County’s waste now powering 30,000 homes

The Energy from Waste Site in Great Blakenham.

The Energy from Waste Site in Great Blakenham.

Nearly a year after it first started to turn Suffolk’s waste into something useful – electricity – the Great Blakenham incinerator is helping to keep rubbish out of the county’s holes in the ground.

The incinerator – or energy from waste plant as its operator and the county council insist on calling it – started full operation in December last year and has been designed to operate for the next 25 years.

We were given a guided tour around a plant which provides a dual purpose – it slashes the amount of waste being put in holes in the ground in Suffolk and it provides enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

There are two burners at the plant which deal with all the non-recycleable waste collected by councils across Suffolk.

The council waste makes up between 180,000 and 185,000 tonnes a year of the plant’s 269,000-tonne capacity.

A further 40,000 tonnes of waste comes from Norfolk and the rest comes from a number of private contracts. It is operating at capacity.

The waste is delivered over a weighbridge – refuse lorry drivers have been trained in how to use the system, and only those who have been given their own unique PIN code can get into the plant.

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It is delivered into a large collecting area from where it is transferred into a hopper by huge mechanical grabs.

The rubbish works its way to the burner and the rate it falls is managed through the control room – the temperature has to be kept at about 850C.

The two burners heat water into steam which drives the single turbine which generates enough electricity to power the plant – and to put power into the grid at Stowmarket.

Eventually the steam created by the plant will also be used to provide heat to new greenhouses growing tomatoes, and possibly to new homes that could be built in the area. Burning the waste reduces its density by about 75% – but there is a significant amount of ash left over.

Some of this is metallic, which can be recovered and recycled, and most of the rest can be used as hardcore in building projects, especially in road repairs.

About 2.5% of the waste material is captured in filters in the plant and this is considered potentially hazardous.

It could be asbestos or lime-based waste. A plant in Brandon is able to convert this waste into building material, but so far it has not been able to regulate the level of the hazardous waste from Great Blakenham so it has to be disposed of in a secure landfill site.

The plant operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week – although it only takes deliveries between 6am and 10pm.

The burners have to be taken offline for maintenance about once a year – this will happen in October over a three week period.

One burner will go offline while the other continues to operate, and both will be cold for a few days to allow work to be completed on common parts before the first is fired up and the second is serviced.

The plant is able to store about six days’ worth of rubbish on site so that should not cause a major problem.

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