Drax unveils plans to host UK’s largest carbon capture project by 2027

Drax first began capturing carbon from bioenergy processes in 2019 

In a statement released on Monday (1 March), the firm confirmed that it will apply for a Development Consent Order (DCO) from the Government this month, in order to install the UK’s first commercial-scale BECCS array at its facility in Selby, North Yorkshire.

Drax first began capturing carbon from the bioenergy production process in early 2019, after working with C-Capture to pilot carbon capture technology. It then formed partnerships with firms including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to scale-up capture capacity and to supply captured carbon to industries including beverages and materials.

If the DCO is granted, Drax believes it will be able to capture eight million tonnes of CO2e every year using the new infrastructure.

The DCO process takes around two years to complete. With this in mind, Drax believes that construction on the project will be able to begin in 2024 and that it will be fully operational by 2027. Throughout the application process, Drax will keep a digital consultation open.

Drax claims that it already has sufficient contractual plans to meet the biomass supply demands of the expanded infrastructure – and to do so in a sustainable way, following past criticism of its sourcing practices. It is planning to acquire Canadian wood pellet producer Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc to boost its self-supply capacity.

“At Drax, we are very proud of the great strides already made in transforming the business to become the UK’s largest single-site renewable power generator, producing enough renewable electricity for up to four million homes and protecting thousands of jobs in the process,” Drax Group chief executive officer Will Gardiner said.

“With BECCS we can go even further – we will be permanently removing millions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere and making a significant contribution to efforts to address the climate emergency, whilst creating thousands of new jobs and supporting a post-Covid-19 economic recovery.”

Broader business plans

Under Gardiner, Drax has developed an ambition to become a carbon negative company by 2030. The firm cut its absolute carbon emissions for the first half of 2019 by 52%, compared to the same period in 2018, largely due to a business model shift away from coal and into biomass, CCS and hydropower.

Drax is planning to end commercial coal-fired electricity generation altogether at the Selby power station this month.

The firm had faced criticism and a legal challenge for its proposals to build a gas power facility at the site. Lawyers at ClientEarth argued that the proposed project, which would have been the largest of its kind in Europe, was not aligned with the UK’s long-term climate goals. Drax ceased the project of its own accord, with these considerations in mind, last month.

UK policy snapshot

In its initial recommendations to the UK Government on achieving a net-zero national economy by 2050, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) concluded that current technological solutions and stronger policy frameworks could enable the UK to reduce emissions by around 97% against a 1990 baseline.

The remaining 3% could be achieved by the scale-up of CCS solutions and hydrogen energy technology – both listed as a “necessity, not an option”.

However,  CCS is not without its controversies. Critics have argued that fossil fuel majors and other high emitters may use the technology to continue with ‘business-as-usual’ models that have other negative environmental impacts, for example.

When CCS is used in conjunction with biomass, there are still questions to be asked about strong sourcing procedures and supply chain management. Poor land management practices have been linked to climate change and biodiversity loss by bodies including the IPCC. Drax has produced a sustainable biomass strategy aimed at removing deforestation from its pellet supply chains, but only did so after experiencing external pressure. Some other major players in the sector do not yet have such plans.

Under the 2050 net-zero ambition, the UK Government has committed to fully decarbonising at least one industrial cluster by 2040. Drax is part of one of the UK’s major net-zero industrial cluster projects alongside Equinor and National Grid. Other large-scale, collaborative projects are underway in locations including Grangemouth, South Wales and Southampton.

A recent recommendation paper to BEIS detailed how Ministers should support multiple clusters and also take a broader look at the need for ‘dispersed’ CCS sites. Other bodies, including Chatham House and the CCC, are warning of a risk that the Government could over-prioritise emerging solutions like CCS over those already in existence and also underestimate the need for behavioural change.

Sarah George

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