The Burning Issue Podcast 2/3: Successful & unsuccessful EfW projects

In this series of blogs, we are sharing with you the transcript of The Burning Issue Podcast (S03: Ep04) that Harry Starke, Sikla UK Managing Director and Head of Sales Region featured on. 

Part 1 discussed the advantages of using Sikla products within an energy-from-waste (EfW) plants. Since 2012, Sikla has provided primary and secondary supports to many EfW facilities across the globe. During that time we have seen a number of successful and unsuccessful projects.

You can either listen to the full episode (S03: Ep04) here on Spotify or read the transcript between Harry and Luke Walsh, Editor of ENDS Waste & Bioenergy and host of the podcast, to find out more about these projects.

Sikla siFramo FerrybridgesiFramo pipe support at Ferrybridge


Luke Walsh (LW) - You’ve been behind several biomass-fired builds and these plants mostly take a waste wood feedstock, a feedstock that is becoming harder to source. Does that technology make any difference to how you work on the plant compared to an energy from waste facility?


Harry Starke (HS) – We are a little bit involved in them; we are not “behind” biomass plants. At the end of the day, for a company like us to provide a special niche discipline, all that matters is: Is there a boiler? Is there a turbine? Do I have some decent balance-of-plant pipe work in between them? If that is the case, we do not care what the fuel is. From the perspective of a supplier like Sikla, it does not matter whether it is dry black sack waste incineration or wet biomass. 


From experience, the biomass plants tend to be a little bit smaller, but that does not make them less interesting. It is a technical challenge, a logistical challenge, and the question of how many of them we could use within our learning curve.


A learning curve is what you need to make such projects a profitable business. You need quite a lot of these plants because they are far more complicated from the perspective of a supplier like us than very simple projects. Doing just one project would most certainly be a loss.


LW - That does make perfect sense. You talked about how the UK's developed over the last 20 years and the 12 years while you have been working here. One of the projects you were on the Ferrybridge two facilities, the largest UK site on its own. What was it like working on the Ferrybridge plants?


HS – That is so long ago. What we learned from Ferrybridge was that there is a difference between us just supplying these projects and being involved in the planning process. Our very first project we did was the STV2 in Cleveland, UK, if that rings a bell. The one that has this 1980s façade, I found that fascinating.


LW - The Suez one? 


HS – Yes, why would they build, in 2012, a project with a 1980s design? It was the duplication of a plant that was already there. The one that's blue, white and red. Now you have one dirty blue, white and red one and then a shiny new one next to it. The answer to why it was not the typical “airport terminal“ architecture, that you find these days was that it is such an awful area. If they had built a state-of-the-art architecture for that plant, it would have made everything else looking even worse.


That was the first project we got involved with. Funnily enough I have to mention this answering your question on Ferrybridge. During STV2 “Ferrybridge 1” was already in the planning and when we got finally involved it was too late for us to get specified. Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) encouraged us to engage directly with the contractors and it was historically the last opportunity we had to do such a project directly with the subcontractor. To me this experience is still proof that it is better working directly with the companies who are behind the technology.


Ferrybridge 2” was quite interesting in a different way. There was a new approach being tested and it is worth noting that someone like us within the context of such a project is fair game. We are not permanently on site and in a construction project you always need somebody to blame when something goes wrong. The easiest one to be blamed is the one who is not in the room – and that was Sikla.


There was at the time a contractor involved who got forced to use our products and they did not like that. Therefore, whenever something went wrong, it was Sikla's fault. It was a stressful time. In the end, we got there, and could put the record straight, but it is nothing that I remember with a great deal of delight.


LW - You talked about the architecture there and I am sure obviously other parts of the Northeast have great architecture. One of the plants you worked on was the Amager Bakke facility in Copenhagen. That has a ski slope on it. What was it like working on a facility with that kind of design concept?


HS - It did not make a difference and it took me a while to understand how it worked, as it is an artificial ski slope. First, when I saw the imagery, I thought it is a real ski slope and that did not really make sense to me. Do you know whether this is a success?


LW - It opened just before COVID, so they had to close it. However, it is outside and they are getting people through. I have a friend who lives in Copenhagen and he has been to it. It is a tourist attraction now.


HS - Normally, Denmark would not be our purview from a Sika Group perspective. What happened was that Volund was, 10 years ago, still a formidable player in the UK market. We had good success with them initially. They tested our approach in a smaller project, which was also in Denmark. Like Ferrybridge, the skiing slope facility was quite big as far as I remember. 


LW - I think it is 450 000 tons isn't it?


HS – The planning was already done and there was nothing for us to convince them to specify Sikla. What happens the way this traditionally works with the pipe supports is that contractors are using traditional steel. When I say traditional steel, you must think of a double flanged beam or a parallel flanged steel. This is because there are significant forces involved when the pipe work is hot, which is the case in thermal facilities. The 3D software that contractors use during the design phase has what is called a “steelwork design module”. It offers all the generic steel structures including structural data. What the designers do, is picking the correct sections for the correct forces and then they specify the detail how it must be welded. This is then sent out to several companies, local fabricators, who would receive what is called the “pipe support book” and against that book someone will eventually fabricate.


There is one big problem here, which is that it can only be done against the virtual reality. You simply cannot wait until the project is ready and then go in and measure everything. You must have a certain degree of reliability that the computer model is close to what you face on site. You have got building tolerances and there is a certain degree of experience.


The truth is, because the traditional steel is an extremely accurate specification and fabrication process, the holes must be in the right position so that bolts from componentry can be received in the right position. It must be right and there is, of course, a certain discrepancy. I know from our clients this is usually around 10% plus. What it means is: you fabricate 100 pipe supports against the computer model and you would expect 10 of them to be fabricated again simply because they were not right. Altering the fabricated steel is economically usually not viable because it is difficult to change a product that is fully coated and has holes in the wrong position. This is usually more expensive than making the whole thing again. 


Coming back to Amager Bakke, what happened was that the contractor, who had fabricated against that virtual reality, did a large amount of pipe supports against the wrong revision of the model. I still have photos that show an entire courtyard outside the skiing slope facility with hundreds of supports that had to be scrapped because they could not be used, due to something having been fundamentally wrong with that revision.


People use Sikla because it is state of the art, saves weight, is more adjustable and more adaptable. Consequently, Volund came to us and said we have not got the time to do this again because it is taking so many weeks. We were by then in a position when people were already on site in high visibility vests and installing pipe work. All these supports, which could not be used, had to be translated into our system and subsequently fabricated to be delivered again.


We could not work like this in each project. If we would work like this each time, we would have to employ five times more people than we do, and it would not be an economically attractive proposition anymore. So, it was highly subsidised customer service and that is what our experience was.


LW – You were also on the Port Clarence project, which was the same builder and that was the steel structure issue and that project never finished
I wanted to ask you about projects, because the two projects you mentioned, Ferrybridge and Amager Bakke had delays, but Port Clarence could not complete. So, what is it like when a project does not work and it is not your fault?


HS – Terrible. I have been very humble in terms of downplaying the significance of what Sikla does in these plants, but as far as those projects are concerned, pipe supports were indeed a significant contributor to the delay.


We are talking the same contractor here and when we had our first discussions with them, they were proud of having been a company that does two projects a year and does everything in-house. That made it so smooth at the beginning because we were talking to people who had been with Volund for many years and approached it calmly, implementing our product into the relevant E3D software, which was PDMS at the time. It worked well, but what then happened was, the UK market suddenly became crazy with all the opportunities to get projects, that they left this track, and Volund suddenly took on more than the two projects a year.


Port Clarence was part of a package that they internally referred as “3 plus 1”. Three biomass plants, the other ones were called Templeborough and Margam. “Plus 1” was a traditional waste incinerator in Scotland, Dunbar.


We observed, as a supplier, that this proudly expressed philosophy to do everything in-house could not work anymore because they had too much in the order book and did something that they had no experience with, which was outsourcing. Within a brief period, they hired a lot of new people and suddenly had to work with design contractors to be competitive with detailed design. At the time they went to Poland and the problem was not the Polish design contractor, the problem was that the principal contractor had no experience with the outsourcing of that package.


It went completely pear-shaped. We ended up with people from Volund at our offices for, at times, several weeks, just to make sure that the stuff is done against the latest revision and on time.


The problem is that you must have it right when it is on site. If I may reveal one success factor of HZI, I will not say anymore otherwise I will be in trouble, which is that they understood advanced detailing being what makes this a success. It means that the opposite would be not detailing enough, leaving too much to chance. That is exactly what happened with Port Clarence and Co.: many details had not been done and equipment had to be stick-built on site. That is when this usually becomes messy.


LW  - A story in so many other industries, isn't it? A company is successful, expands, expands too far and falls apart.


HS - It is the density of services, services meaning the mechanical electrical services. EfW's are small volumetric building structures with a massive density of pipework and electrical cable trays. It is like the difference between opening the bonnet of an old Fiat 500 or a Porsche, where when you open it, there is hardly any space for more.


The problems, in terms of execution, happen when companies conceive energy from waste incinerators as construction projects and apply the usual blame culture. In normal construction projects, you still have the situation that people believe that by shouting at one another and asking for more men they can solve anything. This is not how it works when you have no space and extremely high fines in case you cannot hand over to the client on time. These are 24/7 operated plants; their secret is detailing as much as you can. Building it really like a machine.


Would you like to know more about how Sikla can support you in your next Energy-from-Waste project?

Sikla UK are leaders within the Sikla group for power generation projects and can support any project across the globe. View our references here or contact our specialist in Energy-from-Waste projects:

Lucia GLucia Giraudo

Global Key Account Manager | Energy-from-Waste

+44 (0) 7912 290 386



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