Wärtsilä has secured an order for an engine-driven, combined heat and power (CHP) plant that will run on liquid biofuel, which is extracted from the seeds of the jatropha plant. This CHP plant will be the first ever power plant in the world to produce both electricity and heat using crude jatropha oil as fuel.

The power plant will be located in an agricultural area in Merksplas, Belgium. The contract is valued at approximately €7 million. The plant will be owned by Greenpower NV, which is a joint venture between Thenergo (50%), the Belgian developer of sustainable energy projects, four local agricultural companies (40%), and a private investor (10%).

“The significance of this order is that it will be the first in the world whereby our engines are to run on vegetable oil from the jatropha plant and to produce both electricity and heat. Jatropha oil is a liquid biofuel that has great potential since jatropha can also be harvested outside the world’s rainforest areas, even near deserts. It is a step towards using CO2-neutral fuels that do not compete with other valuable food crops,” says Ronald Westerdijk, Wärtsilä’s business development manager for the Benelux countries.

Under this turnkey contract, Wärtsilä will deliver the CHP plant utilizing a Wärtsilä 20V32 engine with an electrical output of 9MW, sufficient to serve approximately 20,000 households. The scope of supply also includes exhaust gas cleaning equipment and heat recovery systems. The plant will have a gross electrical efficiency of 44.2% and an overall efficiency of more than 85%, which will result in a saving of more than 36,000t of CO2 per year.

Commercial operation of the CHP plant is scheduled to begin in February 2009. Heat from the plant will be used primarily for farming processes, in nearby greenhouses. It will also be used in a drying process, which is part of a livestock farming manure digester plant that processes biogas and dry fertilizer material. Electricity will be sold to the grid.

Wärtsilä is seen as a reliable and experienced partner with a strong portfolio of references in supplying CHP plants operating on liquid biofuel, and the supply of long-term operations and maintenance (O&M) services. Accordingly, Greenpower and Wärtsilä have signed a letter of intent for a ten-year O&M agreement.

Jatropha: promising fuel

Jatropha oil is extracted from the seeds of the jatropha plant. The seeds are a non-edible, high-energy fruit, grown on semi-arid or wasteland. As it is not a food or forage crop, it plays an important role in deterring cattle, and thus protects other valuable food or cash crops. Jatropha seeds can be pressed into oil that can be used to run diesel engines. It can also be used in soap-making. The pressed residue of the seeds is a good fertilizer and can also be used for electricity and heat production.

For the past five years, Thenergo has been researching the sustainable potential of jatropha. The CHP plant project will help Thenergo’s multifuel approach to the production of sustainable energy. Its strategy is to diversify its feedstock base, namely biogas, natural gas, bio-oil, woody biomass and secondary fuels.