Heathrow Terminal 2 to be powered by woodchip biomass – with dubious and extravagant “green” claims
Heathrow airport, and the planes that fly to and from it, is one of the highest emitters of carbon in the country. Its emissions are larger than several smaller countries. Yet the airport is now trying to be “green” by doing various things to reduce the emissions in the airport itself. The latest is having a biomass boiler for its Terminal 2 which is part of a green-washing campaign, with the airport trying to overcome its negative environmental impacts. Heathrow claim this will be the “UK’s biggest biomass boiler, and that it will cut the airport’s CO2 emissions by 34% against 1990 levels (the Terminal was not built then …). The boiler is meant to provide 2MW of electricity, hot water and cooling for data centres, and save up to “13,000 tonnes of CO2” per year. Heathrow says Woodchip supplier LG Energy won the 15-year contract with Heathrow on the condition that it would provide all of the biomass from a 100-mile radius around the airport. Some 75% of it will come from just 50 miles away, including from London’s Wetlands Centre in Barnes, as well as Richmond Park. LG Energy claims the sale of the timber is enabling more conservation work to be done, so benefiting more habitat and more biodiversity. Biomass, on a large scale, not carefully, locally sourced is likely to be very far from sustainable.
UK’s biggest biomass plant prepares for Heathrow take-off
Environmentalists may be wary of the airport’s expansion plans, but Heathrow is about to take a big step towards cutting its carbon emissions
By Jessica Shankleman (Business Green)
17 Mar 2014
Deep in London’s vast Richmond Park, deer roam, bats roost, even stag beetles scurry among the soil. And then every few minutes the serenity is broken as a plane glides low in the sky towards the nearby Heathrow Airport.
Such is the level of frustration felt by many locals over the noise, air pollution and traffic congestion created by the giant transport hub that its expansion plans have become a key election issue, with local Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith threatening to quit the Conservative Party if it backs a third runway in its next manifesto.
The debate may have died down temporarily, but the government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is set to revive it this summer when it reports on the impact of the plans on the UK’s climate commitments.
CCC chief executive David Kennedy has already warned that the cost of long-haul flights would need to rise by up to £200 to curtail demand and stay within the UK’s carbon emissions targets.
With one of the UK’s biggest planning battles on their hands, Heathrow executives have swiftly realised that if they do want to expand the airport, they have to demonstrate they can run it in a responsible manner, tackling as many of the negative environmental impacts as possible, while also maximising economic and social benefits for the area.
As such, when Heathrow throws open the doors of its new Terminal 2 (T2) in June, it will be fitted to high energy efficiency standards and will be powered, heated, and cooled by the UK’s biggest biomass boiler.
The 10MW biomass combined cooling and heating plant (CCHP) costs around £8.5m and is expected to play a major role in helping Heathrow meet its target of cutting carbon emissions by 34 per cent against 1990 levels, by meeting 20 per cent of T2’s energy needs, including 2MW of electricity, hot water and cooling for data centres.
The boiler is already meeting a low level of demand from the builders of T2, but once the new hub is operating at full pelt, with 20 million passengers passing through the gates each year, it is expected to save Heathrow 13,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year compared with a scenario where it burnt only gas and bought grid electricity.
Matt Gorman, director of sustainability for Heathrow, says curbing harmful environmental impacts will be a key plank of the airport’s future growth plans. “Heathrow is a big busy international airport and needs energy, so we set out clearly our commitment to power it in the most environmentally sustainable way in order to play our role in meeting the government’s carbon reduction targets,” he tells BusinessGreen.
He also dismisses concerns that the biomass plant risks acting as a green sheen on Heathrow’s otherwise carbon heavy expansion plans. “It’s absolutely clear that air travel brings real benefits and there’s particular demand to emerging economies and Heathrow serves those particularly well,” he says. “It’s also clear that aviation has environmental impacts and if we are to be successful in growing, we need to be able to tackle those. We studied these issues very carefully when we submitted our proposals to the independent commission that’s been set up to look at airport capacity.”
Significantly, woodchip supplier LG Energy only won the 15-year contract with Heathrow on the condition that it would provide all of the biomass from a 100-mile radius around the airport. In fact, three-quarters of it will come from just 50 miles away, including from London’s Wetlands Centre in Barnes, as well as Richmond Park.
Mark Lebus, managing director of LG, says the scheme is already creating benefits to the local environment, by ensuring that many previously unmanaged woodlands are now better looked after. “The introduction of this system here has a direct link to rural benefit in terms of the management of woodlands,” he tells BusinessGreen. “Over half the woodlands in the country are not being managed and we have direct links to more than 70 estates in this area – a lot of which are now coming back into woodland management as a result of this project.”
One such area is Richmond Park, which is now using the money from the sale of timber to manage parts of the park that previously lay untouched and were said to have been failing to maximise their biodiversity potential.
The Royal Parks has already chopped down and delivered hundreds of unwanted Turkey Oaks that were planted in the 1950s, when postwar Britain was desperate for timber. But in fact, the oaks are thought to do more damage than good to wildlife habitats, creating shade that prevents undergrowth sprouting.
In place of the Turkey Oak, the Park is replanting Holly and Hazel trees designed to encourage more bats, insects, and other wildlife to the area.
Adam Curtis, assistant manager for Richmond Park, says the programme is already delivering benefits, as more insects and shrubbery have appeared where the canopy of the Turkey Oaks once stood.
“[Without this deal with LG Energy] the area would have stayed as it was or we would have had to found the money to do the work,” he said. “The Turkey Oaks would have continued to suppress the light on the rest of the woodland, shading out our veteran trees that are actually suffering from living in the shade.”
LG Energy’s broad array of potential woodland to source from means that it never demands too much from one area and ensures the biomass can all be certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council, addressing concerns that demand for biomass could fuel unsustainable deforestation.
Heathrow’s multi-million pound investment in the largest project of its kind to date has already been applauded by some green groups, such as WWF, which commended its clear contribution to increasing habitat diversity.
However, the reaction of Heathrow’s most vocal environmental critics to this innovative green project remains to be seen.
Biofuel and biomass ‘sustainability standards’ are pure greenwash
By Almuth Ernsting (Co-Director of Biofuelwatch)
10th March 2014 – The Ecologist
Who and what are biofuel sustainability standards designed to benefit? They are meant to safeguard forests and communities, writes Almuth Ernsting – but their real purpose is to protect the biofuel industry …
“Since there are no checks, no enforcement and no regulator, standards are quite simply an invitation to fraud.”“>
On its way to Drax? A loader picking up trees from a clearcut for Enviva near the Ahoskie mill, North Carolina. Photo: Dogwood Alliance.
Sustainability standards are our Government’s and the EU’s answer to any critique of their subsidies and incentives for industrial biomass and biofuels. Energy companies tend to like them, too.
Rainforests being cut down for palm oil biofuels? No worries – EU biofuel standards don’t allow any support for biofuel crops grown on recently deforested land.
Slow-growing trees being cut down for pellets to be burned in power stations, pumping even more carbon into the atmosphere than burning coal instead would do? No cause for concern: from next year, subsidies will only be paid if biomass reduces carbon emissions by at least 60% compared to coal.
Don’t worry, it’s all ‘sustainable’
Drax getting pellets from a company that makes them out of clearcut ancient swamp forests in the southern US? Well, Drax’s policy says it’s all sustainable.
Better still, from next April, they’ll even need to prove it complies with some voluntary certification scheme or another, regardless of whether it actually has been certified.
Small farmers being evicted for our biofuels? Hmm, that would come under social standards and the EU hasn’t actually introduced any of these.
Don’t worry though – there’s a good chance the biofuels will certified through some voluntary scheme which says people shouldn’t be evicted.
Carbon standard? Any wood will do …
EU biofuel sustainability and greenhouse gas standards were introduced in the UK in 2011 and the Government has proposed biomass standards from April 2015 – although they have so far delayed introducing them twice.
Both biofuel and proposed biomass standards have been heavily criticised as inadequate: Both ignore all indirect impacts; those for biomass ignore the carbon emissions from cutting down and burning trees and the length of time it takes for new trees to possibly re-absorb that carbon; biofuel standards entirely ignore human rights and the right to land, food and water.
As for the proposed biomass sustainability standards, all they say is that wood must meet the criteria of one of several controversial voluntary certification schemes, not even requiring formal certification.
Additionally, carbon standards are proposed, but those ignore most of the carbon emissions associated with biomass burning. The Government’s impact assessment expects wood from absolutely any source to meet those standards.
A remarkable admission
In theory – and with the right political will – much stricter and more comprehensive standards could be introduced, though European NGOs have been campaigning in vain for years to get biofuel standards amended so as to take indirect land use change into account.
But would stricter standards really keep destructive biofuels and biomass out of the country? Or are there deeper problems with the concept of standards?
Hidden away in a recent Government consultation about the impacts of the UK’s biofuel mandates and standards – the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) – is a very striking admission:
“Following RED [EU Renewable Energy Directive – which includes biofuel-related targets and standards] implementation the Administrator noted that the volumes of used cooking oil (UCO) derived biofuel being reported as coming from the Netherlands were implausibly high based on the population size.”
An obvious explanation – fraud
In other words, companies had declared using vast quantities of Dutch used cooking oil in biofuels and it would have been quite impossible for Dutch people to eat enough chips to end up with that much waste vegetable oil.
So what they declared to be “used cooking oil from the Netherlands” must have been something else – for all we know, it may have been palm oil from clearcut Indonesian rainforests.
The background to this scam is that since 2011, biofuels from waste have counted double towards biofuel targets, so using – or claiming to use – these has become more profitable.
If companies had planned this fraud a bit better they could have classed their biofuels as used cooking oil from many different countries rather than just from one small one – then no questions would have been asked.
But who’s bothered?
Not that any company has been penalised for lying about biofuel supplies. And this leads back to one of the most fundamental problems with such standards.
Companies love standards because they are a market mechanism, not regulation. This means there is no independent authority that checks where their wood or biofuels are actually coming from or stops them from using anything in particular.
All that’s required of them is to pay another company – a consultancy of their choice – to give them a piece of paper to say their wood, palm oil or whatever else they are using is“sustainable”. And if one consultancy was to refuse, they can shop around for another.
Clearcut swamp forests in southern US
Pellet producers in North America expect that if the UK introduces biomass standards, energy companies might only need a letter from the forest owner to say that their forest was sustainably managed.
90% of forests in the southern US (where a lot of the wood burnt by Drax and E.On comes from) are privately owned and many of those landowners are profiting greatly from the new demand for pellets.
According to the US conservation NGO Dogwood Alliance, 75% of the wood in swamp forests that are now being clearcut is unsuitable for sawmills but used for pellet production.
So without the demand for pellets, there would be no incentive for forest owners to clear, rather than selectively log, those forests. But which forest owner will be honest enough to admit that their logging is unsustainable if this means foregoing lucrative income from pellet sales to the UK?
The intention is to ‘secure support’
Verification and regulatory enforcement alone would not resolve the problems with standards. After all, a hugely unsustainable demand for wood or biofuels can never be made ‘sustainable’ by simply assessing individual shipments of them.
Such an approach would merely lead to companies selling palm oil or wood from land deforested a long time ago to Europe for bioenergy and at the same time cutting down more forest for plantations aimed at other markets.
But since there are no checks, no enforcement and no regulator, standards are quite simply an invitation to fraud.
Yet while standards fail to prevent forest destruction, human rights abuses and worsening climate change linked to biofuels and biomass, they offer tangible benefits to energy companies.
One of official policy objectives behind the proposed UK biomass standards is to “help secure the support of local government, NGOs and the public for proposed new bioenergy developments“.
Giving biofuels the green light – no matter what
This is not simply achieved through greenwashing: In February 2011, Secretary of State Eric Pickles approved an application for a large palm oil power station in Avonmouth, overruling Bristol City Council’s decision to reject the plans as unsustainable and high-carbon.
In his decision, Pickles laid out rules which have since been communicated to planning authorities:
- Biofuel and biomass power station applications cannot be rejected on grounds of wider sustainability or climate change impacts;
- planners can merely impose a condition that developers must comply with government standards.
The existence or even the mere promise of future standards is thus being used to ensure that power stations get the green light regardless of whether they burn palm oil or wood from clearcut ancient swamp forests.
22.1.2014 (Architects Journal) on Terminal 2
– 20% of Terminal 2’s energy needs will be from renewable sources
– 40.5% less CO2 emissions than a building built to 2006 building regulations
– 1,000m² square metres of photovoltaic panels on the building’s canopy
– 12MW biomass boiler heater
– Wood used to power the boiler is sustainably sourced, FSC approved timber
– The first phase will potentially save around 13,000 tonnes of CO2 a year compared to the use of natural gas and grid electricity
– Extensive glazing means more natural light. As well as glazed walls, north-facing skylights in the roof will provide glare-free daylight without heat gain (which would mean more air conditioning)