A GERMAN energy giant is in talks to build a £90m wood-fired power plant in Southampton.

Evonik Industries, Germany’s fifth biggest energy producer, plans to search the city to find a site for a biomass station that could power up to 40,000 homes.

The environmentally-friendly 20 megawatt plant will be fuelled by thousands of tonnes of scrap wood locally sourced from across Hampshire.

As revealed by the Echo last month, some of the timber could be transported by barge up Southampton Water to a station possibly located within Western Docks.

In a major coup for the city, it’s anticipated the scheme would create hundreds of jobs during construction and up to 30 full-time jobs once operational.

It would also be a boost for the county’s timber firms who currently send most of their scrap wood to landfill.

Evonik Industries director of sales and strategic development Hans-Peter Ickemeyer said Southampton was ideally placed to take advantage of the proven and commercially viable renewable energy.

“Biomass ticks all the boxes. We don’t need to grow anything, it’s fuel that is carbon neutral and it would reduce Southampton’s carbon emissions,” he said.

“Southampton seems to be switched on to that because you already have geothermal, so I think the city would be just following its enlightened path.”

The Essen-based firm already has ten biomass plants operating in Germany, including in the city of Dresden, and this is its first move into Britain.

Mr Ickemeyer said he had also discussed with Southampton City Council the possibility of exporting the city’s waste wood to Germany while the plant was being constructed.

The city’s environment boss Cllr Matt Dean confirmed he was in talks with three energy companies, including Evonik Industries, about developing biomass technology in Southampton.

The Cabinet member for environment and transport said he would encourage the firms to build as big as possible if suitable sites can be found.

“What I really want to do is achieve a reduction in the city’s carbon footprint. The great thing about biomass is that there is a lot of commercial interest in it and the technology is proven,” he said.

However, Cllr Dean could not guarantee any of the new stations would be connected to a district heating scheme to provide cheap heat to local residents.

“The carbon footprint of the city is what I am measured on. I will be pushing for a district heating scheme, but not at the exclusion of all else and there is no public money for it,” he added.

He also revealed the plant could be built just outside Southampton, in Eastleigh or Test Valley, if the relevant local authority gave the go ahead, and the power could be transported back into the city.

A 20MW plant would need a four-acre site and burn about 135,000 tonnes of waste wood a year.

Wood is a raw material that has taken up exactly as much carbon dioxide during growth as it releases on burning.

Heat from the burning timber would boil water and the energy in the steam is used to turn turbines that generate electricity.

Any electricity generated will be plugged into the National Grid or sold to a major power supplier, such as the docks.

Mr Ickemeyer added: “As far as Evonik are concerned, we want this to happened the sooner the better. We are standing by if there is the will to do it and we would rather start today than tomorrow.

“There is a big a build up of enquiries for biomass in the UK and hopefully Southampton could be another trailblazer.”