Spectacular lift marks landmark in Spencer Group biomass loading project

A spectacular operation has seen a landmark achieved in a key project reinforcing the Humber’s credentials as a leading renewable energy hub.

A huge crane lifted into place a major part of a structure built by specialist engineering business Spencer Group to enable the loading of sustainable biomass for transportation from the Port of Hull to Drax Power Station. The work is part of £100m of investment in biomass handling facilities at the Humber Ports.

The lift topped off a 43-metre (141 ft) high biomass silo tower with a “penthouse” structure, housing the drive mechanism for a conveyor belt to take the biomass from ground level, and a so-called “tambourine”, which seals the silo and supports the drive house.

The weight lifted was 75 tonnes and it raised the height of the structure to 50 metres (164 ft), making it one of the tallest buildings on Hull’s skyline.

The big lift was filmed for a documentary series on crane company Ainscough, due to be broadcast on BBC Two this autumn, with the working title “The Crane Gang”, and the successful operation marked a milestone in a challenging project to construct the biomass loading facility and related infrastructure. The facility is due to be commissioned in October.

Gary Thornton, Chief Operating Officer of the Spencer Group, said: “This is a complex project, involving a number engineering elements and specialists from across the world. It has been quite a challenge to knit them all together, but the team have done a tremendous job in keeping the project on track and the biomass loading facility and related infrastructure is now really taking shape.

“The project demonstrates our multi-disciplinary engineering capability, one of our key competitive advantages that enables us to work closely with our clients to deliver their desired solutions.

“The lift was exceptional because of the sheer size and weight involved. It was quite a spectacle and marks a landmark stage in the scheme. Following the preparatory work in pre-assembly at ground level, it was very satisfying indeed for the Spencer and Ainscough teams to see the biomass silo tower topped off.”
Hull-based Spencer Group is delivering a multi-million pounds contract to create a facility to load sustainable biomass on to rail wagons to be transported from the port to Drax Power Station near Selby, North Yorkshire.

The silo is part of a system that will handle a million tonnes a year of biomass imported from the United States and Canada by sea to the Port of Hull in the form of wood pellets created from forestry residues. After unloading at the port, the biomass will be stored in warehouses before being delivered by truck to the new facility and unloaded into feeders which take it to the 250-metre long conveyor.

The silo has a capacity of 3,000 cubic metres and will be filled by 60 truckloads of biomass over a three-hour period, twice a day, loading at the rate of 600 tonnes an hour.

Sophisticated technology ensures an even load as the biomass is discharged into rail wagons which pass through the base of the structure at crawling speed. The system is capable of loading up to 30 rail wagons with 1,500 tonnes of material in just 45 minutes.

The rail loading system is similar to one constructed by Spencer Group at the Port of Tyne in 2010, which was then the first of its kind in the world.

Spencer Group is also constructing a new one kilometre-long branch for the rail network at the port; creating half a kilometre of new road for truck deliveries to the facility; and putting in place connections to the port’s electrical supply.

The work is part of an investment of £100 million in the Humber Ports related to a 15-year contract between port operator ABP and Drax Power Limited to handle biomass shipments destined for Drax Power Station. Drax is executing plans to convert three of its six generating units to burn sustainable biomass as it transforms the business into a predominantly biomass-fuelled generator over the next few years.

Matt Jukes, Associated British Ports Port Director for Hull and Goole, said: “This facility will be the first to be completed as part of the ABP’s Humber-wide agreement with Drax and will ensure that we remain at the very forefront of the developing renewables industry.”

Mr Thornton added: “Already recognised as the UK’s Energy Estuary, the Humber is fast becoming a major renewables hub. The progress of this project and other investments in biomass handling and loading facilities around the Humber Ports continue to demonstrate the region’s growing green energy credentials.”

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