Essent: important sustainability efforts from a major utility

RWE-daughter Essent is the main importer of biomass for energy purposes in the Netherlands. It has gone to great lengths to improve the sustainability of its imports, and in doing so has set the standards for biomass imports in the years to come. For, sustainability criteria for wood pellets will largely be valid for all the other biocommodities that will be internationally traded.

By far the largest share in Essent’s biomass use takes place in its Amer facility, a coal-fired power station, which in the course of fifteen years has been reconstructed to accommodate a growing side stream of biomass incineration. At present, one third of Amer’s input (by weight) can be biomass, and Essent aims to increase this share to one half. Alongside goes an effort to ensure a steady import of a growing volume of word pellets, which now has turned Essent into the largest importer of this commodity worldwide.

At its Amer site, Essent also hosts a major waste wood gasification unit. It participates in many bioenergy projects around the country. It is the market leader in biogas production from manure and agricultural side streams in the Netherlands.

In order to facilitate the use of wood pellets technologically, Essent aims to replace raw pellets by torrefied pellets, produced by gentle heating of the raw product. Torrefied pellets have a better energy density than wood, can be fed directly into the burner, and can be stored in the open air as they are water repellent. The torrefaction technology has not yet been developed fully, and Essent participates in companies that complete R&D along these lines.

For the long run, Essent has embraced the cascading and biorefinery concept. This would mean for instance that food comes first, that the remaining biomass will be pre-treated in order to extract valuable components, and that the remainder will be used for energy purposes. Such a cascading approach would add considerably to the value of the resource. It could mean that in the long run only the lignin fraction of lignocellulose would be incinerated. Essent aims to contribute to developments in this field and stay on top of the wave as it has done in the last ten years.

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