This British biomass power station concept is one of the many projects being proposed around the globe as the search for renewable energy sources continues. The visually stunning Teesside plant will be covered with greenery, provide fuel for over 50,000 homes and be powered by palm kernel shells - byproducts of the palm oil plantations and a seemingly controversial choice given the environmental issues surrounding palm oil plantations and deforestation.
Bio Energy Investments Ltd (BEI) has submitted a planning application for the project. If approved, the 49MW biomass fueled power station will be built on the bank of the River Tees on a barren site. It is expected to create hundreds of jobs over its two-year construction period and bring GBP150 million (about US$240 million) dollars of investment to the area.
British architect Thomas Heatherwick was enlisted to design this unique building which will appear to rise up from the surrounding landscape and the exterior panels will be planted from indigenous grasses. It will take up about a third of the currently barren site, and the remaining area will be landscaped to form natural grassland. It is hoped this will encourage rare flora and fauna to return to the site. The building will also house offices, a visitors' center and a renewable energy education resource center.
Biomass as renewable energy
The power plant is expected to reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared with burning fossil fuels. Biomass is seen as a renewable energy source because it is already part of the carbon cycle, it is a replenishable resource and it can be converted to energy in ways that are less harmful to the atmosphere than coal fired power stations.
Though there's little detail on the Teesside plant, its designers have cited palm kernel shells as the fuel source. The reasoning behind this is that land will not be diverted from food production or forestry, a waste product will be removed and palm growers will receive extra revenue. While the use of a waste product has obvious benefits and biomass appears likely to be part of the renewable energy mix in the future, we are not quite sold on this logic. In major Palm Oil producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, deforestation is a major issue and most of the world's Palm Oil is produced in equatorial regions.
This leads to another of the challenges of maintaining a positive energy balance when using biomass - transport. The plants' designers say that fuel will be delivered by boats rather than trucks, so the impact on local roads should be reduced, but boats are not exactly carbon neutral and there are still questions about the choice of fuel and where it will be sourced from.
So what do you think? Will burning the waste-products of palm oil plantations create environmental issues that outweigh the benefits - or is it better to make use of waste from a product that some might argue will be produced regardless?