The transportation of biomass, a challenge that in the North of England has been overcome by the development of specially designed freight wagons has reached a milestone with energy generation company Drax taking delivery of its 200th specially designed wagon. These freight wagons, developed as part of a partnership between Lloyds Register Rail, WH Davis and Drax are both the UK’s first purpose-built biomass rail freight wagon and the largest of its kind ever produced. Since entering operations in 2013 the rolling stock have collectively travelled over 12 million miles in the North East of England and transported around 4.5 million tonnes of sustainable biomass – enough to power 2.5 million homes with low carbon, affordable and reliable renewable electricity.
The partnership has played a major role in ongoing developments in Drax’s supply chain as part of its conversion to burning sustainable biomass in place of coal – a process which has seen Drax transform from the UK’s largest emitter of CO2 to Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Biomass is biological material obtained from living or recently living plant matter that can be processed into electricity, fuel and heat. In this case the materials that Drax use include sustainable forestry and forestry residues, residual agricultural products, such as straw, sunflower seed husks and peanut husks, and purpose grown energy crops.
The wagons, developed with the help of engineers at Ricardo Rail (formerly Lloyd’s Register Rail) and are 18.88m long with top doors stretching 18.2m and bottom doors of 3.724m, the supersize wagon has a capacity of 116 cubic metres, allowing a biomass load weighing 71.6 tonnes. Its volume is almost 30 per cent bigger than any other freight wagon currently used in the UK. It has won a number industry awards, including the ‘Rolling Stock Excellence’ category at the Rail Business Awards 2014.
Peter Emery, Group Operations Director of Drax Group plc said: “This milestone demonstrates the sheer scale of our decarbonisation project as we replace coal with sustainable biomass providing a reliable and affordable source of electricity. Lloyds Register Rail and WH Davis have been important partners in the development of our biomass operations. The delivery of our 200th wagon marks a major stage in a process which has been a huge success both in terms of modifications to Drax’s supply chain and for UK engineering as a whole.”
Unlike coal, which can be transported in open-top wagons, the transportation of biomass material must be protected from the elements during transit. After the success of previous a project to design and retro-fit an existing fleet of coal wagons with top-doors to protect the load, Drax wanted to develop a purpose built fleet for carrying biomass. The brief presented engineers with a number of challenges if they were to achieve the increased capacity whilst remaining within the limits of the national loading gauge. The final design of the biomass rail freight wagons includes many novel innovations that have subsequently been patented, including unique door designs and a product flow control to protect the biomass during loading and discharge, which also helps to reduce wastage.
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