Drax announces next step in accelerating its plans for carbon capture development. The company submitted plans to the Government’s Planning Inspectorate for two large-scale bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) units at its Selby power station.
The BECCS units will add up to the current six boilers, four of which have already been switched to biomass and the other two are still coal-fired but are planned to be switched to biomass in 2023.
Both carbon capture and storage units, when fully operational, would have a combined capture capacity of at least 8 million tonnes per year from 2030. One BECCS unit will be online in 2024 at the earliest and the other will be added by 2030. The company announced it is investing $2.48 billion (£2 billion) this decade on the project.
“Drax’s BECCS project provides the UK with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to kickstart a whole new sector of the economy and lead the world in a vital green technology needed to address the climate crisis,” said the company’s chief executive Will Gardiner.
Its goal is to become carbon-negative by 2030 with biomass burning with carbon capture and storage playing a major role in this process. It states that generation-related emissions are now 90% lower than when the Selby plant was coal-only.
Drax’s continued use of the word “renewable” to describe its electricity generation is a matter of controversy among people from the industry and sustainable organizations. Citi downgraded the company in December 2021 as it does “not fundamentally see biomass as a sustainable source of energy.”
Environmental organizations claim that Drax’s use of biomass undermines Europe’s sustainability goals. In 2019 six countries filed a lawsuit with the European General Court in Luxembourg, claiming that forest-grown wood shouldn’t be counted as a source of renewable energy.
Subsequently, Drax started using carbon capture technology to reduce some of the emissions generated when burning biomass. The first emissions capture at Selby was enabled by technology from C-Capture. Then the company signed an agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and, more recently, with Promethian Particles for the use of the technology.
Burning biomass for energy is a serious concern for the energy industry and environmental organization overseeing the green transition. Drax states that its wood pellet supply chain comes from sustainable sources, however, it is speculative whether burning biomass in such large quantities actually leads to emissions reductions.