Sembcorp Energy UK’s sustainability drive builds on two decades of adopting cleaner technologies to reduce emissions and increase the use of sustainable resources

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The UK Government’s Green Industrial Strategy is accelerating research and incentivising early adoption of technologies to decarbonise industry. There are questions about which projects have the capacity to be game changers and how to ensure that developments will lead to real progress, but it's clear that heavy industry needs to decarbonise as rapidly as possible if the UK is going to meet its climate change target of Net Zero by 2050. Sembcorp Energy UK, owner and operator of the Wilton International site in Teesside, has, since acquiring the site in 2003, commissioned a number of major projects that have already saved hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Sembcorp, who provide utilities including power, steam, various grades of water and industrial gases to customers on the site, are committed to ongoing decarbonisation and to being a key player in Net Zero 2050. They are currently engaged in a strategy process and evaluating technologies to achieve their sustainability goals. There is a way to go but here is the story so far:

2004: Efficiency improvements and a move away from oil

One of Sembcorp’s first actions back in 2003 was to approve £20 million of funding to continue a project to integrate a 40MW gas turbine into the existing power station, improving efficiency and enabling the station to respond quickly and effectively to customer demand for large quantities of power and steam. The new turbine, GT1, was up and running in 2004 and the use of the latest ‘Dry Low NOx’ (DLN) technology, together with the closure of an oil-fired boiler, led to a substantial reduction in emissions.

2005: Commitment to renewable power

In a major commitment to renewable energy, Sembcorp started planning a £65 million ‘Wilton 10 Project’ to build a biomass steam boiler and electricity turbine on the site. The intention to build the UK’s first 100 per cent wood-to-energy power station was formally announced in March 2005 and work on the station began later that year.

2007: Opening the UK’s first large-scale wood-to-energy power station

Full commercial production at Wilton 10 started in September 2007 and it was, at the time, the UK’s first large-scale energy-from-wood power station, using 300,000 tonnes of sustainable wood per year and generating 30 MW electricity (enough to power 30,000 homes). This renewable energy facility saves around 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually compared with a conventional power station, which is the equivalent in greenhouse gas reduction terms to taking 67,000 cars off Britain’s roads each year.

2011: Further gains in efficiency leads to more sustainable production

In a continued drive to increase the efficiency of their plant and further reduce emissions, Sembcorp completed a second £26 million 40 MW DLN gas turbine and heat recovery system at Wilton Power Station in 2008. This was followed in 2011 by the commissioning of a £20 million, state of the art steam turbine generator, ST11, capable of generating additional electricity while still suppling steam to on-site facilities. These assets contribute to the security of supply to industrial customers while reducing the carbon impact of the business.

2014: A complete move away from coal

Investment in the Wilton 10 and Wilton 11 facilities, together with investment in gas turbine technology, enabled Sembcorp to close the last coal-fired boilers at Wilton Power Station in 2014. Sembcorp were again ahead of the game – in 2010, 40% of the UK’s energy was still produced from coal [1] and, although there is a commitment to phase out coal fired power stations by October 2024, as of February 2021 the UK is still reliant on coal-fired power.

2016: Investment in a large waste-to-energy facility adds to Sembcorp UK’s renewables portfolio

In 2011 the company announced plans for the £250 million Wilton 11 waste-to-energy facility, a development in partnership with SITA UK and I-Environment. Construction of Wilton 11 started in 2013 and the waste-to-energy facility came into service in 2016.

The plant generates a net 42 MW electricity (enough to power 55,000 homes) from an annual feedstock of around 400,000 tonnes of non-hazardous office and household waste. As well as producing green energy, it also produces 165 tonnes of steam per hour, which is available to companies on the Wilton International site. All waste is brought by train direct to the facility, saving the equivalent of 12,000 heavy goods vehicle road movements per year.

The Wilton 11 process has led to savings of around 127,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year versus less sustainable fossil fuel energy production, and has also prevented environmentally damaging landfill waste.

2020: Battery development

Sembcorp has committed to an additional 60 MW of battery development, which is currently being built out at two sites in the UK, doubling the company’s energy storage capacity. The batteries provide system services for the National Grid, allowing them to manage the system frequency, which becomes more challenging with the increase in intermittent renewable energy generation.

2021: The journey continues

Sembcorp is actively involved in projects to explore ways of contributing to a hydrogen economy and is a key stakeholder in Net Zero Teesside, the cluster’s Carbon Capture Storage and Utilisation (CCUS) project. [2] Net Zero Teesside aims to decarbonise the cluster’s carbon intensive businesses as early as 2030, to deliver the UK’s first zero carbon industrial cluster.

Together with other major UK energy companies, Sembcorp has written to the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, calling for him set a date for the UK to achieve a net zero power system ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November 2021[3].

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