Tag: biomass energy

The key to sustainable forests? Thinking globally and managing locally

Key takeaways:

  • Working forests, where wood products are harvested, are explicitly managed to balance environmental and economic benefits, while encouraging healthy, growing forests that store carbon, provide habitats for wildlife, and space for recreation.
  • But there is no single management technique. The most effective methods vary depending on local conditions.
  • By employing locally appropriate methods, working forests have grown while supporting essential forestry industries and local economies.
  • Forests in the U.S. South, British Columbia, and Estonia all demonstrate how local management can deliver both environmental and economic wins.

Forests are biological, environmental, and economic powerhouses. Collectively they are home to most of the planet’s terrestrial biodiversity. They are responsible for absorbing 7.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per year, or roughly 1.5 times the amount of CO2 produced by the United States on an annual basis. And working forests, which are actively managed to generate revenue from wood products industries, are important drivers for the global economy, employing over 13 million people worldwide and generating $600 billion annually.

But as important as forests are globally, the key to maximizing working forests’ potential lies in smart, active forest management. While 420 million hectares of forest have been lost since 1990 through conversion to other land uses such as for agriculture, many working forests are actually growing both larger and healthier due to science-based management practices.

The best practices in working forests balance economic, social, and environmental benefits. But just as importantly, they are tailored to local conditions and framed by appropriate regional regulations, guidance, and best-practice.

The following describes how three different regions, from which Drax sources its biomass, manage their forests for a sustainable future.

British Columbia: Managing locally for global climate change

British Columbia is blanketed by almost 60 million hectares of forest – an area larger than France and Germany combined. Over 90% of the forest land is owned by Canada’s government, meaning the province’s forests are managed for the benefit of the Canadian people and in collaboration with First Nations.

From the province’s expanse of forested land, less than half a percent (0.36%) is harvested each year, according to government figures. This ensures stable, sustainable forests. However, there’s a need to manage against natural factors.

Click to view/download

In 2017, 2018, and 2020 catastrophic fires ripped through some of British Columbia’s most iconic forest areas, underscoring the threat climate change poses to the area’s natural resources. One response was to increase the removal of stands of trees in the forest, harvesting the large number of dead or dying trees created by pests that have grown more common in a warming climate.

By removing dead trees, diseased trees, and even some healthy trees, forest managers can reduce the amount of potential fuel in the forest, making devastating wildfires less likely. There are also commercial advantages to this strategy. Most of the trees removed are low quality and not suitable for processing into lumber. These trees can, however, still be used commercially to produce biomass wood pellets that offer a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. This means local communities don’t just get safer forests, they get safer forests that support the local economy.

The United States: Thinning for healthier forests

The U.S. South’s forests have expanded rapidly in recent decades, largely due to growth in working forests on private land. Annual forest growth in the region more than doubled from 193 million cubic metres of wood in 1953 to 408 million cubic meters by 2015.

This expansion has occurred thanks to active forest product markets which incentivise forest management investment. In the southern U.S. thinning is critical to managing healthy and productive pine forests.

Thinning is an intermediate harvest aimed at reducing tree density to allocate more resources, like nutrients, sunlight, and water, to trees which will eventually become valuable sawtimber. Thinning not only increases future sawtimber yields, but also improves the forest’s resilience to pest, disease, and wildfire, as well as enhancing understory diversity and wildlife habitat.

Click to view/download

While trees removed during thinning are generally undersized or unsuitable for lumber, they’re ideal for producing biomass wood pellets. In this way, the biomass market creates an incentive for managers to engage in practices that increase the health and vigour of forests on their land.

The results speak for themselves: across U.S. forestland the volume of annual net timber growth 36% higher than the volume of annual timber removals.

A managed working forest in the US South

Estonia: Seeding the future

Though Estonia is not a large country, approximately half of it is covered in trees, meaning forestry is integral to the country’s way of life. Historically, harvesting trees has been an important part of the national economy, and the government has established strict laws to ensure sustainable management practices.

These regulations have helped Estonia increase its overall forest cover from about 34% 80 years ago to over 50% today. And, as in the U.S. South, the volume of wood harvested from Estonia’s forests each year is less than the volume added by tree growth.

Sunrise and fog over forest landscape in Estonia

Sunrise and fog over forest landscape in Estonia

Estonia has managed to increase its growing forest stock by letting the average age of its forests increase. This is partially due to Estonia having young, fast-growing forests in areas where tree growth is relatively new. But it is also due to regulations that require harvesters to leave seed trees.

Seed trees are healthy, mature trees, the seeds from which become the forest’s next generation. By enforcing laws that ensure seed trees are not harvested, Estonia is encouraging natural regeneration of forests. As in the U.S. South protecting these seed trees from competition for water and nutrients means removing smaller trees in the area. While these smaller trees may not all be suitable for lumber, they are a suitable feedstock for biomass. It means managing for natural regeneration can still have economic, as well as environmental, advantages.

Different methods, similar results

Laws, landownership, and forestry practices differ greatly between the U.S. South, British Columbia, and Estonia, but all three are excellent examples of how local forest management contributes to healthy rural economies and sustained forest coverage.

While there are many different strategies for creating a balance between economic and environmental interests, all successful strategies have something in common: They encourage healthy, growing forests.

Supporting a circular economy in the forests

Every year in British Columbia, millions of tonnes of waste wood – known in the industry as slash – is burned by the side of the road.

Land managers are required by law to dispose of this waste wood – that includes leftover tree limbs and tops, and wood that is rotten, diseased and already fire damaged – to reduce the risks of wildfires and the spread of disease and pests.

The smoke from these fires is choking surrounding communities – sometimes “smoking out entire valleys,” air quality meteorologist from BC’s Environment Ministry Trina Orchard recently told iNFOnews.ca.

It also impacts the broader environment, releasing some 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere, according to some early estimates.

Slash pile in British Columbia

Landfilling this waste material from logging operations isn’t an option as it would emit methane – a greenhouse gas that is about 25 times more potent than CO2. So you can see why it ends up being burned.

In its Modernizing Forest Policy in BC, the government has already identified its intention to phase out the burning of this waste wood left over after harvesting operations and is working with suppliers and other companies to encourage the use of this fibre.

This is a very positive move as this material must come out of the forests to reduce the fuel load that can help wildfires grow and spread to the point where they can’t be controlled, let alone be extinguished.

The wildfire risk is real and growing. Each year more forests and land are destroyed by wildfire, impacting communities, nature, wildlife and the environment.

In the past two decades, wildfires burned two and a half times more land in BC than in the previous 50-year period. According to very early estimates, emissions from last year’s wildfires in the province released around 150 million tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to around 30 million cars on the road for a year.

Alan Knight at the log yard for Lavington Pellet Mill in British Columbia

During my recent trip to British Columbia in Canada, First Nations, foresters, academics, scientists and government officials all talked about the burning piles of waste wood left over after logging operations.

Rather than burning it, it would be far better, they say, to use more of this potential resource as a feedstock for pellets that can be used to generate renewable energy, while supporting local jobs across the forestry sector and helping bolster the resilience of Canada’s forests against wildfire.

I like this approach because it brings pragmatism and common sense to the debate over Canada’s forests from the very people who know the most about the landscape around them.

Burning it at the roadside is a waste of a resource that could be put to much better use in generating renewable electricity, displacing fossil fuels, and it highlights the positive role the bioenergy industry can play in enhancing the forests and supporting communities.

Drax is already using some of this waste wood – which I saw in the log yard for our Lavington Pellet mill in British Columbia. This waste wood comprises around 20% of our feedstock. The remaining 80% comes from sawmill residues like sawdust, chips and shavings.

Waste wood for pellets at Lavington Pellet Mill log yard

It’s clear to me that using this waste material that has little other use or market value to make our pellets is an invaluable opportunity to deliver real benefits for communities, jobs and the environment while supporting a sustainable circular economy in the forestry sector.

What is sustainable forest management?

Sustainable forest management is frequently defined in terms of providing a balance of social, environmental, and economic benefits, not just for today but for the future too. It might be seen as the practice of maintaining forests to ensure they remain healthy, absorb more carbon than they release, and can continue to be enjoyed and used by future generations.

To achieve this, foresters apply science, knowledge, and standards that help ensure forests continue to play an important role in the wellbeing of people and the planet.

Managed forests, also called working forests, fulfil a variety of environmental, social, and economic functions. These range from forests managed to attract certain desired wildlife species, to forests grown to provide saw timber and reoccurring revenue for landowners.

How are forests sustainably managed?

How forests are managed depends on landowner goals – managing for recreation and wildlife, focusing on maximising production of wood products, or both. Each forest requires management tailored to its owner’s or manager’s objectives.

There are many ways to manage forests to keep them healthy – there is no ‘one size fits all’ – but keeping track of how they are doing can be tricky. One alternative for monitoring forests is to use satellite imagery.

One common sustainable forestry practice is thinning, which involves periodically removing smaller, unhealthy, or diseased trees to enable stronger ones to thrive. Thinning reduces competition between trees for resources like sunlight and water, and it can also help promote biodiversity by creating more space for other forest flora.

The wood removed from forests through thinning is sometimes not high-quality enough to be used in industries such as construction or furniture. However, the biomass industry can use it to make compressed wood pellets; a feedstock for renewable source electricity.

By providing a market for low-quality wood, pellet production encourages landowners to carry out thinnings. This practice improves the health of the forest, and helps support better growth, greater carbon storage, and creates more valuable woodland.

Fast facts

What are the environmental benefits of sustainably managed forests?

Through their ability to act as carbon sinks, forests are an important part of meeting global climate goals like the Paris Agreement and the UK’s own target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

When managed effectively through thinning or active harvesting, and replanting and regeneration, forests can often sequester – or absorb and store – more carbon than forests that are left untouched, increasing productivity and improving planting material.

Harvesting trees before they reach an age when growth slows or plateaus can help prevent fire damage, pests, and disease, so timing of final cutting is important. Though the vast majority of timber from such cutting will go to other markets (construction, furniture etc) and secure higher prices from those markets, being able to sell lower quality wood for biomass provides the landowner with some extra revenue.

Sustainably managed forests also help achieve other environmental goals, such as sustaining biodiversity, protecting sensitive sites and providing clean air and water. Managed forests also have substantial water absorption capacity preventing flooding by slowing the flow of sudden downpours and helping to prevent nearby rivers and streams from overfilling.

Wood from working forests also help tackle climate change in that high-value wood from harvested trees can be used to make timber for the construction or furniture sectors. These wood products lock up carbon for extended periods of time, and the wood can be used at end-of life to displace fossil fuels. Using wood also means materials such as concrete, bricks or steel are not used, and these materials have a large carbon footprint compared to wood.

What are the socioeconomic benefits of sustainably managed forests?

There are also social and economic benefits to managing forests. Sustainably managed working forests make vital contributions both to people and to the planet.

The commercial use of wood in industries like furniture and construction drives revenue for landowners. This encourages landowners to continue to replant forests and manage them in a sustainable way that continues to deliver returns.

Healthy forests can also improve living standards for local communities for jobs and helping to address unemployment in rural regions. Managed forests can also improve access for recreation. On a larger scale, sustainable forestry can offer a valuable export for regions and nations and foster trade between countries.

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.

Refinancing of Pinnacle Debt with Lower Cost ESG Facility

Demopolis wood pellet plant being constructed

RNS Number: 9930E
Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Group”; Symbol:DRX)

Drax is pleased to announce that it has completed the refinancing of the Canadian dollar facilities it acquired as part of the Group’s acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. (Pinnacle) in April 2021.

The new C$300 million term facility (“the Facility”) matures in 2024, with an option to extend by two years(1), and has a customary margin grid referenced over CDOR(2).

A Pinnacle wood pellet plant

A Pinnacle wood pellet plant

The Facility reduces further the Group’s all-in cost of debt to below 3.5% and includes an embedded ESG component which adjusts the margin payable based on Drax’s carbon intensity measured against an annual benchmark.

The Facility, along with surplus cash, replaces Pinnacle’s approximately C$435 million facilities which had a cost of over 5.5%.

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

END

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

Evaluating regrowth post-harvest with accurate data and satellite imagery

  • Drax has been using effective post-harvest evaluations, which includes remote sensing technology and satellite imagery

  • Alongside sustainable forest management, monitoring can help support rapid regrowth after harvesting

  • Evidence shows healthy managed forests with no signs of deforestation or degradation

As part of Drax’s world-leading programme of demonstrating biomass sustainability, including ongoing work on catchment area analysis (CAA), responsible sourcing policy and healthy forest landscapes (HFL). We have also been trialling the use of high-resolution satellite imagery to monitor forest conditions on specific harvesting sites in the years after harvesting has taken place, in addition to the catchment area level monitoring of trends and data. Post-harvest evaluations (PHE) are an essential part of an ongoing sustainability monitoring process, ensuring that the future forest resource is protected and maintained and that landowners restore forests after harvesting to prevent deforestation or degradation.

The most effective form of PHE is for an experienced local forester to walk and survey the harvesting site to check that new trees are growing and that the health and quality of the young replacement forest is maintained.

Rapid regrowth

The images below show some of the sites surrounding Drax’s Amite Bioenergy pellet plant in Mississippi, with trees at various stages of regrowth in the years after harvesting.

A full site inspection can therefore enable a forester to determine whether the quantity and distribution of healthy trees is sufficient to make a productive forest, equivalent to the area that was harvested. It can also identify if there are any health problems, pest damage or management issues such as  weed growth or water-logging that should be resolved.

Typically, this will be the responsibility of the forest owner or their forest manager and is a regular part of ongoing forest management activity. This degree of survey and assessment is not practical or cost-effective where a third-party consumer of wood fibre purchases a small proportion (typically 20-25 tonnes per acre) of the low-grade fibre produced at a harvest as a one-off transaction for its wood pellet plant..  It is time consuming to walk every acre of restocked forest and it is not always possible to get an owner’s permission to access their land.

Forests from space

Therefore, an alternative methodology is required to make an assessment about the condition of forest lands that have been harvested to supply biomass, without the need to physically inspect each site.  One option is to use remote sensing and satellite imagery to view each harvested site in the years after biomass sourcing, this helps to monitor restocking and new tree growth.

Drax has been testing the remote sensing approach using Maxar’s commercial satellite imagery.  Maxar has four satellites on orbit that collect more than three million square kilometres of high-resolution imagery every day. Drax accesses this imagery through Maxar’s subscription service SecureWatch.

To test the viability of this methodology, Drax has been looking at harvesting sites in Mississippi that supplied biomass to the Amite Bioenergy pellet plant in 2015 and in 2017.  As part of the sustainability checks that are carried out prior to purchasing wood fibre, Drax collects information on each harvesting tract. This includes the location of the site, the type of harvest, the owner’s long-term management intentions and species and volume details.

This data can then be used at a later date to revisit the site and monitor the condition of the area. Third-party auditors, for instance Through Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) certification, do visit harvesting sites, however this is typically during the year of harvest rather than after restocking. Maxar has historical imagery of this region from 2010, which is prior to any harvesting for wood pellets.  The image below shows a harvesting site near the pellet plant at Gloster, Mississippi, before any harvesting has taken place.

March 2010 (100m)

Satellite image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

The image below shows the same site in 2017 immediately following harvesting.

December 2017 (100m)

Satellite image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

If we look again at this same site three years after harvesting, we can see the rows of trees that have been planted and the quality of the regrowth. This series of images demonstrates that this harvested area has remained a forest, has not been subject to deforestation and that the regrowth appears to be healthy at this stage.

August 2020 (50m)

Satellite image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

Another site in the Amite catchment area is shown below. The image shows a mature forest prior to harvesting, the site has been previously thinned as can be seen from the thinned rows that are evident in the imagery.

May 2010 (200m)

Satellite image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

Looking at the same site in the year after harvesting, the clear cut area can be seen clearly. Some green vegetation cover can also be seen on the harvested area, but this is weed growth rather than replanted trees. Some areas of mature trees have been left at the time of harvesting, and are visible as a grey colour in the 2010 image. These are likely to be streamside management zones that have been left to maintain biodiversity and to protect water quality, with the grey winter colouring suggesting that they are hardwoods.

September 2018 (200m)

Satellite image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

Three years after the harvest, in a zoomed in view from the previous image, clear rows of replanted trees can be seen in the imagery.  This demonstrates that the owner has successfully restocked the forest area and that the newly planted forest appears healthy and well established.

August 2020 (50m)

Satellite image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

While examining different harvesting sites in satellite imagery, Drax noted that not every site had evidence of tree growth, particularly within the first three years after harvesting. Deliberate conversion of land to non-forest use, such as for conversion to pasture, agricultural crops or urban development, is likely to be evident fairly soon after harvesting.

Preparing for planting

Some forest owners like to leave a harvested site unplanted for a couple of years to allow ground vegetation and weed growth to establish, this can then be treated to ensure that trees can be planted and that the weed growth does not impede the establishment of the new forest, this process can mean that trees are not visible in satellite imagery for three to four years after harvesting.

The image below shows a site three years after harvesting with no evidence of tree growth.  Given that no conversion of land use is evident and that the site appears to be clear of weed growth, this is likely to be an example of where the owners have waited to clear the site of weeds prior to replanting.  This site can be monitored in future imagery from the Maxar satellites to ensure that forest regrowth does take place.

November 2020 (100m)

Satellite image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

Drax will continue to use Maxar’s SecureWatch platform to monitor the regrowth of harvesting sites and will publish more detailed results and analysis when this process has been developed further.  The platform allows ongoing comparison of a site over time and could prove a more efficient method of analysis than ground survey.  In conjunction with the CAA and HFL work, PHE can add remote sensing as a valuable monitoring and evidence-gathering tool to demonstrate robust biomass sustainability standards and a positive environmental impact.

Go deeper: 

Discover the steps we take to ensure our wood pellet supply chain is better for our forests, our planet and our future here, how to plant more trees and better manage them, our responsible sourcing policy for biomass from sustainable forests and a guide to sustainable forest management of the Southern Working Forest.

Robust trading and operational performance in Q1-2021, progressing biomass strategy

RNS Number : 0962W
Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Group”; Symbol:DRX)

Highlights

  • Robust trading and operational performance during the first three months of 2021
  • Completion of acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. (Pinnacle)
  • Strong balance sheet and cash flows
    • Continue to expect net debt to Adjusted EBITDA(1) of around 2 x by the end of 2022
  • Continued focus on clean energy generation and a reduction in carbon emissions
    • Commercial coal generation ended in March 2021, with full closure in September 2022
    • Sale of existing gas generation assets in January 2021
  • Sustainable and growing dividend
    • Final dividend of 10.3 pence per share – subject to shareholder approval at AGM
    • Total dividends of 17.1 pence per share, 7.5% y-o-y growth

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said:

“In the first quarter of 2021 we delivered a robust trading and operational performance, alongside steps to further decarbonise the business and support our flexible and renewable generation strategy. These include the end of commercial coal generation, the sale of our gas power stations and just last week we acquired leading Canadian biomass producer Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc.

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner in the control room at Drax Power Station

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner in the control room at Drax Power Station [Click to view/download]

“The acquisition of Pinnacle positions Drax as the world’s leading sustainable biomass generation and supply business. This advances our strategy to increase self-supply, reduce our own cost of biomass production and create a long-term future for sustainable bioenergy, which will pave the way for the development of negative emissions from Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). BECCS at Drax would make a significant contribution to the UK reaching its new target to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.”

Trading, operational performance and outlook

The trading and operational performance of the Group has been robust in the first three months of 2021. Full year expectations for the Group remain underpinned by continued good operational availability for the remainder of 2021.

Generation

Drax’s generation portfolio has performed well with good asset availability and optimisation across its portfolio, including a strong system support performance from Cruachan (pumped storage), underpinning a solid financial performance.

During the summer Drax will, as previously announced, undertake planned maintenance on its CfD(2) biomass unit, including a high-pressure turbine upgrade to reduce maintenance costs and improve thermal efficiency, contributing to lower generation costs for Drax Power Station.

In March 2021 Drax secured Capacity Market agreements for its hydro and pumped storage assets worth around £10 million for the delivery period October 2024 to September 2025.

Drax also secured 15-year agreements for three new 299MW system support Open Cycle Gas Turbine (OCGT) projects in England and Wales. As the UK transitions towards a net zero economy it will become increasingly dependent on intermittent renewable generation.  As such, fast response system support technologies, such as these OCGTs, are increasingly important in enabling the UK energy system to run more frequently and securely on intermittent renewable generation. Drax is continuing to evaluate options for these projects including their potential sale.

Pellet Production

Pellet Production has performed well with good production and cost reduction plans on track.

On 13 April 2021, Drax completed its acquisition of Pinnacle. The acquisition advances the Group’s biomass strategy by more than doubling its sustainable biomass production capacity, significantly reducing its cost of production and adding a major biomass supply business, underpinned by long-term third-party supply contracts.

The Group’s enlarged supply chain will have access to 4.9 million tonnes of operational capacity from 2022. Of this total, 2.9 million tonnes are available for Drax’s self-supply requirements in 2022 (increasing to 3.4 million tonnes in 2027).

The acquisition positions Drax as the world’s leading sustainable biomass generation and supply business alongside the continued development of its ambition to be a carbon negative company by 2030, using BECCS.

Pinnacle’s performance in the first three months of 2021 was in line with Drax’s expectations through the acquisition process. Drax will update on full year expectations including Pinnacle at its half year results on 29 July 2021.

Customers

The Group’s I&C(3) supply business performed well. It continues to provide a route to market for Drax’s power and renewable products to high credit quality counterparties as well as opportunities to complement the Group’s system support capabilities.

Trading desk at Haven Power, Ipswich

Trading desk at Haven Power, Ipswich

The SME(4) supply business continued to be affected by the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in the first three months of 2021. Drax is continuing to explore operational and strategic options for this segment of the business.

Balance sheet

As at 31 March 2021, Drax had cash and total committed facilities of £801 million.

Drax will retain Pinnacle’s existing debt facilities within the enlarged Group’s capital structure but will consider opportunities to optimise its balance sheet with lower cost sources of debt.

Drax continues to expect net debt to Adjusted EBITDA to return to its long-term target of around 2 x by the end of 2022.

Generation contracted power sales

As at 16 April 2021, Drax had 25.7TWh of power sales contracted at £49.0/MWh as follows:

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Capital allocation and dividend

The Group remains committed to the capital allocation policy established in 2017, through which it aims to maintain a strong balance sheet; invest in the core business; pay a sustainable and growing dividend and return surplus capital beyond investment requirements to shareholders.

A final 2020 dividend of 10.3 pence per share was proposed in the 2020 results on 25 February 2021 and, subject to shareholder approval at today’s Annual General Meeting, will be paid on 14 May 2021.

An interim dividend of 6.8 pence per share was paid on 2 October 2020, making the total 2020 dividend 17.1 pence per share, an increase of 7.5% compared to 2019.

Enquiries:

Drax Investor Relations: Mark Strafford

+44 (0) 1757 612 491

Media:

Drax External Communications: Ali Lewis

+44 (0) 7712 670 888

Website: www.drax.com/ca

END

The world’s leading sustainable biomass generation and supply business

Today we completed a transformational deal – our acquisition of Canadian biomass pellet producer Pinnacle Renewable Energy.

I’m very excited about this important acquisition and welcoming our new colleagues to the Drax family – together we will build on what we have already achieved, having become the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe and the UK’s largest single site renewable power generator as a result of us using sustainable biomass instead of coal.

The deal positions Drax as the world’s leading sustainable biomass generation and supply business – making us a truly international business, trading biomass from North America to Europe and Asia. It also advances our strategy to increase our self supply, reduces our biomass production costs and creates a long-term future for sustainable biomass – a renewable energy source that the UN’s IPCC says will be needed to achieve global climate targets.

It’s also an important milestone in Drax’s ambition to become a carbon negative company by 2030 and play an important role in tackling the global climate crisis with our pioneering negative emissions technology BECCS.

That’s because increasing our annual production capacity of sustainable biomass while also reducing costs helps pave the way for our plans to use bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at Drax.

Negative emissions from BECCS are vital to address the global climate emergency while also providing the renewable electricity needed for a net zero economy, supporting jobs and clean growth in a post-Covid recovery.

Inside a Pinnacle pellet mill

Inside a Pinnacle pellet mill

We already know Pinnacle well – it is one of our key suppliers and the company is a natural fit with Drax.

Our new colleagues have a wealth of operational and commercial expertise so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together.

We will benefit from Pinnacle’s scale, operational efficiency and low-cost fibre sourcing, that includes a high proportion of sawmill residues. In 2019, Pinnacle’s production cost was 20% lower than Drax’s.

Completing this deal will increase our annual production capacity to 4.9 million tonnes of sustainable biomass pellets at 17 plants in locations across Western Canada and the US South – up from 1.6Mt now.

It also expands our access to three major North American fibre baskets and four export facilities, giving us a large and geographically diversified asset base, which enhances our sourcing flexibility and security of supply.

This positions us well to take advantage of the global growth opportunities for sustainable biomass. The market for biomass wood pellets for renewable generation in Europe and Asia is expected to grow in the current decade, principally driven by demand in Asia.

Biomass wood pellet storage dome, Drax Power Station

Biomass wood pellet storage dome, Drax Power Station

We believe that with increasingly ambitious global decarbonisation targets, the need for negative emissions and improved understanding of the role that sustainably sourced biomass can play, will result in continued robust demand.

Pinnacle is already a key supplier of wood pellets to other markets with C$6.7 billion of long-term contracts with high quality Asian and European customers, including Drax, and a significant volume contracted beyond 2027.

Drax aims to leverage Pinnacle’s trading capability across its expanded portfolio. We believe that the enlarged supply chain will provide greater opportunities to optimise the supply of biomass from its own assets and third-party suppliers.

The transport and shipping requirements of the enlarged company will provide further opportunities to optimise delivery logistics, helping to reduce distance, time, carbon footprint and cost.

Train transporting biomass wood pellets arriving at Drax Power Station

Importantly – there will also be opportunities to share best practice and drive sustainability standards higher across the group.

We recognise that the forest landscape in British Columbia and Alberta is different to the commercially managed forests in the south eastern US where we currently operate.

In line with our world leading responsible sourcing policy, Drax will work closely with environmental groups, Indigenous First Nation communities and other stakeholders and invest to deliver good environmental, social and climate outcomes in Pinnacle’s sourcing areas.

We are determined to create a long-term future for sustainable biomass and deliver BECCS –  the negative emissions technology that will be needed around the world to meet global climate targets. The acquisition of Pinnacle takes us a big step forward in achieving our goals.


Read press release: Drax completes acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc.