A burning need for biomass in Grangemouth

Chalachem's existing CHP plant could soon be replaced by a biomass facility
Chalachem's existing CHP plant could soon be replaced by a biomass facility

A chemical giant is pinning its hopes for future expansion on a wood-burning biomass facility.

Calachem stated this week the relatively cheap provision of heat and electricity the new plant would bring to it’s Grangemouth complex – home to major chemical sector companies like Fujifilm, Piramal Healthcare and Syngenta – is vital to attracting new business to the area.

The Falkirk Herald was taken on a tour of the Calachem site on Monday by services manager Ian Brown and manufacturing and development manager Doug Edwards.

The company officials were responding to an article which contained critical comments on Calachem’s plans to build a 25-megawatt biomass plant in Earls Gate Park.

Mr Edwards revealed he had also invited Grangemouth Community Council, who object to the plan, to come down for a similar tour and discussion on the proposed development.

The former Kemfine site was bought over by German firm Aurelius in 2010 and changed its name, and fortunes, the following year.

Mr Edwards said: “Last year was effectively a restructuring year with Aurelius coming in and we did lose a few people. It was quite a challenging year, but we turned around a loss-making business which was in a very shaky position in 2009-10.

“This business could well have folded at that time, but we are now operating from a positive base.”

Mr Brown added: “Now in 2012 we are looking at consolidation and provision to grow and go forward. We need to do something to sustain this chemical cluster we have here.”

Mr Edwards added: “The key thing about Aurelius is every company it acquires has to have the ability to stand on its own. We have to show we have an organisation that is capable of developing and growing.”

Calachem is proving its commitment to the future by re-starting its apprentice programme with Forth Valley College to invest in a new generation of staff. It is also paving the way for future expansions with plans for a new biomass plant which would provide a cheap and reliable supply of steam and electricity to the multitude of businesses and developments on the site.

The company views the proposal to build the biomass facility as a straight replacement for its existing gas-powered Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant.

Mr Edwards said: “The gas turbine is just too expensive - we need to get something more sustainable. The existing gas powered CHP is past its best and is only producing steam for us at the moment - we have to purchase electricity from the grid and our gas from the suppliers.

“The new CHP would provide a secure supply of steam and electricity and protect us from the vagaries of the marketplace. It’s sustainable, it’s non-fossil fuel and gives us a predictable price for energy supplies.

“It’s also a big plus to attract potential business customers to the site.”

Mr Brown added: “It’s like replacing your car, but upgrading to something a bit more reliable.”

If everything does go according to plan the Calachem biomass facility will be up and running in 2015 and the existing gas powered CHP - no longer required - would be demolished.

According to an environmental impact report, the biomass plant - which is in the very early stages and still must go through the full planning process - would be situated 350 metres from residential properties in Wood Street and would comprise four main buildings, including a boiler house and a 5000-square metre wood chip storage hall.

The plant would use 220,000 tonnes of biomass a year and Calachem say they have now secured a suitable source of wood.

Mr Edwards said: “Our site would be fuelled from a source 50 miles away and also by recycled wood which would have otherwise gone to landfill. We would also have to comply with Scottish Environment Protection Agency regulations.”

The Calachem officials would not comment on whether the mass of objections against Forth Energy’s controversial proposals for a 100-megawatt biomass plant at Grangemouth Docks, which goes to public inquiry next month, had created an adverse knock-on effect for their own, much smaller, biomass plant.