New CCUS project to turn biomass emissions into plastic products

Drax Group is set to pilot technology which will see carbon emissions captured from its biomass plant in Yorkshire and used to displace oil in the production of plastics.

Pictured L-R: Leigh Taylor from Econic Technologies, Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng and Drax's vice president for innovation, Jason Shipstone 

Pictured L-R: Leigh Taylor from Econic Technologies, Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng and Drax's vice president for innovation, Jason Shipstone 

The firm has partnered with cleantech firm Econic Technologies to launch the project. Econic Technologies will work with Drax to investigate whether carbon captured using the facility’s existing CCUS array can be used with Econic Technologies’ technology.

Drax claims the move could not only reduce its own emissions but showcase a lower-carbon future for the plastics industry and the sectors it serves, including packaging and car making.

“We’re confident that the CO2 being captured by Drax will be suitable for use in our process, meaning that we could move forward to explore potential commercial opportunities together and accelerate the roll-out of both our technologies and their positive climate impact,” Econic Technologies’ chief executive officer Dr Rowena Sallens said.

Drax’s existing CCUS array, which is being used in partnership with C-Capture, first began capturing carbon in February. Drax claims that it is the first of its kind anywhere around the globe and could eventually enable its Yorkshire site – a former coal-fired plant - to become the world’s first “negative emissions” power station.

In addition to the plastics industry, Drax believes its captured carbon could be a resource for the agriculture sector. It is working with start-up Deep Branch Biotechnology to explore the feasibility of using the CO2 to make proteins for animal feed. Agriculture notably accounts for % of global emissions, with emissions related to animal feed and digestion often cited as challenges on the sector’s low-carbon transition.

“By working with innovative tech companies like Econic and Deep Branch Biotechnology, we are exploring new opportunities for clean growth, which could be critical not only for beating the climate crisis, but also in enabling a just transition, protecting jobs across the North – delivering for the economy and the environment,” Drax Group’s chief executive Will Gardiner said, alluding to the company’s work with National Grid and Equinor on the creation of a net-zero industrial hub in Humber.

Those interested in finding out more about Econic Technologies can listen to The Net-Zero November Business Relay episode of edie’s Sustainable Business Covered Podcast, which features an exclusive interview with Dr Sallens.

Low-carbon controversy

Drax describes itself as a “negative emissions pioneer”, given its work to pilot CCUS at scale in the UK. After closing its remaining two coal generating units by 2025 and using carbon capture technology on its biomass power generating units, the firm believes it will become carbon negative by 2030.

But the firm has received much bad press this week, after environmental law firm ClientEarth sued the UK Government for its decision to approve a new Drax Group gas-fired power station.

Drax has ceased work on the site as a result of the lawsuit, which claims that the 3.6GW plant would jeopardise the UK’s ability to meet its 2050 net-zero target. Ministers approved the plans earlier this month, despite being advised not to do so by the planning inspectorate, which cited climate concerns.

Drax’s use of biomass has also been criticised in the past. Last year, plaintiffs from six countries filed a lawsuit with the European General Court in Luxembourg. The plaintiffs claimed that forest-grown wood shouldn’t be counted as a source of renewable energy under the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II.

In response, Drax produced a sustainable biomass strategy aimed at removing deforestation from its pellet supply chains. The company owns and operates three pellet mills in the US, which collectively supply one-fifth of the biomass used at its North Yorkshire power station.

Energy Transition Zone

In related news, plans for a new “Energy Transition Zone” in Aberdeen have been unveiled this week by development organisation Opportunity North East.

The £60m project will play host to CCS and offshore wind arrays, and act as a test-bed for hydrogen and energy storage facilities. The Zone will also include servicing, assembly and manufacturing facilities for the offshore wind sector, including floating wind turbines.

Opportunity North East expects the first phase of the project to be completed in 2021 and the remaining work to be completed by 2025. In preparation for its completion, the developer will work with academics and the Oil and Gas Technology Centre to secure new recruits and fine-tune plans around the facility’s model.

“We’ve got the opportunity in the north-east of Scotland to help balance the economy with a new industry, and at the same time, play a really significant role in one of the world’s greatest problems right now in global warming,” Opportunity North East chairman Sir Ian Wood said.

Sir Wood said as his team have had conversations with “a number of potential funders” for the project, including the Scottish Government and the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Aberdeen City Council has also given its backing to the project.

Sarah George



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