Investigation under way after Tilbury biomass plant fire

The fire that ripped through a storage area of the 750 MW Tilbury power station – the world’s largest biomass plant – is now out and a full investigation is underway.

The fire broke out at 07:45 hrs and by the afternoon more than 120 firefighters were tackling the blaze, which had engulfed tonnes of wood pellets in a storage container.

Tilbury’s owner, RWE npower, this morning said that the plant’s units 9 and 10 – where the fire started – were being emptied of fuel, while unit 8 was operational but only so as to safely empty its hopper of remaining fuel.

Each hopper is about 60ft deep and can hold around 600 tonnes of wood pellets.

The deputy chief fire officer at the scene said today that early indications suggested the fire may have started in conveyor belts above the hoppers.

All staff were safely evacuated and the plant shut down as soon as the fire started. Tilbury supplies about 1 per cent of the total power to the UK’s National Grid.

Employees this morning returned to work but it is not yet known when the plant will be fully operational again.

Tilbury was converted from a coal fired plant to run on 100 per cent biomass last year and had only been fully operational for around a month before yesterday’s fire.

The fire is not just a blow to Tilbury itself but also to the biomass industry in the UK and beyond. Tilbury was the flagship large scale plant in Europe, and several other schemes on a similar scale are in the pipeline in Britain.

Friends of the Earth said today: “Clearly power stations that store large amounts of combustible materials on-site pose considerable public safety risks. It is paramount that the highest safety standards are followed, especially when the sites are close to people's homes.”

Last year there was an explosion at RWE’s wood pellet processing plant in Georgia, US, while in 2010 an explosion at a biomass plant in Germany killed three workers.

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