By Barney Smith

Back in the bad, old, coal-fired days, Drax produced more electricity than any other British power station – 1,326 MW or 4.59 per cent of British Grid Demand. Drax still produces more electricity than any other power station, but it now produces electricity by burning, not fossil fuels but biomass, in the form of pellets derived from North American residues, or by-products, from forestry and from agriculture, along with organic wastes. The advantage of biomass over other renewables is that some electricity can be supplied  as well to the Grid even when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. Inevitably the process is somewhat controversial.

But Drax now plans to go further and actually produce negative emissions, which are created when a process results in “More CO 2 being taken out of the atmosphere than added into it”. As explained above, Drax already uses large amounts of biomass to produce electricity. But when biomass is processed, CO2 from the exhaust emissions, or from the process emissions, can be captured as well. This CO2 can then be stored under the ground, or the CO2 can be used in chemical processes to produce further materials. For the CO2 absorbed by plants during their growth is not being re-admitted to the atmosphere but stored in products or underground. This whole process is called BECCUS, (Bioenergy with carbon capture and utilisation or storage).

This means that CO2 is actually extracted from the atmosphere, which is vital to reduce global warming and indeed is probably our best chance of staying within the parameters set as long ago as the  COP meeting in Paris. BECCUS has actually been around for a decade or so, though admittedly more as a theory than as a commercial reality, but given the apparent enthusiasm for the BECCUS project involving Drax, one would have expected more activity on the part of the British Government than has been evident.

It seems that the British Government, having some years ago called off a competition which involved CCUS on the somewhat dubious grounds that a competition could not be valid without at least two competitors, has finally decided to renew its BECCUS credentials. In among the flurry of papers on energy released at the end of last month was the announcement that, while there was no specific mention of the Drax project as one of those which the Government plans to “ …proceed to negotiations for support through the relevant business models”, there was a somewhat timid statement that there will be further announcements that will include projects on Humberside. We are led to believe that one of these announcement will be about the Drax project (See Greenbarrel of 18 April for more details.)

We shall see. After all, as recently as April 21 2023 the technology press view was that backing Drax will ensure the Government hits {it’s} net zero targets, protects UK energy security, regenerates the Humber and leads the world in carbon capture.

Can that be so bad?