Drax plans carbon removal business as biomass sustainability concerns aired

Article by Adam Duckett

Government urged to bolster green assurances and carbon market standards

Drax has been granted approval to add CCS to two of the four biomass-fired units at its power plant in Yorkshire

DRAX is launching a new business focused on building power plants that burn biomass, capture the emissions (BECCS), and then sell the resulting carbon removal credits. The launch follows hot on the heels of the UK government approving the use of CCS at two biomass-burning units at Drax’s massive Selby plant in Yorkshire but comes alongside doubts from the national auditor whether burning biomass is sustainable.

Drax will launch its new business later this year and wants to build BECCS plants around the world capable of removing at least 6m t/y of CO2 from the atmosphere. Trees, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow, are cut down and combusted and the resulting emissions are captured and stored to prevent them from reaching the atmosphere. For every ton of CO2 captured, Drax would then sell a carbon removal credit on the open market to companies looking to offset their emissions.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said: “The new entity will bring focus and will scale the company’s ability to deliver carbon removals to organisations looking to reduce their carbon footprints.”

The benefits to Drax are obvious – it gets paid for the power it produces and the credits. Yet there are questions as to whether the process is sustainable, a key concern given that biomass generated 11% of UK electricity in 2022 and is a pillar of the government’s climate plans. The UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) warned in January that the government cannot demonstrate its approach to making sure biomass burners comply with its sustainability requirements is adequate.

In 2021, 34% of the biomass burned in the UK was imported. This included 9m t of wood pellets, with around 60% arriving from the US, 18% from the European Union, and 16% from Canada.

The government knows there is work to do. Last year, alongside the publication of its biomass strategy, energy minster Graham Stuart noted a consultation will be launched to ensure that the biomass is sustainably sourced.

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.