant, and that’s a lot of diesel fuel. While I like the concept, I question the choice of fuel. Still, if it proves the technology…

    the Grit

  9. Pete Smith says:

    Hi Grit,
    I agree with what you say about the many uses of straw. It’s worth mentioning thatching, a centuries-old sustainable roofing technology which has sadly gone into decline, in the UK at least, as modern high-yield cereal strains produce stems too thick and too short to produce quality thatch. Also, where will the growing band of straw-bale house-builders get their raw materials now they’re in competition with the power industry?
    Interesting that EPR states that most of the straw supply contracts it’s signed with farmers involve the producer delivering it to the power station. I wonder if those transport emissions will be included in EPR’s sustainability calculations.

  10. the Grit says:

    Hi Pete,

    We don’t do thatching over here. Something about building codes and fire hazards…

    That’s a good question about transport emissions. I’m putting that, as it relates to a variety of products and services advertised as “low carbon footprint.” So much to write; so little time.

    the Grit

  11. Pete Smith says:

    Hey Grit,
    What are you doing over here? I thought you’d be busy back at your place 🙂 Incidentally, how come my last post at your site has disappeared? Have I been ‘moderated’?
    I bet you hate all that building regs stuff. Darn guvmint telling you what to do ‘n’ all. Get thatching, show ’em who’s boss.

  12. matt says:

    > Darn guvmint telling you what to do ‘n’ all.

    Yeah, get ‘im guns out a blow Bushie sky high. Bout time you country boys told ’em townies what’s good for ’em.

    (hmmm, liking the smell of gunpowder in the mornin’)

  13. the Grit says:

    Hi Pete,

    And thanks for the link! As to moderating comments, we don’t do that, except in the case of very extreme nastiness, and we haven’t had that happen yet. If it makes it past Akismet, which yours didn’t and I have just approved it, then we let it ride. I try and check that frequently, but with every Viagra ad that comes in, I find it harder and harder to do 😉 Feel free to email us if it happens again and we don’t catch it. We appreciate all our visitors, and y’all more than some.

    As to building regulations, I used to work for the local Government, and wrote some software to help schedule building inspections. Thus I know, that I many people are not happy with the service thrust upon them. So much so, that our inspectors have to go armed when performing their duties!

    As to the thatch, we just spent several grand on having our roof redone, and I think we will hold off on increasing our debt for the moment. However, the front part of our house is so old that the insulation between the inner and outer wall layers is sawdust. Fortunately, having been constructed before there was a local Government, we are grandfathered in 🙂

    Hi matt,

    As I was telling Pete, our inspectors do have to go armed, but that’s mostly because they have the constant possibility of stumbling upon criminal activity, since they don’t call ahead to schedule their visits. On the other hand, I seem to recall reading that you Brits are having a go at the old shoot-em-up in London these days, just like they are having in Japan. This, I feel compelled to mention, supports the old saying, “if you outlaw guns, only the criminals will be armed.”

    the Grit

  14. Pete Smith says:

    Hi Grit,

    Your point about guns and criminals is well made. Law-abiding UK citizens who want to defend their homes and families have a very limited range of options. If you live in the country you can maybe get a shotgun licence. Even if you jump through all the hoops and manage to get yourself a Firearms Certificate, you’re restricted to a single-shot .22 or a full-power repeater air rifle, definitely no handguns. Which can leave you at a bit of a disadvantage against a gang of druggies armed with Mach 10s.
    And if you shoot an intruder you’re likely to get a stiffer sentence.


  15. The critical start to this thread amazed me. Some seem to start out by seeing the bad in all things.

    For my money your straw burning power station is great and I wish the venture well.

    If there came to be so many straw power stations that there was a shortage of straw for other uses, then I might have a problem, but not at present, as there is clearly no such shortage.

    Also, are we really so short of memory? Does no-one appreciate that most straw was just left in the fields and burnt off by farmers right across the UK, until this was banned in the mid 1980s.

    I think that to replace our huge thirst for fossil fuels we are going to need to exploit a wide range of renewable power technologies.

    My particular favourite is Anaerobic Digestion.

    Don’t forget that another way to produce sustainable renewable energy is by Anaerobic Digestion of organic waste materials and there are lots of these wastes, plus they are mostly at the moment being sent to landfill.

    Use Anaerobic Digestion in your waste disposal techniques and you also reduce volume/mass going to landfills.

    Not only that. Anaerobic Digestion removes the readily degradable portion of the organic matter in municipal wastes, so that even if these materials were then sent to landfill the landfills would be much nicer, and far less damaging to the environment.

    Wind turbines are great for renewable power and I am all for them.

    I hope you don’t mind me talking about what I think should be the next “big thing” after Wind Turbines and Straw (of course!).

    Our Anaerobic Digestion web site is all about renewable energy from waste materials here.

  16. Pete Smith says:

    Hi Steve,
    I think the critical tone in the early stages of the thread was down to a lack of understanding. A ‘green light’ was eventually awarded to the project.
    I grew up in the country, and I do indeed remember stubble burning. As the word ’stubble’ suggests, this was invariably just the short remains of the wheat stalks after the straw had been harvested. Stubble burning was a traditional practice designed to boost soil organic carbon (SOC). It was indeed banned in the early 90s, but the motivation was public nuisance from smoke pollution rather than agricultural. It’s interesting that land without stubble burning has been found to require much more preparation work to incorporate the stubble and boost SOC for the next crop. On the plus side, earth worm densities are much higher where burning does not occur.
    In the 50s and 60s a constant supply of straw was needed for animal bedding, and eventually found its way back to the fields as fertiliser. Modern straw-free farming techniques, e.g. slatted floors, mean that demand for straw is reduced. Finding a use for a genuinely redundant resource can only be a good thing. My only reservations concern the environmental costs of establishing a large centralised system for growing, harvesting and transporting straw (or any ’sustainable’ energy source for that matter). A project like this has a huge ecological footprint (remember them?).

  17. Basingwerk says:

    Is there any campaign group I can join so that we can try to get the Ely Power Station shut down? It consumes the output of thousands of fields that could be used for food. Meanwhile, people starve. We need a European ban on bio-fuel production to limit this insanity.

  18. matt says:

    I think it best we start with digging up golf courses but you can join and they’ll send you emails every single day with links to the issues out there surrounding biofuels (and the growing problem of food scarcity).

  19. Pete Smith says:

    Basingwerk, the stubble burned by the Ely power station is what’s left over from the growing of cereals. This is a waste product from food production, rather than something that displaces food prodution.
    Technically, stubble is not a biofuel, it’s biomass.

  20. Gonz says:

    Are you people for real?? People eat straw!!!!!!!!!!!
    Straw is a BY product of growing crops. It is either burnt of left to rot in the fields. In some countries it gets used for animal bedding and some other small uses. The vast majority is left to rot which ties up nitrogen that could be used to grow the next crop.
    There are two components of straw. That part of the plant that is cut off by the harvester with the grain head and is ejected from the machine after separation from the grain and the other part is the roots and stalk left behind after cutting.
    Australia used to burn all its straw leaving the land vulnerable to wind and water erosion but with the advent of modern herbicides we now use no till cropping to establish crops which leaves the straw on the surface of the soil. It is still a problem though as higher yielding crops leave so much straw that we have difficulty getting through it to establish the next crop. Many farmers rake the straw into rows to burn in cool weather leaving the second part anchored to protect the soil.
    This still produces smoke and CO2 and is an added cost.
    An Australian company has developed an attachment that combines a Harvester and a large square baler so everything that goes through the harvester apart from the grain ends up in a bale. This was developed to catch all the weed seeds to solve resistant weed problems. There have been other systems around the world but none as efficient as this one.The baled straw can be used for part ration for livestock but is very low in nutrition and there is way more available than could be utilised this way.
    However this will be the perfect feed stock for power generation as there is no cost apart from freight to the power station as the straw would be baled anyway. It also leaves the field perfectly setup for the next crop as there is still the anchored part of the plant to stop soil erosion but no large bulk of free straw to clog seeding machinery and consume nitrogen as it breaks down.

  21. Robert mabey says:

    The obvious solution is to site a methane production plant next to a straw gernerating plant,there is a great cross over of requirements in an agricultural area. methane produces electricity from organic matter (food waste and organic waste)the by- product being excellant manure and the straw generator produces ash and electricity.
    the plants serve a second purpose of getting rid of rubbish from supermarkets making them feel better and giving a better profile and image.
    farmers also need to get rid of straw as the are no longer able to burn it in there fields,
    using electric vehicles powered by the stations the costs are kept low.
    in a small rural area the local electricity would be subsidiesed, and perhaps being also used to heat green houses.
    Local coops could be set to the benefit of all who would be happy to cooperate as there is a direct benefit.
    A question of anyone who has knowledge of these type of generators what is the entry cost and what size of bio-mass tonnage would it take.
    As a restauranteur I am heartily sick of chucking re-useables away but I am too small to set up re-cycling units to help.
    My only thing is to re-use fryer oil for bio fuel,and of course the bottle bank.
    we need revolution to help our selves and to stop the madness of dumping resourses in ever more expensive holes
    we are a country of great minds and invention lets get on with it and make our futures
    more energy secure , we can’t go on pandering to despot countries who can hold us to ransom for a barrel of oil
    well this is getting a bit political now I’ll sign off
    yours Rob.

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