Event Report: Western Bio Energy Industry Stakeholders Visit “Field to Furnace.”

29 February 2024

Date: February 22nd, 2024

Location: Western Bio Energy Plant, Port Talbot

A cohort of industry stakeholders from Wales and England, comprising potential growers, consultants, farming union representatives, researchers, plant breeders, and civil servants, convened at the Western Bio Energy (WBE) plant in Port Talbot on February 22nd. Organised by Biomass Connect, the event aimed to foster collaboration and knowledge exchange within the biomass energy sector.

Upon arrival, attendees were warmly greeted in the boardroom by Rod Lerwell, CEO of WBE, along with Simon Thomas, Plant Manager, and Mark Needham from Biomass Connect. Simon commenced proceedings by providing an overview of the plant’s operations, highlighting its significant contributions:

  • Established in 2008 with support from the Welsh Government, the plant generates approximately 120 GWh per annum of renewable electricity, meeting the needs of around 40,000 homes in the Neath Port Talbot area.
  • Leveraging partnerships with leading bioscience institutes in the UK, the plant integrates cutting-edge research to ensure sustainable and economically viable solutions for land partners.
  • WBE actively engages with the local community, providing employment for twenty-seven staff and supporting an additional 150 jobs in the engineering, transport, and forestry sectors.
  • Through collaboration with the Natural Resources Wales (NRW) for 15 years, the plant utilizes 150,000 tons annually of ‘clean wood,’ made up of logs, brash, slab wood and recycled wood, and is also certified to process trees infected with Larch-dieback. The plant also sources material such as arboreal chip from green waste composting sites. The plan is also supports the 2009 One Wales: One Planet objectives by helping to reduce Welsh greenhouse gas emissions by 40,000 t / year of CO2.

Demonstrator Hub Locations

Demonstrator Hub Locations

Mark Needham elucidated on Biomass Connect’s role in facilitating information dissemination and emphasised the importance of unbiased data for industry stakeholders. He highlighted the establishment of Demonstrator Hubs across the UK, showcasing various crop types to assist potential growers in making informed decisions.

Kevin Lindegaard of Envirocrops, an innovation project supported by the Biomass Feedstock Innovation (BFI) programme delved into land use considerations, economic factors, and biomass crop options, emphasising the preference for food production among farmers but acknowledging the potential shift with government incentives. He outlined to online tool being developed to help potential growers and advisors with decisions regarding biomass cultivation.

Kevin also highlighted some of the  other work funded by the BFI  by such as the automation of willow harvest and planting that was being undertaken by Net Zero Willow

A  common theme that ran through the presentations was the further benefits and other products available from Biomass products, such as ecosystem services and other uses of biomass that had the potential to add value to the crop.

Following the presentations, attendees embarked on a guided tour of the plant, adhering to strict safety protocols. The tour encompassed all stages of biomass processing into electricity generation, from material weighing and sampling to waste removal and energy optimisation techniques such as secondary burning and steam and water management. During the visit to the control room, it was pointed out that there was a considerable difference between the wholesale price being received by the plant to that paid by the domestic user. This helped visitors to appreciate the power plant’s drive for optimal efficiency in terms of material being procured and all the processes required to convert biomass into electricity.

During a networking lunch, there was considerable enthusiasm for further collaboration and exploration of opportunities within the biomass energy sector. Key points of discussion included:

  1. Supply Chain Enhancement: WBE management expressed keen interest in fostering closer cooperation with farmers and growers to strengthen and optimise the supply chain. This collaboration could potentially lead to improved sourcing of biomass materials and enhanced efficiency in plant operations.
  2. Information Exchange: Consultants and clients present at the lunch sought to establish contacts and gather more information regarding biomass cropping. There was a shared desire to seek available expertise and resources to better understand biomass cultivation and integration into existing farming practices.
  3. Follow-up Meetings: Attendees floated the idea of organising follow-up meetings to delve deeper into specific topics, such as the utilisation of Miscanthus and other biomass materials within the plant. These meetings would provide a platform for detailed discussions and action planning to capitalise on emerging opportunities.
  4. Biomass Connect Support: There was recognition of the potential role Biomass Connect could play in providing support and resources for future projects at the plant. Attendees expressed interest in tapping into Biomass Connect’s expertise and network to facilitate the implementation of innovative initiatives aimed at advancing biomass utilisation and sustainability.


Overall, the networking lunch served as a catalyst for energising discussions and laying the groundwork for future collaboration and partnership initiatives within the biomass energy sector. It highlighted the collective commitment of industry stakeholders to drive positive change and innovation in biomass energy production and utilisation.

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