Chinese group to invest nearly $3 billion in 2 UK biomass plants

By Katie Fletcher | February 05, 2016

Chinese investment group SinoFortone recently confirmed £2 billion ($2.9 billion) to back two biomass plants and associated food production centers in Wales, England. Waste heat generated at the biomass power stations will be used to grow food, starting with king prawns and vegetables.

The projects are being developed by Orthios Group. “We have spent five years researching and developing this model and the investment from China will help us roll it out across the planet,” said Sean McCormick, Orthios chief executive. “China’s focus on green energy and its ability to take a long-term view [was instrumental in securing the deal].”

SinoFortone is a privately owned investment company, but its investment in Wales has been backed financially by the Chinese state. The investment commitment from SinoFortone was received as the start of the official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the U.K. “We see this as a ground-changing model that many countries will benefit from and are delighted to be teamed with the Orthios team,” said Peter Zhang, SinoFortone Group chief executive.

According to McCormick, the two biomass plants combined will create 1,000 full-time jobs and thousands of jobs during the construction phase.

Last March, Orthios confirmed its plans for one of the multi-million-dollar biomass plants and Eco Parks on the site of the former Anglesey aluminum plant in Holyhead, which the company said could be operational in 2017. The biomass power station will have an energy generation capacity of 299 MW, with five independent 60-MW power modules, and will gasify approximately 1.5 million metric tons of biomass per year. It’s expected the plant will have the ability to provide 650,000 homes with electricity by 2020. Besides the plant, the project’s campus will include a large on-land prawn growing facility, a large soilless indoor vegetable growing facility, a compostable food packaging facility and a deep-water jetty for bulk import. Any excess heat and carbon dioxide available at the biomass plant will be recycled into the Eco Park and reused for enhancing the cultivation of fish and vegetables.

The second biomass plant backed with SinoFortone’s investment is located in Port Talbot, South Wales. In Port Talbot, Orthios and SinoFortone Group are working with Associated British Ports on the proposed project. The head of commercial at ABP South Wales, Ralph Windeatt, said, “We are delighted to be working alongside Orthios and SinoFortone to deliver the Port Talbot Eco Park, a combined power and food facility that will deliver much welcomed economic growth, jobs and training opportunities in the region.”

Orthios proposed plant in Port Talbot has a larger energy generation capacity than the plant in Holyhead with a capacity of 350 MW. The plant also has a longer timeline, expecting to become operational in three years. The plant will host eight independent 60-MW power modules and will gasify approximately 1.8 million metric tons of biomass per year. By 2020, the plant is expected to provide 950,000 homes with electricity. This project’s campus will include all of the same facilities as the Holyhead site, with the addition of a biomass-processing hub.

At both plant sites, Orthios is also establishing what they refer to as Combined Food and Power Centers of Excellence. The £15 million investment will be made by Orthios into educational and training facilities. The first of these will be established on the Anglesey Orthios Eco Park and initially support the training of staff for the 299-MW biomass power station and hydroponic and aquaculture centers. “The establishment of the Orthios CFP Centers of Excellence at all of our Orthios Eco Parks is a key strategy for the group,” McCormick said. “We believe the need to train students and future managers in sustainable food and energy production alongside our university partners is critical to our success.”

The company is working with Bangor University for the center in Holyhead, and has been in discussion with a South Wales university to partner on the establishment of a CFP center in Port Talbot.

With the Chinese funding commitment, the long-term plan would be to roll out the energy and food production technology globally. “We were impressed with the Orthios professional team and how much research and development they have invested in their unique combined food and power solution,” Zhang said. “With us and the Chinese state as their backers, we are confident we can maximize efficiencies and provide a production facility to deliver this solution around the world.”

As part of an overall £5 billion investment in the U.K., SinoFortone has also agreed to invest £3.2 billion in a major amusement park in Ebbsfleet.