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Tour of Suffolk's new £180million energy-from-waste incinerator at Great Blakenham

PUBLISHED: 12:01 12 December 2014

SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.

SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.

It is a sight which dominates the skyline and now dominates Suffolk's claim to be the greenest county.

Operations technician Lee Williams watches the monitors in the control room at SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.Operations technician Lee Williams watches the monitors in the control room at SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.

Every single bag of general refuge from households and businesses in the county is going to a £180million incinerator plant in Great Blakenham, near Ipswich – preventing any rubbish going to landfill.

The burning process creates enough energy for electricity to be pumped to 30,000 homes and saves taxpayers £8million a year through cutting landfill taxes, according to Suffolk County Council.

Around 50 lorries a day arrive filled with rubbish to be burnt. It is first dumped in a 45ft deep bunker before it is mixed and sent to two huge incinerators.

Due to the automated systems, few staff out of a total 47 are needed on the factory floor – with several colleagues in a control room monitoring the operation.

Reporter Matt Hunter interviews SITA UK's Manda Henry at the energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.Reporter Matt Hunter interviews SITA UK's Manda Henry at the energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.

The systems prevent any rubbish from entering the incinerator if it is not up to at least 850C (1562F) – with a maximum desired heat of 1100C (2012F).

Any rubbish which cannot be burnt into gas is then either reused to help build roads or recycled if metal. This means the plant produces no unusable waste. The only emission is mainly steam coming out of the plant’s two 81.5metre chimneys. Gases, which are also emitted, are closely monitored for their levels of harmful pollutants.

Lime, activated carbon and urea are used to help neutralise the pollutants – with dust emissions prevented by a revolutionary filter system.

The plant is operated on the county council’s behalf by SITA UK which manages another four in the country – with a further three under construction.

The air-cooled condenser at SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham converts steam into water.The air-cooled condenser at SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham converts steam into water.

Paul Leighton, plant manager, said: “The plant is designed for a maximum of 269,000 tonnes of waste a year, with Suffolk and Norfolk’s waste we have about 214,000 tonnes a year. That leaves some 50,000 which needs to be sourced.

“Waste flows are increasing historically and the contract allows for Suffolk County Council to increase capacity; we expect to see some growth on the 214,000 tonnes from Suffolk and Norfolk in the future.”

In recent weeks, Great Blakenham residents have voiced concerns over a lack of infrastructure in the area compared to the number of new homes. But Mr Leighton said the response to the plant had been positive.

“I honestly think it’s been very good, I think Suffolk County Council communicated very early on about the facility, I think they’ve done a really good job,” he said.

The claw picks up waste to take it to be processed at SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.The claw picks up waste to take it to be processed at SITA UK's energy-from-waste facility in Great Blakenham.

“A community liaison group meets on a monthly basis and can have a look around and air any concerns that they may have. 
That group has been going for three years and I believe it still has good attendances.”

Around 170,000 tonnes of rubbish comes from Suffolk – with 40,000 tonnes from Norfolk. And waste can only come from counties in the east, as set down in planning regulations.

Two huge greenhouses, which are set to be built nearby, would be connected to the plant for its heat. They would cover an area of almost 50 acres and produce 7,500 tonnes of tomatoes a year.

Manda Henry, from SITA UK, was asked what long-term future the plant has if Suffolk’s recycling rate increases. She said: “There is a 50% recycling rate in Suffolk which is very good but we are still striving to increase it – recently the number of items which can be recycled increased and included things like Tetra Paks – but inevitably there’s stuff left over and the days of burying things in the ground are no longer.

“If the amount coming from households decreases then that will decrease the overall amount but that’s not allowing for business waste – shops and supermarkets on the high street have to deal with waste, we are not talking hazardous, but general waste.

“Years and years ago using landfill was reasonable option, now-a-days it’s just not and we had to find something better and that’s what this plant does.”

The plant can operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Bosses 
expect it to close completely for around three days a year for maintenance.

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