On Thursday 15th September, 8 of us went on a visit to SUEZ – Suffolk’s energy-from-waste facility at Great Blakenham. At the Visitor Centre we met Emma, our guide for the afternoon, who gave us some background information.
Planning permission was only granted in July 2011 and the facility was up and running in a relatively short time, with the first waste deliveries begun in June 2014. The plant has a capacity to treat 269,000 metric tonnes of residual waste per year, which is enough to power around 30,000 households. Previously, waste had gone to a landfill site nearby.
We were each provided with a diagram of the energy-producing process, which Emma explained. Waste collection vehicles tip their waste into the bunker, where it is mixed by a HUGE grab crane to ensure even distribution of materials. The crane eventually loads the waste into a hopper, which feeds into the furnace, this heats to over 850 degrees. At this temperature most of the gas produced by burning materials, is also burnt off, resulting in almost zero emissions.
Water in the boiler above the furnace is heated to produce steam, which drives a turbine to generate electricity. Ash left after burning the waste is processed on site, metals being extracted for recycling, and residue ash used as a construction material. The flue gas is filtered to capture any remaining particles (known as air pollution control residue) before it is released through the chimney. Emissions are continuously monitored and are regulated by the Environment Agency.
The facility operates 24 hours a day and is computer controlled. Only 4 people are needed to run the plant, and there is a total staff of 47, including one female engineer, the gate man and office staff.
Emma checked that we had been listening with a brief Question and Answer session, which was followed by a short Health & Safety briefing. After this we donned very fetching hard hats, hi-vis yellow jackets, goggles and gloves, for a tour of the plant.
Our first port of call was the control room which overlooked the 13 metre deep pit, (about 40 feet), where waste is deposited. We watched the controller’s monitor which showed a truck arriving. It was driven to the first of three bays adjacent to the pit, and deposited its cargo. Fortunately, thick glass separated us from dust and various aromas.
Emma led us through the site, up and down gantries and over the conveyor belt taking residue ash to the sorting shed. We passed piles of burnt, twisted metals, recognisable as old bicycle frames and motors like those from washing machines.
We were able to lift a hatch and peer into the furnace, glad that, as it was a very hot day (around 28 degrees), we had unanimously declined the full tour. This would have taken us into the area controlling the furnace where temperatures reach around 40 degrees.
The tour ended back at the Visitor Centre where two static bicycles were set up with an interactive screen showing a graph of daily energy requirements. Of course, energy use fluctuates over the course of a day, peaking in the morning around 7am when the kettle goes on for the morning cuppa, and again around 10pm as the last hot drink of the day is prepared in many households.
Some members of our party gamely climbed aboard the cycles and on the whole, managed to pedal successfully enough to produce sufficient energy to more or less follow the line on the graph. The beginning, starting at around midnight on the chart, was hardly challenging at all, but by the time they reached 7 a.m. they were pedalling furiously!
We gained snippets of information on recycling to save energy and conserve the environment, such as:
· 1 recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours.
· 1 recycled glass bottle would save enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes.
· 1 recycled plastic bottle would save enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for 3 hours.
· 70% less energy is required to recycle paper compared with making it from raw materials.
Overall the tour was very informative. I am now much happier about putting plastic non-recyclable items into the black bin, as I know they will be burnt and will not end up in landfill to cause digestive problems to our birds and wildlife. However, it is still better to recycle where possible. As well as paper, cardboard and plastic bottles, pots & food trays; empty aerosols, tetra-pak cartons, metal cans, pans, trays and foil, can all go into your blue recycling bin.
We thanked Emma for our interesting tour and before leaving, many of us said that we thought our husbands would enjoy a visit. So ladies, ask your partners and maybe we can get the men in our lives to help us recycle more after a trip to the energy-from-waste facility at Great Blakenham.
Report by Irene Carder.