Drax in talks with UK government after pausing BECCS investment

Article by Amanda Jasi

At its North Yorkshire site, Drax has tested multiple carbon capture technologies to use alongside bioenergy

DRAX has paused its £2bn (US$2.48bn) investment programme in bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) while it awaits clarity on the UK’s commitment to the technology.

It has entered formal discussion with the UK government on the future of Drax’s BECCS investment programme and warned that the project is essential for the UK to achieve its goal of capturing 5m t/y of CO2 using engineered greenhouse gas removals technology (GGRs).

In mid-March, the UK government announced its spring budget, which included up to £20bn to support carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) across the nation. Though Drax welcomed this support, it said that because its BECCS project failed to gain Track 1 status, it may become unviable and unable to contribute secure power “at a time of such critical need”. It announced it has paused its investment programme in BECCS at Drax power station, following which the UK government invited the company to enter formal bilateral discussions.

Drax claims that BECCS is the only technology that can produce reliable renewable power, provide system support services, and permanently remove CO2 at scale. Drax has tested multiple carbon capture technologies at its power station, including technology based on metal organic framework sorbents through a partnership with the UK’s University of Nottingham and Promethean Particles.

Will Gardner, CEO of Drax, says: “Delivery of BECCS at Drax power station will help the UK achieve its net zero targets, create thousands of jobs across the north, and help ensure the UK’s long-term energy security […] With the right engagement from government and swift decision making, Drax stands ready to progress our £2bn investment programme and deliver this critical project for the UK by 2030.”

Drax’s power station project has already passed the government’s deliverability assessment for the power with BECCS submission process, the outcome of which was announced on the same day as the release of its Powering Up Britain strategy. It was chosen alongside a project by Lynemouth Power. While the projects have not been selected for Track 1, the UK’s Department of Energy Security and Net Zero is engaging further with both projects.

Tracks to development

In its recently unveiled Powering Up Britain strategy, the UK government announced the eight projects that would progress under its two Track 1 CCUS clusters, which it has scheduled for deployment in the mid-2020s. These will be joined by two more clusters by 2030 as the government seeks to achieve its goal of capturing 20–30m t/y CO2.

During 2022, the UK government progressed carbon removal projects including power with BECCS in parallel with the Track 1 process. However, power with BECCS and other shortlisted projects are not in the immediate Track 1 process.

The UK government plans to bring further projects into Track 1 by 2030, and it has launched the Track 2 cluster process with BECCS eligible for both.

A role for BECCS

The UK government says it is committed to further developing industrial carbon capture, waste, CCUS-enabled hydrogen, power with CCUS, and engineered GGRs. This includes working closely with electricity generators currently using biomass to help them make use of CCS. 

Additionally, the government will publish its biomass strategy this year, which will outline the role that BECCS can play in reducing carbon emissions across the economy and set out how the technology could be deployed. This year, the government will also publish its responses to consultations on GGR and BECCS.

In June 2022, the government published its consultation of engineered GGR business models that could support technologies such as direct air capture with carbon storage (DACCS), seawater CO2 removal, and certain BECCS applications. Publication of the power with BECCS consultation and submission process followed in August 2022.

There are concerns about the sustainability of the BECCS process and supply chain. Almuth Ernsting, co-director from Biofuelwatch, has criticised Drax’s operation, warning it will “burn vast quantities of wood from clear-cut, carbon-rich, and biodiverse forests”. She added that “a stable climate needs more, not less, thriving forest ecosystems”.

The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee has also raised concerns about the sustainability of importing biomass feedstock for Drax’s BECCS facility and noted that a full life cycle analysis has not been calculated.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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