GREEN energy is helping drive the order book of Teesside engineering giant Aker Solutions.
The company, which employs around 400 staff in Stockton, and a further 300 in UK and overseas offices, is powering ahead in 2010 thanks to growth in contracts in the energy and environmental sectors.
Areas such as biomass and carbon capture and storage are just some of those creating new opportunities, and new work, for the company.
Early successes in 2010 have included securing a £115m contract from energy company RWE to provide the design, supply, installation, construction and commissioning for a new 50MWe biomass renewable energy plant at the Tullis Russell Papermakers plant near Fife in Scotland.
The new biomass station will be the largest of its kind in Scotland, and will reduce Tullis Russell’s annual carbon emissions by 250,000 tonnes.
With work now under way, the project is scheduled for completion in March 2013.
“We are seeing a greater energy and environmental focus to our business,” said David Ley, Aker Solutions’ vice-president, business development and technology, Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“The Tullis Russell contract is a very significant one for us – it’s an important project, and the first of what we believe will be a series of biomass contracts we will work on.”
Currently, on-site production of heat and electricity at the Scottish site is achieved with a combination of its own coal and gas-fired cogeneration plant.
The new biomass plant will replace energy generated by a coal-fired plant which will be closed.
This project is RWE’s largest investment to date in biomass-based power generation.
But Aker Solutions is also working in the green energy market closer to home.
It is already working to develop Gaia Power’s plans for a 50 MWe biomass power station at Billingham.
“We’ve already done some work on this project,” explained Mr Ley. “Gaia is putting the funding in place for the scheme, but we hope by Q3 it will move ahead – and we hope to secure more work on the project.”
Carbon capture and storage is also set to be a significant development in the energy sector.
Last year the Government doubled its commitment to bringing CCS online, confirming support for four new power stations with the technology attached.
It’s an area that Aker Solutions has been working in since the early 1990s.
And now Aker Solutions is busy on a project to see the technology developed into a commercial-scale plant working with Scottish Power at its Longannet site in Fife.
Plus, via Aker Clean Carbon, sister company to Aker Solutions, the company is a global supplier of carbon dioxide capture plants. “We are really at the forefront of carbon capture and storage,” said Mr Ley. “We already have a test rig up and running.”
In the past 12 months Aker Solutions has also seen a Teesside-based eco project come to fruition.
Last year the Stockton team completed work on a £33m project at Northumbrian Water’s Bran Sands treatment works at Teesport to convert sludge, the material left after sewage has been treated, into energy.
The project, which will cut Northumbrian Water’s £40m energy bill by around 10%, recently received a special environmental award at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) North East’s Robert Stephenson Awards.
“That has been a very successful project for us,” said Mr Ley. “It’s the biggest scheme of its kind in the UK, a real flagship project. The whole team is really pleased with it.”
Other local projects have included the £26m contract for a new Combined Heat and Power (CHP) project for SembCorp Utilities at Wilton.
“We have done a lot of work in the area of CHP and we’re now moving more into the biomass arena,” he added. “We’re becoming a real front runner in the biomass market.”
Aker Solutions is also seeing strong demand in the nuclear sector.
Plus it is developing energy solutions for the future with its own technology, the Accelerator Driven Thorium Reactor, which offers a safer way of producing nuclear energy.
“This is very much a long-term development,” added Mr Ley, “but it does look viable.
“We need to find partners to work with us to bring this technology to commercialisation.
“But we will be presenting the ADTRTM technology at the 2010 International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants in San Diego.”
The work of the team at Stockton has also received national recognition in recent months. Baroness Royall, leader of the House of Lords, visited Aker Solutions’ Stockton office ahead of a cabinet meeting held in Durham in March.
She said: “Despite the huge global and local challenges, Aker Solutions is clearly forging strong local partnerships to promote the future of the Tees Valley economy in high-skilled, high-technology industries.”
And Mr Ley is optimistic about the year to come.
“Everyone had a fairly tough 2009 and we’re still seeing fallout from that. But Stockton won a lot of work at the end of last year and this year and we are in a strong position,” he added.
“We’re not quite back to 2008 levels, but we’re certainly back on an upward curve.
“The business is performing well. And in terms of workload, things are looking stronger.”