drax power station

Drax becomes the first power station to capture carbon from biomass

Image credit: DT

Drax Power Station says it has become the first to use carbon capture technology on burning wood pellets in the fight against climate change.

Drax has long been a testing ground for carbon capture following a government-funded investigation into the technology in 2012, although the subsequent removal of subsidies ended that trial.

This latest trial implements a different solution known as bioenergy carbon capture and storage (Beccs). It uses a solvent developed by Leeds-based C-Capture to isolate carbon dioxide from flue gases, which are released when biomass is used to generate electricity. It has been used to catch around a tonne of the greenhouse gas a day during the pilot.

There are even hopes that if the pilot could be scaled up it could deliver “negative emissions” and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Data being obtained about the CO2-capture process will continue to be analysed throughout the pilot to fully understand the potential of the technology and how it could be extended.

The technology is capturing around 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide in the flue gases it is treating in the trial, though at the moment the gas is not being stored after capture.

The trial will also aim to identify and develop ways to store and use the carbon dioxide being captured, Drax said.

Suggestions include supplying carbon dioxide to the drinks industry or building up a network of industries which pipe their pollution into storage deep under the North Sea.

£400,000 has been invested in the pilot, which could be the first of several projects undertaken at the power station to deliver a rapid, lower-cost demonstration of Beccs.

Drax said the trial is the first time carbon dioxide has been captured from the combustion of 100 per cent biomass anywhere in the world.

Carbon capture and storage, which catches the carbon emissions produced when burning fossil fuels for electricity generation and stores it deep underground, is seen as a way of cutting the pollution driving climate change.

But global emissions must fall to zero overall to curb rising temperatures, with any remaining pollution from sectors such as agriculture or aviation offset by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

This could include “negative emissions” technology such as Beccs, where carbon is taken out of the atmosphere while the trees or plants grow but, rather than being released when it is burned, it is captured and stored.

C-Capture’s director of engineering Caspar Schoolderman said the challenge was to get the information needed to design and build a capture plant that was 10,000 times bigger – a scale that could start to have an impact on the climate.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group chief executive said: “Proving that this innovative carbon-capture technology works is an exciting development and another important milestone in our Beccs project.

“Climate change affects us all so this is of real significance – not just for us at Drax, but also for the UK and the rest of the world.

“The successful deployment of Beccs requires us to identify ways in which the carbon dioxide we’re now capturing can be stored or used in other processes, and we’re working with the government and other businesses on that.”

Minister for Energy and Clean Growth Claire Perry said: “This innovative technology has the potential to make huge strides in our efforts to tackle climate change while kick-starting an entirely new cutting-edge industry in the UK.

“World firsts like this will help us to realise our ambition of having a first operational plant by the mid-2020s as we continue to seize the opportunities of moving to a greener, cleaner economy – a key part of our modern industrial strategy.”

Drax power station has converted four of its six units to run entirely on biomass, with the remaining two units still burning coal.

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