Tag: BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage)

An introduction to carbon accounting

Key takeaways:

  • Tracking, reporting, and calculating carbon emissions are a key part of progressing countries, industries, and companies towards net zero goals.
  • As a newly established discipline, carbon accounting still lacks standardisation and frameworks in how emissions are tracked, reduced, and mitigated.
  • The main carbon accounting standard used by businesses is the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, which lays out three ‘Scopes’ businesses should report and act upon.
  • Carbon accounting evolves from reporting in the use of goals and timeframes in which targets are met.
  • Timeframes are crucial in the deployment of technologies like carbon capture, removals, and achieving net zero.

How can countries and companies find a route to net zero emissions? Many organisations, countries and industries have pledged to balance their emissions before mid-century. They intend to do this through a combination of cutting emissions and removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Tracking and quantifying emissions, understanding output, reducing them, and setting tangible targets that can be worked towards are all central to tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – especially when it comes to carbon dioxide (CO2). Emissions and energy consumption reporting is already common practice and compulsory for businesses over a certain size in the UK. However, carbon accounting takes this a step further.

“Carbon reporting is a statement of physical greenhouse gas emissions that occur over a given period,” explains Michael Goldsworthy, Head of Climate Change and Carbon Strategy at Drax. “Carbon accounting relates to how those emissions are then processed and counted towards specific targets. The methodologies for calculating emissions and determining contributions against targets may then have differing rules depending on which framework or standard is being reported against.”

Carbon accounting tools can help companies and counties understand their carbon footprint – how much carbon is being emitted as part of their operations, who is responsible for them, and how they can be effectively mitigated.

Like how financial accounting may seek to balance a company’s books and calculate potential profit, carbon accounting seeks to do the same with emissions, tracking what an entity emits, and what it reduces, removes, or mitigates. Carbon accounting is, therefore, crucial in understanding how countries and companies can contribute to reaching net zero.

A new space

How different organisations, countries and industries approach carbon accounting is still an evolving process.

“It’s as complex as financial accounting, but with financial accounting, there’s a long standing industry that relies on well-established practices and principles. Carbon accounting by contrast is such a new space,” explains Goldsworthy.

Regardless of its infancy, businesses and countries are already implementing standardised approaches to carbon accounting. Regulations such as emissions trading schemes and reporting systems, such as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) and the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), are beginning to deliver some degree of consistency in businesses’ carbon reporting.

Other standards such as the GHG Protocol have sought to provide a standardised basis for corporate reporting and accounting. Elsewhere, voluntary carbon markets (e.g. carbon offsets) have also evolved to allow transferral of carbon reductions or removals between businesses, providing flexibility to companies in delivering their climate commitments.

The challenge is in aligning these frameworks so that they work together. For example, emissions within a corporate inventory or offset programme must be accounted for in a way that is consistent with a national inventory.

To date, these accounting systems have evolved independently with different rules and methodologies. Beginning to implement detailed carbon accounting, upon which emissions reductions and removals can be based, requires standardised understanding of what they are and where they come from.

Reporting and tackling Scope One, Two, and Three emissions

The main carbon accounting standard used by businesses is the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. This voluntary carbon reporting standard can be used by countries and cities, as well as individual companies globally.

The GHG protocol categorises emissions in three different ‘scopes’, called Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3. Understanding, measuring, and reporting these is a key factor in carbon accounting and can drive meaningful emissions reduction and mitigation.

Scope One – Direct emissions

Scope One emissions are those that come as a direct result of a company or country’s activities. These can include fuel combustion at a factory’s facilities, for example, or emissions from a fleet of vehicles.

Scope One emissions are the most straightforward for an organisation to measure and report, and easier for organisations to directly act on.

Scope Two – Indirect energy emissions

Scope Two emissions are those which come from the generation of energy an organisation uses. These can include emissions form electricity, steam, heating, and cooling.

A business may buy electricity, for example, from an electricity supplier, which acquires power from a generator. If that generator is a fossil-fuelled power station the energy consumer’s Scope Two emissions will be greater than if it buys power from a renewable electricity supplier or generates its own renewable power.

The ability to change energy suppliers makes Scope Two relatively straightforward for organisations to act on, assuming renewable energy sources are available in the area.

Scope Three – All other indirect emissions

Scope Three is much broader. It covers upstream and downstream lifecycle emissions of products used or produced by a company, as well as other indirect emissions such as employee commuting and business travel emissions.

Identifying and reducing these emissions across supply and value chains can be difficult for businesses with complex supply lines and global distribution networks. They are also hard for companies to directly influence.

Add in factors like emissions mitigations or offsetting, and the carbon accounting can quickly become much more complex than simply reporting and reducing emissions that occur directly from a company’s activities. Nevertheless, these full-system overviews and whole-product lifecycle accounting are crucial to understanding the true impact of operations and organisations, and to reach climate goals.

Working to timelines

Setting goals with defined timelines and the development of rules that ensure consistent accounting is also crucial to implementing effective climate change mitigation frameworks throughout the global economy. Consider the UK’s aim to be net zero by 2050, or Drax’s ambition to be net negative by 2030, as goals with set timelines.

For many technologies, the time scales over which targets are set have added relevance. There are often upfront emissions to account for and operational emissions that may change over time. Take for example an electric vehicle: the climate benefit will be determined by emissions from construction and the carbon intensity of the electricity used to power it.

A timeline of BECCS at Drax [click to view/download]

Looking at a brief snapshot at the beginning of its life, say the first couple of years, might not show any climate benefit compared to a vehicle using an internal combustion engine. Over the lifetime of the vehicle, however, meaningful emissions savings may become clear – especially if the electricity powering the vehicle continues to decarbonise over time.

This provides a challenge when setting carbon emissions targets. Targets set too far in the future potentially risk inaction in the short term, while targets set over short periods risk disincentivising technologies that have substantial long-term mitigation potential. 

Delivering net zero

Some greenhouse gas emissions will be impossible to fully abate, such as methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture, while other sectors, like aviation, will be incredibly difficult to fully decarbonise. This makes carbon removal technologies all the more critical to ensuring net zero is achieved.

Technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – which combines low-carbon, biomass-fuelled renewable power generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to permanently remove emissions from the atmosphere – are already under development.

However, it is imperative that such technologies are accounted for using robust approaches to carbon accounting, ensuring all emission and removals flows across the value chain are accurately calculated in accordance with best scientific practice. In the case of BECCS, it’s vital that not only are emissions from processing and transporting biomass considered, but also its potential impact on the land sector.

Forests from which biomass is sourced will be managed for a variety of reasons, such as mitigating natural disturbance, delivering commercial returns, and preserving ecosystems. Accurate accounting of these impacts is therefore key to ensuring such technologies deliver meaningful reductions in atmospheric CO2within timeframes guided by science.

Accounting for net zero

While carbon accounting is crucial to reaching a true level of net zero in the UK and globally, where residual emissions are balanced against removals, the practice should not be used exclusively to deliver numerical carbon goals.

“To deliver net zero, it’s vital we have robust carbon accounting systems and targets in place, ensuring we reduce fossil emissions as far as possible while also incentivising carbon removal solutions,” says Goldsworthy.

“However, many removal solutions rely on the natural world and so it is critical that ecosystems are not only valued on a carbon basis but consider other environmental factors such as biodiversity as well.”

What is the carbon cycle?

What is the carbon cycle?

All living things contain carbon and the carbon cycle is the process through which the element continuously moves from one place in nature to another. Most carbon is stored in rock and sediment, but it’s also found in soil, oceans, and the atmosphere, and is produced by all living organisms – including plants, animals, and humans.

Carbon atoms move between the atmosphere and various storage locations, also known as reservoirs, on Earth. They do this through mechanisms such as photosynthesis, the decomposition and respiration of living organisms, and the eruption of volcanoes.

As our planet is a closed system, the overall amount of carbon doesn’t change. However, the level of carbon stored in a particular reservoir, including the atmosphere, can and does change, as does the speed at which carbon moves from one reservoir to another.

What is the role of photosynthesis in the carbon cycle?

Carbon exists in many different forms, including the colourless and odourless gas that is carbon dioxide (CO2). During photosynthesis, plants absorb light energy from the sun, water through their roots, and CO2 from the air – converting them into oxygen and glucose.

The oxygen is then released back into the air, while the carbon is stored in glucose, and used for energy by the plant to feed its stem, branches, leaves, and roots. Plants also release CO2 into the atmosphere through respiration.

Animals – including humans – who consume plants similarly digest the glucose for energy purposes. The cells in the human body then break down the glucose, with CO2 emitted as a waste product as we exhale.

CO2 is also produced when plants and animals die and are broken down by organisms such as fungi and bacteria during decomposition.

What is the fast carbon cycle?

The natural process of plants and animals releasing CO2 into the atmosphere through respiration and decomposition and plants absorbing it via photosynthesis is known as the biogenic carbon cycle. Biogenic refers to something that is produced by or originates from a living organism. This cycle also incorporates CO2 absorbed and released by the world’s oceans.

The biogenic carbon cycle is also called the “fast” carbon cycle, as the carbon that circulates through it does so comparatively quickly. There are nevertheless substantial variations within this faster cycle. Reservoir turnover times – a measure of how long the carbon remains in one location – range from years for the atmosphere to decades through to millennia for major carbon sinks on land and in the ocean.

What is the slow carbon cycle?

In some circumstances, plant and animal remains can become fossilised. This process, which takes millions of years, eventually leads to the formation of fossil fuels. Coal comes from the remains of plants that have been transformed into sedimentary rock. And we get crude oil and natural gas from plankton that once fell to the ocean floor and was, over time, buried by sediment.

The rocks and sedimentary layers where coal, crude oil, and natural gas are found form part of what is known as the geological or slow carbon cycle. From this cycle, carbon is returned to the atmosphere through, for example, volcanic eruptions and the weathering of rocks. In the slow carbon cycle, reservoir turnover times exceed 10,000 years and can stretch to millions of years.

How do humans impact the carbon cycle?

Left to its own devices, Earth can keep CO2 levels balanced, with similar amounts of CO2 released into and absorbed from the air. Carbon stored in rocks and sediment would slowly be emitted over a long period of time. However, human activity has upset this natural equilibrium.

Burning fossil fuel releases carbon that’s been sequestered in geological formations for millions of years, transferring it from the slow to the fast (biogenic) carbon cycle. This influx of fossil carbon leads to excessive levels of atmospheric CO2, that the biogenic carbon cycle can’t cope with.

As a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun between the Earth and its atmosphere, CO2 is essential to human existence. Without CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the planet could become too cold to sustain life.

However, the drastic increase in atmospheric CO2 due to human activity means that too much heat is now retained between Earth and the atmosphere. This has led to a continued rise in the average global temperature, a development that is part of climate change.

Where does biomass fit into the carbon cycle?

One way to help reduce fossil carbon is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, including sustainably sourced biomass. Feedstock for biomass energy includes plant material, wood, and forest residue – organic matter that absorbs CO2 as part of the biogenic carbon cycle. When the biomass is combusted in energy or electricity generation, the biogenic carbon stored in the organic matter is released back into the atmosphere as CO2.

This is distinctly different from the fossil carbon released by oil, gas, and coal. The addition of carbon capture and storage to bioenergy – creating BECCS – means the biogenic carbon absorbed by the organic matter is captured and sequestered, permanently removing it from the atmosphere. By capturing CO2 and transporting it to geological formations – such as porous rocks – for permanent storage, BECCS moves CO2 from the fast to the slow carbon cycle.

This is the opposite of burning fossil fuels, which takes carbon out of geological formations (the slow carbon cycle) and emits it into the atmosphere (the fast carbon cycle). Because BECCS removes more carbon than it emits, it delivers negative emissions.

Fast facts

  • According to a 2019 study, human activity including the burning of fossil fuels releases between 40 and 100 times more carbon every year than all volcanic eruptions around the world.
  • In March 2021, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that average CO2 in the atmosphere for that month was 14 parts per million. This was 50% higher than at the time of the Industrial Revolution (1750-1800).
  • There is an estimated 85 billion gigatonne (Gt) of carbon stored below the surface of the Earth. In comparison, just 43,500 Gt is stored on land, in oceans, and in the atmosphere.
  • Forests around the world are vital carbon sinks, absorbing around 7.6 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

Go deeper

Forests, net zero and the science behind biomass

Tackling climate change and spurring a global transition to net zero emissions will require collaboration between science and industry. New technologies and decarbonisation methods must be rooted in scientific research and testing.

Drax has almost a decade of experience in using biomass as a renewable source of power. Over that time, our understanding around the effectiveness of bioenergy, its role in improving forest health and ability to deliver negative emissions, has accelerated.

Research from governments and global organisations, such as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) increasingly highlight sustainably sourced biomass and bioenergy’s role in achieving net zero on a wide scale.

The European Commission has also highlighted biomass’ potential to provide a solution that delivers both renewable energy and healthy, sustainably managed forests.  Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the European Green Deal has emphasised it’s importance in bringing economies to net zero, saying: “without biomass, we’re not going to make it. We need biomass in the mix, but the right biomass in the mix.”

The role of biomass in a sustainable future

Moving away from fossil fuels means building an electricity system that is primarily based on renewables. Supporting wind and solar, by providing electricity at times of low sunlight or wind levels, will require flexible sources of generation, such as biomass, as well as other technologies like increased energy storage.

In the UK, the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) Sixth Carbon Budget report lays out its Balanced Net Zero Pathway. In this lead scenario, the CCC says that bioenergy can reduce fossil emissions across the whole economy by 2 million tonnes of CO2 or equivalent emissions (MtCO2e) per year by 2035, increasing to 2.5 MtCO2e in 2045.

Foresters in working forest, Mississippi

Foresters in working forest, Mississippi

Biomass is also expected to play a crucial role in supplying biofuels and hydrogen production for sectors of the global economy that will continue to use fuel rather than electricity, such as aviation, shipping and industrial processes. The CCC’s Balanced Net Zero Pathway suggest that enough low-carbon hydrogen and bioenergy will be needed to deliver 425 TWh of non-electric power in 2050 – compared to the 1,000 TWh of power fossil fuels currently provide to industries today.

However, bioenergy can only be considered to be good for the climate if the biomass used comes from sustainably managed sources. Good forest management practises ensure that forests remain sustainable sources of woody biomass and effective carbon sinks.

A report co-authored by IPCC experts examines the scientific literature around the climate effects (principally CO2 abatement) of sourcing biomass for bioenergy from forests managed according to sustainable forest management principles and practices.

The report highlights the dual impact managed forests contribute to climate change mitigation by providing material for forest products, including biomass that replace greenhouse gas (GHG)-intensive fossil fuels, and by storing carbon in forests and in long-lived forest products.

The role of biomass and bioenergy in decarbonising economies goes beyond just replacing fossil fuels. The addition of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to bioenergy to create bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) enables renewable power generation while removing carbon from the atmosphere and carbon cycle permanently.

The negative emissions made possible by BECCS are now seen as a fundamental part of many scenarios to limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels.

BECCS and the path to net zero

The IPCC’s special report on limiting global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, emphasises that even across a wide range of scenarios for energy systems, all share a substantial reliance on bioenergy – coupled with effective land-use that prevents it contributing to deforestation.

The second chapter of the report deals with pathways that can bring emissions down to zero by the mid-century. Bioenergy use is substantial in 1.5°C pathways with or without CCS due to its multiple roles in decarbonising both electricity generation and other industries that depend on fossil fuels.

However, it’s the negative emissions made possible by BECCS that make biomass  instrumental in multiple net zero scenarios. The IPCC report highlights BECCS alongside the associated afforestation and reforestation (AR), that comes with sustainable forest management, are key components in pathways that limit climate change to 1.5oC.

Graphic showing how BECCS removes carbon from the atmosphere. Click to view/download

There are two key factors that make BECCS and other forms of emissions removals so essential: The first is their ability to neutralise residual emissions from sources that are not reducing their emissions fast enough and those that are difficult or even impossible to fully decarbonise. Aviation and agriculture are two sectors vital to the global economy with hard-to-abate emissions. Negative emissions technologies can remove an equivalent amount of CO2 that these industries produce helping balance emissions and progressing economies towards net zero.

The second reason BECCS and other negative emissions technologies will be so important in the future is in the removal of historic CO2 emissions. What makes CO2 such an important GHG to reduce and remove is that it lasts much longer in the atmosphere than any other. To help reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rises to below 1.5oC removing historic emissions from the atmosphere will be essential.

In the UK, the  CCC’s 2018 report ‘Biomass in a low-carbon economy’ also points to BECCS as both a crucial source of energy and emissions abatement.

It suggests that power generation from BECCS will increase from 3 TWh per year in 2035 to 45 TWh per year in 2050. It marks a sharp increase from the 19.5 TWh that biomass (without CCS) accounted for across 2020, according to Electric Insights data. It also suggests that BECCS could sequester 1.1 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of biomass used, providing clear negative emissions.

However, the report makes clear that unlocking the potential of bioenergy and BECCS is only possible when biomass stocks are managed in a sustainable way that, as a minimum requirement, maintains the carbon stocks in plants and soils over time.

With increased attention paid to forest management and land use, there is a growing body of evidence that points to bioenergy as a win-win solution that can decarbonise power and economies, while supporting healthy forests that effectively sequester CO2.

How bioenergy ensures sustainable forests

Biomass used in electricity generation and other industries must come from sustainable sources to offer a renewable, climate beneficial [or low carbon] source of power.

UK legislation on biomass sourcing states that operators must maintain an adequate inventory of the trees in the area (including data on the growth of the trees and on the extraction of wood) to ensure that wood is extracted from the area at a rate that does not exceed its long-term capacity to produce wood. This is designed to ensure that areas where biomass is sourced from retain their productivity and ability to continue sequestering carbon.

Ensuring that forestland remains productive and protected from land-use changes, such as urban creep, where vegetated land is converted into urban, concreted spaces, depends on a healthy market for wood products. Industries such as construction and furniture offer higher prices for higher-quality wood. While low-quality, waste wood, as well as residues from forests and wood-industry by-products, can be bought and used to produce biomass pellets.

A report by Forest 2 Market examined the relationship between demand for wood and forests’ productivity and ability to sequester carbon in the US South, where Drax sources about two-thirds of its biomass.

The report found that increased demand for wood did not displace forests in the US South. Instead, it encouraged landowners to invest in productivity improvements that increased the amount of wood fibre and therefore carbon contained in the region’s forests.

A synthesis report, which examines a broad range of research papers,  published in Forest Ecology and Management in March of 2021, concluded from existing studies that claims of large-scale damage to biodiversity from woody biofuel in the South East US are not supported. The use of these forest residues as an energy source was also found to lead to net GHG greenhouse emissions savings compared to fossil fuels, according to Forest Research.

Importantly the research shows that climate risks are not exacerbated because of biomass sourcing; in fact, the opposite is true with annual wood growth in the US South increasing by 112% between 1953 and 2015.

Delivering a “win-win solution”

The European Commission’s JRC Science for Policy literature review and knowledge synthesis report ‘The use of woody biomass for energy production in the EU’ suggests  a win-win forest bioenergy pathway is possible, that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, while at the same time not damaging, or even improving, the condition of forest ecosystems.

However, it also makes clear “lose-lose” situations is also a possible, in which forest ecosystems are damaged without providing carbon emission reductions in policy-relevant timeframes.

Win-win management practices must benefit climate change mitigation and have either a neutral or positive effect on biodiversity. A win-win future would see the afforestation of former arable land with diverse and naturally regenerated forests.

The report also warns of trade-offs between local biodiversity and mitigating carbon emissions, or vice versa. These must be carefully navigated to avoid creating a lose-lose scenario where biodiversity is damaged and natural forests are converted into plantations, while BECCS fails to deliver the necessary negative emissions.

In a future that will depend on science working in collaboration with industries to build a net zero future continued research is key to ensuring biomass can deliver the win-win solution of renewable electricity with negative emissions while supporting healthy forests.

Updating on ambitions for pellet plants, biomass sales and BECCS

Foresters in working forest, Mississippi

Highlights

  • New targets for pellet production and biomass sales
    • Biomass pellet production – targeting 8Mt pa by 2030 (currently c.4Mt)
    • Biomass pellet sales to third parties – targeting 4Mt pa by 2030 (currently c.2Mt)
  • Continued progress with UK BECCS(1) and biomass cost reduction
    • BECCS at Drax Power Station – targeting 8Mt pa of negative CO2 emissions by 2030
    • Biomass cost reduction – continuing to target biomass production cost of $100/t(2)
  • £3bn of investment in opportunities for growth 2022 to 2030
    • Pellet production, UK BECCS and pumped storage
    • Self-funded and significantly below 2x net debt to Adjusted EBITDA(3) in 2030
  • Development of additional investment opportunities for new-build BECCS
    • Targeting 4Mt pa of negative CO2 emissions outside of UK by 2030
  • Targeting returns significantly in excess of the Group’s cost of capital

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said:

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Will Gardiner, CEO, Drax Group. Click to view/download.

“Drax has made excellent progress during 2021 providing a firm foundation for further growth. We have advanced our BECCS project – a vital part of the East Coast Cluster that was recently selected to be one of the UK’s two priority CCS projects. And we’re now setting out a strategy to take the business forward, enabling Drax to make an even greater contribution to global efforts to reach net zero.

“We believe Drax can deliver growth and become a global leader in sustainable biomass and negative emissions and a UK leader in dispatchable, renewable generation. We aim to double our sustainable biomass production capacity by 2030 – creating opportunities to double our sales to Asia and Europe, where demand for biomass is increasing as countries transition away from coal.

“As a global leader in negative emissions, we’re going to scale up our ambitions internationally. Drax is now targeting 12 million tonnes of carbon removals each year by 2030 by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This includes the negative emissions we can deliver at Drax Power Station in the UK and through potential new-build BECCS projects in North America and Europe, supporting a new sector of the economy, which will create jobs, clean growth and exciting export opportunities.”

Capital Markets Day

Drax is today hosting a Capital Markets Day for investors and analysts.

Will Gardiner and members of his leadership team will update on the Group’s strategy, market opportunities and development projects. The day will outline the significant opportunities Drax sees to grow its biomass supply chain, biomass sales and BECCS, as well as long-term dispatchable generation from biomass and pumped storage.

Purpose and ambition

The Group’s purpose is to enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future and its ambition is to be a carbon negative company by 2030. The Group aims to realise its purpose and ambition through three strategic pillars, which are closely aligned with global energy policies, which increasingly recognise the unique role that biomass can play in the fight against climate change.

Strategic pillars

  • To be a global leader in sustainable biomass pellets
  • To be a global leader in negative emissions
  • To be a leader in UK dispatchable, renewable generation

The development of these pillars remains underpinned by the Group’s continued focus on safety, sustainability and biomass cost reduction.

A Global leader in sustainable biomass pellets

Drax believes that the global market for sustainable biomass will grow significantly, creating opportunities for sales to third parties in Asia and Europe, BECCS, generation and other long-term uses of biomass. Delivery of these opportunities is supported by the expansion of the Group’s biomass pellet production capacity.

The Group has 13 operational pellet plants with nameplate capacity of c.4Mt, plus a further two plants currently commissioning and other developments/expansions which will increase this to c.5Mt once complete.

Drax is targeting 8Mt of production capacity by 2030, which will require the development of over 3Mt of new biomass pellet production capacity. To deliver this additional capacity Drax is developing a pipeline of organic projects, principally focused on North America. Drax expects to take a final investment decision on 0.5-1Mt of new capacity in 2022, targeting returns significantly in excess of the Group’s cost of capital.

Underpinned by this expanded production capacity, Drax aims to double sales of biomass to third parties to 4Mt pa by 2030, developing its market presence in Asia and Europe, facilitated by the creation of new business development teams in Tokyo and London.

Drax is a major producer, supplier and user of biomass, active in all areas of the supply chain with long-term relationships and almost 20 years of experience in biomass operations. The Group’s innovation in coal-to-biomass engineering, supply chain management and leadership in negative emissions can be deployed alongside its large, reliable and sustainable supply chain to support customer decarbonisation journeys with long-term partnerships.

Drax expects to sell all the biomass it produces, based on an appropriate market price, typically with long-term index-linked contracts.

Continued focus on cost reduction

In 2018 the Group’s biomass production cost was $166/t(2). At the H1 2021 results, through a combination of fibre sourcing, operational improvements and capacity expansion (including the acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc), the production cost had reduced to $141/t(2). Drax’s aims to use the combined expertise of Drax and Pinnacle to apply learnings and cost savings across its portfolio and continues to target $100/t(2) (£50/MWh equivalent(4)) by 2027.

A Global leader in negative emissions

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(5) and the Coalition for Negative Emissions(6) have both outlined a clear role for BECCS in delivering the negative emissions required to limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels and to achieve net zero by 2050, identifying a requirement of between 2bn and 7bn tonnes of negative emissions globally from BECCS.

Separately, the UK Government has recently published its Net Zero Strategy and Biomass Policy Statement reaffirming the established international scientific consensus that sustainable biomass is renewable and that it will play a critical role in helping the UK achieve its climate targets. It also signposted an ambition for at least 5Mt pa of negative emissions from BECCS and Direct Air Capture by 2030, 23Mt pa by 2035 and up to 81Mt pa by 2050. The reports commit the Government to the development during 2022 of a financial model to support BECCS to meet these requirements.

Subject to the right regulatory environment, Drax plans to transform Drax Power Station into the world’s biggest carbon capture project using BECCS to permanently remove 8Mt of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere each year by 2030. The project is well developed, the technology is proven and an investment decision could be taken in 2024 with the first BECCS unit operational in 2027 and a second in 2030, subject to the right investment framework.

The Group aims to build on this innovation with a new target to deliver 4Mt of negative CO2 emissions pa from new-build BECCS outside of the UK by 2030 and is currently developing models for North American and European markets.

A UK leader in dispatchable, renewable generation

The UK’s plans to achieve net zero by 2050 will require the electrification of heating and transport systems, resulting in a significant increase in demand for electricity. Drax believes that over 80% of this could be met by intermittent renewable and inflexible low-carbon energy sources – wind, solar and nuclear. However, this will only be possible if the remaining power sources can provide the dispatchable power and non-generation system support services the power system requires to ensure security of supply and to limit the cost to the consumer.

Long-term biomass generation and pumped storage hydro can provide these increasingly important services. Drax Power Station is the UK’s largest source of renewable power by output and the largest dispatchable plant. The Group is continuing to develop a lower cost operating model for this asset, supported by a reduction in fixed costs associated with the end of coal operations.

Drax is also developing an option for new pumped storage – Cruachan II – which could take a final investment decision in 2024 and be operational by 2030, providing an additional 600MW of dispatchable long-duration storage to the power system.

In its Smart Systems and Flexibility plan (July 2021), the UK Government described long-duration storage technologies as essential for achieving net zero and has committed to take actions to de-risk investment for large-scale and long-duration storage.

Capital allocation and dividend

Strategic capital investment (3Mt of new biomass pellet production capacity, BECCS at Drax Power Station and Cruachan II) is expected to be in the region of £3bn between 2022 and 2030, backed by long-term contracted cashflows and targeting high single-digit returns and above.

No final investment decision has been taken on any of these projects and both BECCS and Cruachan II remain subject to further clarity on regulatory and funding mechanisms.

The Group believes these investments can be self-funded through strong cash generation over the period with net debt to Adjusted EBITDA significantly below 2x at the end of 2030, providing flexibility to support further investment, such as new-build BECCS as these options develop.

Drax remains committed to the capital allocation policy established in 2017, noting that average annual dividend growth was around 10% in the last 5-years.

Webcast and presentation material

The event will be webcast from 10.00am and the material made available on the Group’s website from 7:00am. Joining instructions for the webcast and presentation are included in the links below.

https://secure.emincote.com/client/drax/drax016

Notes:
(1) BioEnergy Carbon Capture and Storage.
(2) Free on Board – cost of raw fibre, processing into a wood pellet, delivery to Drax port facilities in US and Canada, loading to vessel for shipment and overheads.
(3) Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation, excluding the impact of exceptional items and certain remeasurements.
(4) From c.£75/MWh in 2018 to c.£50/MWh, assuming a constant FX rate of $1.45/£.
(5) Coalition for Negative Emissions (June 2021).
(6) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (August 2021).

Enquiries:

Drax Investor Relations: Mark Strafford
+44 (0) 7730 763 949

Media:

Drax External Communications: Ali Lewis
+44 (0) 7712 670 888

Website: www.drax.com/ca

Forward Looking Statements
This announcement may contain certain statements, expectations, statistics, projections and other information that are or may be forward-looking. The accuracy and completeness of all such statements, including, without limitation, statements regarding the future financial position, strategy, projected costs, plans, investments, beliefs and objectives for the management of future operations of Drax Group plc (“Drax”) and its subsidiaries (the “Group”), including in respect of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. (“Pinnacle”), together forming the enlarged business, are not warranted or guaranteed. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risk and uncertainty because they relate to events and depend on circumstances that may occur in the future. Although Drax believes that the statements, expectations, statistics and projections and other information reflected in such statements are reasonable, they reflect the Company’s current view and beliefs and no assurance can be given that they will prove to be correct. Such events and statements involve significant risks and uncertainties. Actual results and outcomes may differ materially from those expressed or implied by those forward-looking statements. There are a number of factors, many of which are beyond the control of the Group, which could cause actual results and developments to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. These include, but are not limited to, factors such as: future revenues being lower than expected; increasing competitive pressures in the industry; and/or general economic conditions or conditions affecting the relevant industry, both domestically and internationally, being less favourable than expected; change in the policy of key stakeholders, including governments or partners or failure or delay in securing the required financial, regulatory and political support to progress the development of Drax and its operations. We do not intend to publicly update or revise these projections or other forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date hereof, and we do not assume any responsibility for doing so.

END

Transporting carbon – How to safely move CO2 from the atmosphere to permanent storage

Key points

  • Carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) offers a unique opportunity to capture and store the UK’s emissions and help the country reach its climate goals.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) can be stored in geological reservoirs under the North Sea, but getting it from source to storage will need a large and safe CO2 transportation network.
  • The UK already has a long history and extensive infrastructure for transporting gas across the country for heating, cooking and power generation.
  • This provides a foundation of knowledge and experience on which to build a network to transport CO2.

Across the length of the UK is an underground network similar to the trainlines and roadways that crisscross the country above ground. These pipes aren’t carrying water or broadband, but gas. Natural gas is a cornerstone of the UK’s energy, powering our heating, cooking and electricity generation. But like the country’s energy network, the need to reduce emissions and meet the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 is set to change this.

Today, this network of pipes takes fossil fuels from underground formations deep beneath the North Sea bed and distributes it around the UK to be burned – producing emissions. A similar system of subterranean pipelines could soon be used to transport captured emissions, such as CO2, away from industrial clusters around factories and power stations, locking them away underground, permanently and safely.

Conveyer system at Drax Power Station transporting sustainable wood pellets

The rise of CCUS technology is the driving force behind CO2 transportation. The process captures CO2 from emissions sources and transports it to sites such as deep natural storage enclaves far below the seabed.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) takes this a step further. BECCS uses sustainable biomass to generate renewable electricity. This biomass comes from sources, such as forest residues or agricultural waste products, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. Atmospheric COreleased in the combustion of the biomass is then captured, transported and stored at sites such as deep geological formations.

Across the whole BECCS process, CO2 has gone from the atmosphere to being permanently trapped away, reducing the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and delivering what’s known as negative emissions.

BECCS is a crucial technology for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but how can we ensure the CO2 is safely transported from the emissions source to storage sites?

Moving gases around safely

Moving gases of any kind through pipelines is all about pressure. Gases always travel from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. By compressing gas to a high pressure, it allows it to flow to other locations. Compressor stations along a gas pipeline help to maintain right the pressure, while metering stations check pressure levels and look out for leaks.

The greater the pressure difference between two points, the faster gases will flow. In the case of CO2, high absolute pressures also cause it to become what’s known as a supercritical fluid. This means it has the density of a liquid but the viscosity of a gas, properties that make it easier to transport through long pipelines.

Since 1967 when North Sea natural gas first arrived in the UK, our natural gas transmission network has expanded considerably, and is today made up of almost 290,000 km of pipelines that run the length of the country. Along with that physical footprint is an extensive knowledge pool and a set of well-enforced regulations monitoring their operation.

While moving gas through pipelines across the country is by no means new, the idea of CO2 transportation through pipelines is. But it’s not unprecedented, as it has been carried out since the 1980s at scale across North America. In contrast to BECCS, which would transport CO2 to remove and permanently store emissions, most of the CO2 transport in action today is used in oil enhanced recovery – a means of ejecting more fossil fuels from depleted oil wells. However, the principle of moving CO2 safely over long distances remains relevant – there are already 2,500 km of pipelines in the western USA, transporting as much as 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

“People might worry when there is something new moving around in the country, but the science community doesn’t have sleepless nights about CO2 pipelines,” says Dr Hannah Chalmers, from the University of Edinburgh. “It wouldn’t explode, like natural gas might, that’s just not how the molecule works. If it’s properly installed and regulated, there’s no reason to be concerned.”

CO2 is not the same as the methane-based natural gas that people use every day. For one, it is a much more stable, inert molecule, meaning it does not react with other molecules, and it doesn’t fuel explosions in the same way natural gas would.

CO2 has long been understood and there is a growing body of research around transporting and storing it in a safe efficient way that can make CCUS and BECCS a catalyst in reducing the UK’s emissions and future-proofing its economy.

Working with CO2 across the UK

Working with CO2 while it is in a supercritical state mean it’s not just easier to move around pipes. In this state CO2 can also be loaded onto ships in very large quantities, as well as injected into rock formations that once trapped oil and gas, or salt-dense water reserves.

Decades of extracting fossil fuels from the North Sea means it is extensively mapped and the rock formations well understood. The expansive layers of porous sandstone that lie beneath offer the UK an estimated 70 billion tonnes of potential CO2 storage space – something a number of industrial clusters on the UK’s east coast are exploring as part of their plans to decarbonise.

Source: CCS Image Library, Global CCS Institute [Click to view/download]

Drax is already running a pilot BECCS project at its power station in North Yorkshire. As part of the Zero Carbon Humber partnership and wider East Coast Cluster, Drax is involved in the development of large scale carbon storage capabilities in the North Sea that can serve the Humber and Teesside industrial clusters. As Drax moves towards its goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030, transporting CO2 safely at scale is a key focus.

“Much of the research and engineering has already been done around the infrastructure side of the project,” explains Richard Gwilliam, Head of Cluster Development at Drax. “Transporting and storing CO2 captured by the BECCS projects is well understood thanks to extensive engineering investigations already completed both onshore and offshore in the Yorkshire region.”

This also includes research and development into pipes of different materials, carrying CO2 at different pressures and temperatures, as well as fracture and safety testing.

The potential for the UK to build on this foundation and progress towards net zero is considerable. However, for it to fully manifest it will need commitment at a national level to building the additional infrastructure required. The results of such a commitment could be far reaching.

In the Humber alone, 20% of economic value comes from energy and emissions-intensive industries, and as many as 360,000 jobs are supported by industries like refining, petrochemicals, manufacturing and power generation. Putting in place the technology and infrastructure to capture, transport and store emissions will protect those industries while helping the UK reach its climate goals.

It’s just a matter of putting the pipes in place.

Go deeper: How do you store CO2 and what happens to it when you do?

What is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)?

What is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)? 

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is the process of capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from biomass (organic matter) energy generation.

Why is BECCS important for decarbonisation? 

Sustainably sourced biomass-generated energy (bioenergy) can be carbon neutral, as plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. This, in turn, offsets CO2 emissions released when the biomass is combusted as fuel.

When sustainable bioenergy is paired with carbon capture and storage it becomes a source of negative emissions, as CO2 is permanently removed from the carbon cycle.

Experts believe that negative emissions technologies (NETs) are crucial to helping countries meet the long-term goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. As BECCS is the most scalable of these technologies this decade, it has a key role to play in combating climate change.

How is the bioenergy for BECCS generated?

Most bioenergy is produced by combusting biomass as a fuel in boilers or furnaces to produce high-pressure steam that drives electricity-generating turbines. Alternatively, bioenergy generation can use a wide range of organic materials, including crops specifically planted and grown for the purpose, as well as residues from agriculture, forestry and wood products industries. Energy-dense forms of biomass, such as compressed wood pellets, enable bioenergy to be generated on a much larger scale. Fuels like wood pellets can also be used as a substitute for coal in existing power stations.

How is the carbon captured?

BECCS uses a post-combustion carbon capture process, where solvents isolate CO2 from the flue gases produced when the biomass is combusted. The captured CO2 is pressurised and turned into a liquid-like substance so it can then be transported by pipeline.

How is the carbon stored?

Captured CO2 can be safely and permanently injected into naturally occurring porous rock formations, for example unused natural gas reservoirs, coal beds that can’t be mined, or saline aquifers (water permeable rocks saturated with salt water). This process is known as sequestration.

Over time, the sequestered CO2 may react with the minerals, locking it chemically into the surrounding rock through a process called mineral storage.

BECCS fast facts

Is BECCS sustainable?

 Bioenergy can be generated from a range of biomass sources ranging from agricultural by-products to forestry residues to organic municipal waste. During their lifetime plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, this balances out the CO2that is released when the biomass is combusted.

What’s crucial is that the biomass is sustainably sourced, be it from agriculture or forest waste. Responsibly managed sources of biomass are those which naturally regenerate or are replanted and regrown, where there’s a increase of carbon stored in the land and where the natural environment is protected from harm.

Biomass wood pellets used as bioenergy in the UK, for example, are only sustainable when the forests they are sourced from continue to grow. Sourcing decisions must be based on science and not adversely affect the long-term potential of forests to store and sequester carbon.

Biomass pellets can also create a sustainable market for forestry products, which serves to encourage reforestation and afforestation – leading to even more CO2 being absorbed from the atmosphere.

Go deeper:

  • The triple benefits for the environment and economy of deploying BECCS in the UK.
  • How BECCS can offer essential grid stability as the electricity system moves to low- and zero-carbon sources.
  • Producing biomass from sustainable forests is key to ensuring BECCS can deliver negative emissions.
  • 5 innovative projects where carbon capture is already underway around the world
  • 7 places on the path to negative emissions through BECCS

Global collaboration
is key to tackling
the climate crisis

Leaders from 40 countries are meeting today, albeit virtually, as part of President Joe Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate. The event provides an opportunity for world leaders to reaffirm global efforts in the fight against climate change, set a clear pathway to net zero emissions, while creating jobs and ensuring a just transition.

Since taking office President Biden has made bold climate commitments and brought the United States back into the Paris Agreement. Ahead of the two-day summit, he announced an ambitious 2030 emissions target and new Nationally Determined Contributions. The US joins other countries that have announced significant reduction goals. For example, the EU committed to reduce its emissions by at least 55%, also South Korea, Japan and China have all set net-zero targets by mid-century.

Here in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week outlined new climate commitments that will be enshrined in law. The ambitious new targets will see carbon emissions cut by 78% by 2035, almost 15 years earlier than previously planned. If delivered, this commitment which is in-line with the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee’s sixth carbon budget will put the UK at the forefront of climate action, and for the first time the targets include international aviation and shipping.

What makes climate change so difficult to tackle is that it requires collaboration from many different parties on a global scale never seen before. As a UK-North American sustainable energy company, with communities on both sides of the Atlantic, at Drax we are keenly aware of the need for thinking that transcends borders, creating a global opportunity for businesses and governments to work together towards a shared climate goal. That’s why we joined other businesses and investors in an open letter supporting the US government’s ambitious climate actions.

Collaboration between countries and industries

It’s widely recognised that negative emissions technologies will be key to global efforts to combat climate change.

At Drax we’re pioneering the negative emissions technology bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at our power station in North Yorkshire, which when up and running in 2027 will capture millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, sending it for secure storage, permanently locking it away deep under the North Sea.

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic consider BECCS essential for reaching net zero. The UK’s Climate Change Committee says it will play a major role in removing CO2 emissions that will remain in the UK economy after 2050 from industries such as aviation and agriculture that will be difficult to fully decarbonise. Meanwhile, a report published last year by New York’s Columbia University revealed that rapid development of BECCS is needed within the next 10 years in order to curb climate change and a recent report from Baringa, commissioned by Drax, showed it will be a lot more expensive for the UK to reach its legally binding fifth carbon budget between 2028 and 2031 without BECCS.

A shared economic opportunity

Globally as many as 65 million well-paid jobs could be created through investment in clean energy systems. In the UK, BECCS and negative emissions are not just essential in preventing the impact of climate change but will also be a key component of a post-Covid economy.

Government and private investments in clean energy technologies can create thousands of well-paid jobs, new careers, education opportunities and upskill workforces. Developing BECCS at Drax Power Station, for example, would support around 17,000 jobs during the peak of construction in 2028, including roles in construction, local supply chains and the wider economy. It would also act as an anchor project for the Zero Carbon Humber initiative, which aims to create the world’s first net zero industrial cluster. Developing a carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen industrial cluster could spearhead the creation and support of tens of thousands of jobs across the Humber region and more than 200,000 around the UK in 2039.

Under the Humber Bridge

Additional jobs would be supported and created throughout our international supply chain. This includes the rail, shipping and forestry industries that are integral to rural communities in the US South and Western Canada.

A global company

As a British-North American company, Drax embodies the positive impact that clean energy investments have. We directly employ 3,400 people in the US, Canada, and the UK, and indirectly support thousands of families through our supply chains on both sides of the Atlantic. Drax is strongly committed to supporting the communities where we operate by investing in local initiatives to support the environment, jobs, education, and skills.

From the working forests of the US South and Western Canada to the Yorkshire and Humber region, and Scotland, we have a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030. At Drax, we believe the challenge of climate change is an opportunity to improve the environment we live in. We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% and transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Drax Power Station is the most advanced BECCS project in the world and we stand ready to invest in this cutting-edge carbon capture and removal technology. We can then share our expertise with the rest of the world – a world where major economies are committing to a net zero future and benefiting from a green economic recovery.

If we are to reach the targets set in Paris, global leaders must lock in this opportunity and make this the decade of delivery.

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time and Drax has a crucial role in tackling it.

All countries around the world need to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time growing their economies. Creating enough clean, secure energy for industry, transport and people’s daily lives has never been more important.

Drax is at the heart of the UK energy system. Recently the UK government committed to delivering a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Drax is equally committed to helping make that possible.

We’ve recently had some questions about what we’re doing and I’d like to set the record straight.

How is Drax helping the UK reach its climate goals?

At Drax we’re committed to a zero-carbon, lower-cost energy future.

And we’ve accelerated our efforts to help the UK get off coal by converting our power station to using sustainable biomass. And now we’re the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

We’re exploring how Drax Power Station can become the anchor to enable revolutionary technologies to capture carbon in the North of England.

And we’re creating more energy stability, so that more wind and solar power can come onto the grid.

And finally, we’re helping our customers take control of their energy – so they can use it more efficiently and spend less.

Is Drax the largest carbon polluter in the UK?

No. Since 2012 we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions by 84%. In that time, we moved from being western Europe’s largest polluter to being the home of the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

And we want to do more.

We’ve expanded our operations to include hydro power, storage and natural gas and we’ve continued to bring coal off the system.

By the mid 2020s, our ambition is to create a power station that both generates electricity and removes carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.

Does building gas power stations mean the UK will be tied into fossil fuels for decades to come?

Our energy system is changing rapidly as we move to use more wind and solar power.

At the same time, we need new technologies that can operate when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

A new, more efficient gas plant can fill that gap and help make it possible for the UK to come off coal before the government’s deadline of 2025.

Importantly, if we put new gas in place we need to make sure that there’s a route through for making that zero-carbon over time by being able to capture the CO2 or by converting those power plants into hydrogen.

Are forests destroyed when Drax uses biomass and is biomass power a major source of carbon emissions?

No.

Sustainable biomass from healthy managed forests is helping decarbonise the UK’s energy system as well as helping to promote healthy forest growth.

Biomass has been a critical element in the UK’s decarbonisation journey. Helping us get off coal much faster than anyone thought possible.

The biomass that we use comes from sustainably managed forests that supply industries like construction. We use residues, like sawdust and waste wood, that other parts of industry don’t use.

We support healthy forests and biodiversity. The biomass that we use is renewable because the forests are growing and continue to capture more carbon than we emit from the power station.

What’s exciting is that this technology enables us to do more. We are piloting carbon capture with bioenergy at the power station. Which could enable us to become the first carbon-negative power station in the world and also the anchor for new zero-carbon cluster across the Humber and the North.

How do you justify working at Drax?

I took this job because Drax has already done a tremendous amount to help fight climate change in the UK. But I also believe passionately that there is more that we can do.

I want to use all of our capabilities to continue fighting climate change.

I also want to make sure that we listen to what everyone else has to say to ensure that we continue to do the right thing.