THE switch from coal to biomass is essential in securing the long-term future for Rio Tinto Alcan’s Lynemouth smelter and power station, according to the company.
The site is Northumberland’s biggest private sector employer with around 630 staff and between 2,500 and 3,000 indirect jobs in the supply chain.
The company faces huge costs of £70m per year from 2013, rising to £100m from 2015 under new co2 legislation if it continues to use coal.
Rio Tinto is currently in the process of a strategic review into whether to undertake the conversion itself or sell the site.
Corporate affairs director John McCabe told the News Post Leader: “We’ve looked at a number of options and biomass is the one we have selected.
“We have submitted a planning application to the county council to construct silos to store the biomass pellets.
“All this is subject to a strategic review by Rio Tinto into the future of the smelter and power station about its long-term future, as to whether it keeps them, sells them, or closes them.
“It is absolutely essential for the long-term future of the power station as legislation forces coal fired power stations to reduce co2.
“Rio Tinto hasn’t yet made a decision whether or not to invest or offer the opportunity to someone else, but all options are open. Regardless of who owns the plant this has to be considered, this is something that has to be done.
“The capital needed for the conversion is in excess of £50m, with the annual supply of biomass £170m per year, so it’s not cheap. It’s quite a high risk investment for Rio Tinto.”
The company has submitted a planning application to Northumberland County Council for up to ten pellet storage silos with a capacity of up to 75,000 tonnes, located within the existing coal yard.
It is hoped the application will be approved in September and for the conversion of the existing power plant to be fully moved over to biomass by April 2013.