Drax starts commissioning Europe’s first BECCS pilot plant

Article by Amanda Jasi

Foreground (L-R): Andy Koss (Drax) and Chris Rayner (C-Capture). Middleground (L-R): Eva Penalver Garcia (Drax) and Rose McCarthy (C-Capture). Background (L-R): Carl Clayton (Drax) and Caspar Schoolderman (C-Capture).

DRAX, the energy company, has started commissioning of its innovative bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot plant. It is the first project of its kind in Europe. Commissioning started today, on the tenth anniversary of the Climate Change Act.

The pilot plant is located at the Drax Power Station near Selby in North Yorkshire – it is the UK’s biggest power station. If the six-month project is successful, a ton of carbon dioxide will be captured each day from the renewable power generation that Drax carries out using biomass.

For the demonstration project Drax partnered with C-Capture. Drax is investing £400,000 (US$514,149) in what is potentially the first of several pilot projects that could help deliver a rapid, lower-cost demonstration of BECCS.

Over the summer work was carried out to assess if the solvent for capture developed by C-Capture was compatible with the biomass flue gas at Drax Power Station. The work proved successful. A lab-scale feasibility study of the reutilisation of flue gas desulfurisation (FGD) absorbers at the power station was also carried out successfully.

FGD equivalent is vital for reducing sulfur emissions from coal but is not required at four of Drax’s six energy generating units. Four of Drax’s generation units have been converted to biomass, and the wood pellets used for energy generation produce minimal amounts of sulfur.

C-Capture has now moved on to the second phase of the pilot, which is the installation of the demonstration unit. Once it has been commissioned the plant will isolate carbon dioxide produced during combustion of biomass.

If the BECCS pilot is successful Drax plans to examine options for a similar repurposing of existing infrastructure to deliver more carbon savings.

BECCS is critical for the global effort to combat climate change. It would prevent energy generation from contributing to climate change by removing the gases that cause global warming from the atmosphere as the electricity is being generated. It is one of several greenhouse gas removal technologies that were assessed in a joint report released in September this year. The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated that BECCS could be used to capture 50 Mt of carbon dioxide by 2050, which is approximately half the UK’s emissions target.

Will Gardiner, CEO at Drax Group, said: “Our BECCS pilot project is the UK’s first step to delivering a key technology in the fight against climate change. If this project is successful, it could enable Drax to become the world’s first carbon negative power station – something many would never have dreamed possible a decade ago.

“Starting to commission the pilot plant on the tenth anniversary of the Climate Change Act demonstrates the progress made in decarbonising energy in the UK – but there is much more to do, and this will be our focus at the Edinburgh CCS Summit later this week.

“At Drax we want to create a low carbon future – to do that we have to test the technologies that could allow us, as well as the UK and the world, to deliver negative emissions and start to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Claire Perry, minister of energy and clean growth, said: “This major milestone in developing cutting-edge technology to reduce emissions while growing the economy shows our modern Industrial Strategy in action.

“Backed by government funded innovation, Drax has helped put the UK on the map when it comes to carbon capture ahead of pivotal talks with global leaders in Edinburgh this week, which aim to supercharge the global deployment of this game-changing technology.”

Chris Rayner, founder of C-Capture and professor of organic chemistry at the University of Leeds, said: “It’s clear that BECCS is one of a very limited number of viable negative emissions technologies, and is vital if we are to reach our CO2 emissions targets, not just in the UK, but around the World.”

“Being a key part of Europe’s first BECCS demonstration project is a great opportunity to showcase C-Capture’s technology, and through working with Drax, show how we can make a real impact on climate change.”

Caspar Schoolderman, director of engineering at C-Capture, said: “This is a very important milestone on the pathway to demonstrating and scaling up our exciting new technology. Working closely with the team from Drax has been a great experience, and we look forward to getting the demonstrator fully operational and showing just how good our technology is.”

C-Capture is a Leeds-based, clean energy company, which is a spin out from the department of chemistry at the University of Leeds. It was established through funding from IP Group.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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