Q & A: Munton’s £16.5m Low Carbon Energy Centre

Biomass Energy Centre at Muntons’ Stowmarket site

Q & A: Aidan Morris, Head of Connections and Delivery at AMP, Jonathan Free, Project Manager at Muntons and Mark Flitcroft, Project Manager at Vital Energi.

Aidan, Jonathan and Mark have been working together to manage the delivery of a £16.5 million low carbon energy centre for leading malt product manufacturer and distributor, Muntons. Funded by AMP, the initiative will see the maltster save 15.5 thousand tonnes of carbon per annum at its plant in Stowmarket.

Vital Energi has been contracted to develop the energy centre which will include a biomass boiler and a Gas CHP system with waste heat recovery. It will decarbonise 100,000,000 kWh of heat load each year.

We interviewed Aidan, Jonathan and Mark to find out how the project, which was incubated during a global pandemic, is progressing, the challenges faced and the role of the three businesses in the project development.

What motivated Muntons to initiate such a major low carbon project?

Jonathan – Muntons is a signatory to the science-based targets initiative so we have a number of projects in the pipeline to significantly decarbonise all our operations.

Our gas boilers at the Stowmarket site were approaching the end of their lifespan and we wanted to move away from traditional fuel sources and invest in low carbon biomass. By investing in our Stowmarket site this could help bring us in line with our science-based targets and solve our site energy issues, as well as improve our efficiency.

What is AMP ‘s role in the project?

Aidan – We have funded the project and will install, own and operate it with Munton’s just paying for the heat they use through an energy supply contract. My role is to ensure that we deliver a plant that meets Muntons requirements and comes in on time and to budget.

Since AMP secured the funding I have been working closely with Muntons, our client, and Vital Energi, who we have contracted to build the energy centre. This project was developed in a global pandemic and it is definitely the largest energy project AMP has been involved in, so those two factors alone make it a very exciting project to be part of.

Planning is obviously key to a project of this scale. How did you use the pre-construction period to ensure success?

Mark – There was a lot of ambition to drive down carbon as much as possible and this is what the technical design will achieve. Vital Energi were able to rely on their database of over billion data points to create an improved demand profile.  This allowed us to reduce the size of the plant which increased efficiency.

There has been a lot of collaboration between us all in the planning phase which has been supported by the knowledge and experience of each of the three companies.

What are the major challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?

Jonathan – Without doubt, one of the major challenges has been Covid 19. We’ve had to isolate the energy centre from the rest of the Stowmarket site and restrict access.  Project management between the three businesses has all been via Teams or over the phone. It was a struggle at first, but we’ve definitely adapted to this style of working and dealing with things remotely.

The other major challenge has been linking up the energy centre with the rest of the site’s infrastructure, in particular interfacing the steam produced by the energy centre with the industrial processes. The project sees the energy centre providing our entire site steam capacity and majority of electricity usage so to interface these we’ve had to install vast runs of steam, water, gas, pipework and HGV cabling.

Aidan – This is an engineering project of scale which is being delivered in a relatively tight timeline which has been dictated by meeting the deadlines imposed by the Non Domestic RHI, which has now come to a close. We have had to do lots of things in parallel which ideally you would have done consecutively but we’ve all stepped up to this challenge.

The interface with the kilns on the site has been particularly challenging. There is a high number of stakeholders involved in that and we perhaps underestimated that challenge, but it is one I am confident we will meet.

Mark – This is a huge project, and the logistics are very complex.  We were keen to get the biomass system from Austria to the UK before the possibility of Brexit becoming a potential issue, so that accelerated some aspects of the programme.

From a construction perspective the arrival of 600 tonnes of biomass plant was a key milestone and a logistical challenge around so many deliveries and crane lifts. We’ve also had days when there were multiple trucks arriving and lots of specialists on site.  All this had to be managed to the highest standards of health and safety in the midst of Covid pandemic.

How have the three of you found working together?

Aidan – It’s a great experience to work collaboratively on such a large project. We’ve had weekly project infrastructure sessions, which include a focus on the interfaces. We have also set up task groups to focus on certain issues which have proved challenging.

Mark – As we are three specialist companies, each with their own areas of expertise, this has meant it has been a well-rounded, project, improved significantly from the initial design. 

We’re always looking to learn, share experiences and improve and this project has been a great opportunity to see how other companies work and identify best practice.

Jonathan – Considering we found ourselves in a unique position of conducting 3-way project management on Teams I think we have worked really well together.

Looking back, and looking forward, how would you sum up the project?

Jonathan – I’m really pleased with where we are. This project was rushed in for the RHI, but this is the sort of project you would usually complete in 2 or 3 years. However, we’ve gone from concept to final design to construction and build phase in around a year so I’m very happy with that. The project has had its challenges, but everyone has done a great job and I’m really looking forward to it going live.

Aidan – A lot of work has gone into the project already and there are many more hours still required to get this over the line. We’re currently at quite an intense stage with really skilled technicians on site doing smaller jobs which are absolutely vital. Whilst there is still much to be done, and challenges right to the end, I’m confident the end result will be very impressive.

Mark – This has been, and continues to be, an exciting and challenging project which is reaching the most exciting stage; commissioning and lighting the biomass for the first time. The project will continue to be a fantastic achievement for all parties over many years to come. It is only through the good working relationships that have been forged and the continued collaboration of everyone involved that it has been such a success.