Green "Volcano" to Power U.K. Town

The proposed Teesside power station.

Most people wouldn't want to live within a stone's throw of a volcano. But the residents of Stockton-on-Tees in northeastern England may soon rely on their friendly neighborhood "peak" for green power.

With construction due to start in late 2010, a proposed tower of power (pictured above in a design by Heatherwick Architecture) would produce energy and heat for more than a hundred thousand homes, organizers say.

The volcano-shaped biomass station was designed to blend into the surrounding grasslands close to Middlehaven, a derelict former industrial area that is being "regenerated" into a community with striking architecture, said Matthew Day, project director for development at Bio Energy Investments.

Rather than building a small, inconspicuous station, Day said, "we thought, no, we're going to celebrate our power station and do something big and bold."

Palm kernel shells—waste from palm-oil plantations in Malaysia—would run the 279-foot-high (85-meter-high) biomass plant, ensuring that no existing agricultural land is switched to growing biofuels rather than food.

The waste shells would be delivered by ship to the riverside plant, reducing traffic on local roads.

The plant's entire operations—including fuel transportation from Malaysia—would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent as compared with running a coal-powered plant, Day said, and no black cloud of smoke would be visible from the "dead quiet" station. (Learn more about biofuels.)

Being so close to a residential area also has a key advantage: Waste heat thrown off during electricity generation can be captured and used to heat nearby houses. This would also be a step in creating lower-carbon communities, Day said, adding that local people have been extensively consulted for the project.

"What we're trying to do is put in a power station that is connecting with an urban area in a much more engaging way than trying to hide it and put it to the side," he said.