Drax launches Europe’s first bioenergy carbon capture project

Energy group Drax has announced today (21 May) that it will lead the first bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) project in Europe during a trial of new technology at its north Yorkshire power station.

The £400,000 trial, which Drax said “could be the first of several”, could make the renewable electricity produced at the UK’s largest power station carbon-negative if it is successful. It is being jointly funded and undertaken by C-Capture – a spin-out from the University of Leeds, and is set to be a “rapid, low cost demonstration of BECCS“, Drax said in a statement.

“If the world is to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and pursue a cleaner future, negative emissions are a must – and BECCS is a leading technology to help achieve it,” Drax’s chief officer Will Gardiner said. “We will soon have four operational biomass units, which provide us with a great opportunity to test different technologies that could allow Drax, the country and the world, to deliver negative emissions and start to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

The first phase of the new BECCS project will begin this month, examining whether a solvent developed by C-Capture is compatible with the biomass gas at the North Yorkshire plant. A lab-scale study into the feasibility of re-utilising the flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) absorbers at the power station will also be carried out to assess potential capture rates.

Depending on the outcome of a feasibility study, the C-Capture team will proceed to the second phase of the pilot this autumn by installing a demonstration unit to isolate the carbon dioxide produced by the biomass combustion.

Drax previously signed up for a £1bn scheme to build a prototype CCS plant, but pulled out in 2015 after then-Chancellor George Osborne axed the government’s flagship £1bn CCS development competition, which would have funded the development.

Its latest foray into CCS has been praised by energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry, who said the trial could help the UK meet its Industrial Strategy aim of becoming a world leader in CCS.

“It’s hugely exciting that Drax has chosen to invest in this innovative project, demonstrating how government support for innovation can create an environment where companies can develop new technologies and scale up investment to build the sectors we will need to achieve long term decarbonisation,” Perry added.

CCS is the most cost-effective way of meeting climate change targets and needs to be deployed sooner rather than later, according to the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). The organisation has previously highlighted that the UK has “more than enough” potential CCS sites to meet legally binding 2050 carbon targets in a cost-effective manner, which apparently could save up to £2bn annually throughout the 2020s. The ETI additionally estimates that BECCS could deliver roughly 55 million tonnes of net negative emissions a year in the UK – approximately half the nation’s emissions target – by the 2050s.

Wind overtakes nuclear

The announcement comes just days after the publication of a report by Imperial College London and Drax found that windfarms have produced more electricity than the UK’s eight nuclear power stations for the first time across the first quarter of 2018.  

The latest Drax Electric Insights report reveals that windfarms produced 15,560 TWh of electricity – 30 TWh more than nuclear power plants – over the three-month period. It also notes that wind produced an unprecedented 18.8% of the electricity share over the quarter and at peak on March 17, supplied a record 47.3% of the country’s demand.

The findings show progress for renewables since the last quarter, when wind and solar combined overtook nuclear generation in Britain for the first time. The renewable energy industry hailed the findings as a sign the UK was well on its way to an electricity system powered by affordable green energy.

The report attributes the growth of wind to factors including the opening in December of a new power cable between Scotland and north Wales, which helped unlock electricity from Scottish windfarms that were previously turned off at certain times to help the National Grid cope. This cable reduced the amount of money and energy lost through wind farm curtailment by two-thirds, the report claims.

Another contributing factor is noted as the fact that two nuclear plants were temporarily offline for routine maintenance during the quarter, while another was briefly shut because of seaweed in the cooling system.

Across the sector, the report states that renewables made up 26% of the UK’s generation mix while all low carbon sources – wind, solar, biomass and nuclear – accounted for 49%. 

But while coal’s energy output proportion dropped to just 9.8% (15.6 TWh), renewables still have a long way to go to catch up with gas, which continues to be the UK’s top source of electricity with a 39.4% share (27.8 TWh).

The report coincides with the publication of a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report which argues that the UK has no need to build new large gas-fired power stations to replace the coal plants that the government has pledged to switch off by 2025.

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    This report tells me nothing, as a chemist, about just what the project proposes to do. Will any further information be forthcoming.
    I see that electricity generation by renewables is still quoted in TWh, which tells me little about its usefulness; electricity is useful only at its moment of generation.
    Richard Phillips

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