Sheffield Energy Recovery Facility

Sheffield Energy Recovery Facility. More than 140 buildings, including leisure centres, hotels, houses, schools and colleges and offices use energy recovered from waste generated by the city. Image: Andy Kelly

It is a landmark on the Sheffield landscape but may not be the most welcome. This is the Sheffield Energy Recovery Facility on Bernard Road, a stone throw from the city centre.

It can treat up to 240,000 tonnes of the city’s household waste per annum, and its incinerator supplies heat to a local district heating scheme. Owned by Sheffield City Council, the plant is operated by Veolia under a 35 year contract.

Waste is tipped into a waste storage bunker and fed into a single incineration unit where it is burned in excess of 850ºc. A large boiler above it is heated to produce superheated steam at 400ºc. A condensing steam turbine uses this steam to generate electricity for the National Grid and produce hot water for the District Energy Network.

Facilities like Ponds Forge, Park Hill Flats, the Lyceum Theatre, Millennium Galleries, Weston Park Hospital, and Sheffield City Hall, all benefit with heating from the system, delivered through more than 44km of underground pipes.

In 2001, Greenpeace declared it the worst incinerator in England, and painted ‘Toxic Crime’ on the chimney. The council had to privatise the plant because it could not afford the cost to upgrade it. The contract passed to Onyx (later Veolia) which replaced it in 2006 with modern plant to meet strict environmental standards.

However, Sheffield Green Party claimed it was still responsible for 31,308 tonnes of harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Further controversy surfaced in 2017 when Veolia was forced to admit that it was diverting recyclable waste from household waste recycling centres to the incinerator. In addition, it began accepting waste from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire after difficulty finding enough local waste to feed it.

The controversies appear to have quietened down, and people like me, assume that smoke belching from the large chimney is ‘safe.’

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