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Lakeside Energy from Waste & Grundon

Materials Recovery Facility, Colnbrook 

                               Lakeside Energy from waste and Grundon Materials Recovery Facility, Colnbrook


As the Master planned this event he was aware of the long-felt yearning of our Hon Sec Jan to discover where the contents of her bins ended up. Our intrepid group ventured outside the M25 and miraculously all arrived on time at the important sounding Viridor/Grundon "Energy from Waste" Plant, at Colnbrook, having turned off the A4 opposite  the "Gentlemens' Club" with its blue flashing lights and boarded windows.


We gathered  at the remarkable Lakeside Education Centre after a crunchy walk through the trees. This alone was a revelation ...  it seemed afloat on a lake teeming with bird life. Had it been possible to ignore the noise of Heathrow's aircraft and the nearby motorway, and factory buildings peeping above the surrounding woodland, this could have been an idyllic remote nature reserve. It was very sad to hear that this beautiful place will be buried by the next Heathrow runway.


We were given a briefing on what we would be seeing in two very different plants and, donning yellow jackets, helmets, gloves and goggles, we set off in two groups.


The buildings of the Grundon Materials From Waste (MRF) plant are on the older part of the site. Here unsorted rubbish collected in recycling bins first arrives in lorries and containers. The objective is to split everything possible into recyclable material, biomass, and material for burning.  Recyclable stuff goes off to specialist organisations, biomass for the production of useful gases and the residue is accumulated for use in the production of energy in the nearby Grundon/Viridor Energy from Waste (EfW) plant. The whole MRF site is dirty and dusty and it is here that we saw teams standing on each side of fast moving conveyors  picking out recoverable material .... of which plastic was very commonplace ..... but included dangerous oddities such as gas cylinders. These workers do not have an easy job .... but their work is aided by mechanical and electronic devices which divert particular materials in an amazing Heath Robinson world of conveyors to baling stations, while biomass goes off to specialised plants such as Drax in Yorkshire where it fuels the production of electricity.


But in our case it was the unsorted general waste that we would follow over to the EfW plant on the second site only 200 m away but worlds apart in technology.


We now entered a serene and beautiful factory sporting a lofty spiral chimney with hardly a speck of dust in sight. This was the energy production plant all managed from a  top floor control room with observation windows and CCTV screens monitoring every part of the processes going on below us. A continuous line of lorries enters the site, vehicle contents are weighed and electronic signalling directs them to off-loading bays for tipping into a pit with a capacity of 7,500 tonnes to await handling by a grab operated from the control room. The material delivered by lorry directly to this site is supposed to be of a guaranteed  quality but we were shewn large chunks of metal and more gas cylinders that sometimes cause blockages and even explosions in the furnaces.


The grab is huge, lifting three tonnes of material in one swoop, and is used to mix the waste in the pit to provide as uniform a fuel as possible, as well as then dropping it in turn into three hopper entrances to the furnaces where conveyors move the material to increasingly hot sectors. The end of the process is a fine dust which is taken away in sealed tankers to make building blocks.


The plant currently processes 440,000 tonnes of residual waste per year, generating 306GWh of electricity (enough to power around 83,904 homes) and has the potential to export heat. Solar panels on the roof generate additional energy. It is the plant operator's boast that none of the waste arriving on this site goes to landfill.


We saw what can be done ..... but we were also told time and again that our country has an urgent need for local authorities to co-ordinate their collection and sorting policies if the whole process is to become economic  and the norm, and for the government to fund an intensive campaign to educate the public. Only then can we hope that the UK will achieve its targets for recycling and green energy.


After our tours we returned to the Education Centre for a welcome buffet lunch.

David Kirkby


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