A fire last Monday damaged Europe’s largest biomass plant and took off line 10 percent of the UK’s renewable energy capacity.
Some 120 firefighters battled the fire over 15 hours; one firefighter described it as the worst he had seen in 20 years. The fire broke out on Monday morning at the plant, 30 miles east of London; no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is believed to be a spark from machinery. Biomass plants generate carbon-neutral electricity by burning organic matter (plant-based waste.)
The plant had been converted from coal power to biomass late last year; otherwise it would have been slated for closure under European Union regulations. It generates energy with almost no carbon emissions by burning wooden pellets made from sawdust and other waste from manufactured wood.
Bloomberg News quotes a bioenergy analyst, Claire Curry, “If biomass is stored in large volumes, with little aeration, it is very likely to catch fire as it can get very hot. Normally biomass plants will pass streams of cool air through the biomass to avoid fires happening.”
Biomass plants are coming into operation across the UK as it strives to meet the EU goal of deriving 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Energy from renewable sources accounted for 6.8 percent of British energy in 2010, with biomass contributing the second highest amount after offshore wind power.
Image from YouTube video uploaded by Essex Fire Department