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UK government gives green light for Drax carbon capture project

24/1/2024

Aerial view of Drax Power Station Photo: Drax Power
Drax power station currently produces around 4% of the UK’s power and 9% of its renewable electricity

Photo: Drax Power

Drax Power has secured development consent from the UK government to add bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology to two of the four biomass units at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire, facilitating the removal of approximately 8mn t/y of CO2 once both units are fully operational.

Drax power station currently produces around 4% of the UK’s power and 9% of its renewable electricity.  

 

‘Climate change is the greatest challenge we face and the UK needs to use every option available to reduce carbon emissions and reach net zero as urgently as possible,’ comments Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax Group. ‘To hit the UK’s annual carbon removal target, we need to build BECCS at Drax power station.’ He also notes that policy support for deploying BECCS grew in 2023, including the publication of the UK’s Biomass Strategy.

 

The company reports that recent Baringa analysis found that delivering BECCS at Drax power station could save the UK £15bn in whole economy costs between 2030 and 2050, equivalent to around £700mn/y, ‘providing a more efficient, cost effective and straightforward pathway to meeting net zero targets than other potential options’. These other potential options ‘could include, for example, investment in synthetic natural gas production facilities costing £8.5bn, committing to 735,000 more heat pumps beyond existing stretch targets, costing £5bn, amongst other measures’, says Drax.

 

The company also claims the BECCS project could deliver up to 10,000 high-skilled jobs in the Humber at the peak of the project’s construction as well as safeguarding 7,000 direct and supply chain jobs, and says it aims to source up to 80% of the materials and services it needs to develop BECCS in the UK from British businesses.

 

However, the announcement was decried by environmental groups, who have long campaigned against the burning of imported wood pellets and believe the UK should be focusing on ‘genuinely green’ renewables such as wind, solar and battery storage. They point to research questioning the sustainability of the practice and the cost of the proposed project to taxpayers.  

 

Drax is the UK’s largest single-source of CO2 emissions. According to an Ember report, in 2022 Drax generated just over 4% of the UK’s total electricity but was responsible for 20% of UK power sector emissions.  

 

In its defence, Drax claims that the use of biomass pellets reduces the plant’s carbon emissions by 80% compared to coal, and that such burning is carbon neutral as regrowing sustainable forests absorbs similar amounts of CO2 as burning the wood in a power plant.  

 

Commenting on the development consent, Dr Doug Parr, Head of Policy at Greenpeace UK, said: ‘Slapping a carbon capture plant on the back of a mass burn biomass station does not make it a clean source of energy. The environmental and human downsides of large-scale pellet production and burning haven’t gone away. Carbon capture has a poor record on cost and delivery so while it might be appropriate for the decarbonisation of very challenging niche sectors, it certainly isn’t for the power sector where alternative, cheaper zero-carbon technologies exist.’

 

Shortly after the development consent was awarded, the UK government launched a consultation on potential transitional arrangements to support large-scale biomass electricity generators in their planned move to BECCS technology, which it claims ‘has the potential to deliver a significant volume of carbon removals that can make an important contribution to our net zero ambitions… [while] supporting the UK’s energy security’.

 

The consultation announcement, too, was decried by environmental groups that have long opposed the renewable energy subsidies paid to Drax over the years.