Drax to pilot Europe's first bioenergy carbon capture storage project

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 21 May 2018

REGIONAL power giant Drax is to pilot the first bioenergy carbon capture storage project of its kind in Europe.

The huge electricity generator, which is the reason for being for Immingham’s £130 million globe-leading renewable fuels terminal, could, if successful, make the vital process carbon negative.

The Humber port handles millions of tonnes of biomass, playing a key role, on the quays, between US laden super-size vessels and the Yorkshire power station, with 100 people employed directly on the terminal.

Should this venture be viable, it would remove gases that cause global warming from the atmosphere at the same time as electricity is produced. This means power generation would no longer contribute to climate change, joining solar and wind as a true green force. 

While biomass is readily acknowledged by government as a renewable energy source, it has drawn criticism due to the burning of forest materials. 

Will Gardiner, chief executive of Drax Group, said: “If the world is to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and pursue a cleaner future, negative emissions are a must – and bioenergy carbon capture (BECCS) is a leading technology to help achieve it.

“This pilot is the UK’s first step, but it won’t be the only one at Drax. We will soon have four operational biomass units, which provide us with a great opportunity to test different technologies that could allow Drax, the country and the world, to deliver negative emissions and start to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Read more: Drax adds to UK Government's pledge to bring an end to coal power

Unlike previous CCS projects Drax has been involved with – including the potential of piping out harmful emissions along Humber corridors to the depleted gas chambers below the North Sea – this is an early pilot for a new technology. It will examine the potential of a new form of carbon capture, post combustion on biomass, rather than coal.  

The first demonstration project will see Drax partner with Leeds-based C-Capture and invest £400,000.

Drax Power Station became the largest decarbonisation project in Europe by upgrading its existing facilities and, if the pilot is successful, it will examine options for a similar re-purposing of existing infrastructure to deliver more carbon savings.

A report by the Energy Technology Institute in 2016 has suggested that by the 2050s BECCS could deliver roughly 55 million tonnes of net negative emissions a year in the UK – approximately half the nation’s emissions target.

The first phase of the project, starting this month, will look to see if the solvent C-Capture has developed is compatible with the biomass flue gas at Drax.

A lab-scale study into the feasibility of re-utilising the flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) absorbers at the power station will also be carried out to assess potential capture rates.

Read more: Influential Whitehall group takes in Drax decarbonisation

FGD equipment is vital for reducing sulphur emissions from coal, but has become redundant on three of the generating units at Drax that have been upgraded to use biomass, because the wood pellets used produce minimal levels of sulphur.

Depending on the outcome of a feasibility study, the C-Capture team will proceed to the second phase of the pilot in the autumn, when a demonstration unit will be installed to isolate the carbon dioxide produced by the biomass combustion.

The government’s Clean Growth Strategy identified BECCS as one of several greenhouse gas removal technologies that could remove emissions from the atmosphere and help achieve long term decarbonisation.

Claire Perry, Energy and Clean Growth Minister, said: “We aim to make the UK a world leader in carbon capture usage and storage, a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy. It’s hugely exciting that Drax has chosen to invest in this innovative project, demonstrating how government support for innovation can create an environment where companies can develop new technologies and scale up investment to build the sectors we will need to achieve long term decarbonisation.” 

C-Capture is a spin-out from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leeds, established through funding from IP Group Plc.

Read more: Earnings soar as business strengthens but Drax returns a loss after currency and coal collapses

Chris Rayner, founder of C-Capture and Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Leeds, said: “We have developed fundamentally new chemistry to capture CO2 and have shown that it should be suitable for capturing the carbon produced from bioenergy processes.

“The key part is now to move it from our own facilities and into the real world at Drax. Through the pilot scheme we aim to demonstrate that the technology we’ve developed is a cost-effective way to achieve one of the holy grails of CO2 emissions strategies - negative emissions in power production, which is where we believe the potential CO2 emissions reductions are likely to be the greatest.”   

Andy Duley, director of commercialisation at the University of Leeds, said: “The university has an established track record in working with private sector investors and leveraging its own funds to launch successful spin out companies. C-Capture is the latest example of our continued success in converting research expertise into a valuable service which directly benefits industry, and has the potential to make an impact around the world.”

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