Tag: Negative emissions

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 direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS)?

What is direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS)?

Direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS, sometimes referred to as DAC or DACCS) is one of the few technologies that can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Unlike other carbon removal technologies that capture CO2 emissions during the process of generating electricity or heat, DACS can be deployed anywhere in the world it can tap into a supply of electricity.

CO2 removal is crucial to meeting the international climate goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. But it’s not enough just to cut CO2 emissions, to achieve net zero, it will also be necessary to remove the CO2 that two centuries of industrialisation have released into the environment. As a technology that removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it releases – assuming it is powered by green electricity – DACS has the potential to play a key role in this process.

Key direct air capture facts

How does DACS work?

DACS could be described as a form of industrial photosynthesis. Just as plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight and CO2 into sugar, DACS systems use electricity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere using fans and filters.

Air is drawn into the DACS system using an industrial scale fan. Liquid DACS systems pass the air through a chemical solution which removes the CO2 and returns the rest of the air back into the atmosphere.

Solid DACS systems captures CO2 on the surface of a filter covered in a chemical agent, where it then forms a compound. The new compound is heated, releasing the CO2 to be captured and separating it from the chemical agent, which can then be recycled.

The captured CO2 can then be compressed under very high pressure and pumped via pipelines into deep geological formations. This permanent storage process is known as ‘sequestration’.

Alternatively, the CO2 can be pumped under low pressure for immediate use in commercial processes, such as carbonating drinks or cement manufacturing.

A 2021 study by the Coalition for Negative Emissions shows that DACS could provide at least 1Gt of sustainable negative emissions by 2025

DACS fast facts

What role can DACS play in decarbonisation?

CO2 is in the air at the same concentration everywhere in the world. This means that DACS plants can be located anywhere, unlike carbon capture systems that remove CO2 from industrial processes at source.

There are 15 DACS plants currently in operation worldwide – Climeworks operates three in Switzerland, Iceland and Italy. Together, these small-scale plants capture approximately 9,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum. The first large-scale plant, currently being developed in the Permian Basin, Texas, is expected to capture 1,000,000 tonnes (one megatonne) per annum when it becomes operational in 2025.

At just 0.04%, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is very dilute which makes removing and storing it a challenge. This means that DACS costs significantly more than some other CO2 capture technologies – between $200 and $600 (£156-468) per metric tonne. The process also requires large amounts of energy, which adds to the demand for electricity.

However, DACS has the potential to become an important piece in the jigsaw of CO2 removal technologies and techniques that includes nature-based solutions such as planting forests, along with bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), soil sequestration and ‘blue carbon’ marine initiatives.

Go deeper

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

How to build a business model for negative emissions

Watching a biomass train as it prepares to enter Drax Power Station's rail unloading building 2 (RUB2)

In brief

  • Policy intervention is needed to enable enough BECCS in power to make a net zero UK economy possible by 2050

  • Early investment in BECCS can insure against the risk and cost of delaying significant abatement efforts into the 2030s and 2040s

  • A two-part business model for BECCS of carbon payment and power CfD offers a clear path to technology neutral and subsidy free GGRs

The UK’s electricity system is based on a market of buying and selling power and other services. For this to work electricity must be affordable to consumers, but the parties providing power must be able to cover the costs of generating electricity, emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and getting electricity to where it needs to be.

This process has thrived and proved adaptable enough to rapidly decarbonise the electricity system in the space of a decade.

With a 58% reduction in the carbon intensity of power generation, the UK’s electricity has decarbonised twice as fast as that of other major economies. As the UK pushes towards its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, new technologies are needed, and the market must extend to enable innovation.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is one of the key technologies needed at scale for the UK to reach net zero. Yet there is no market for the negative emissions BECCS can deliver, in contrast to other energy system services.

BECCS has been repeatedly flagged as vital for the UK to reach its climate goals, owing to its ability to deliver negative emissions. The Climate Change Committee has demonstrated that negative emissions – also known as greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) or carbon removals – will be needed at scale to achieve net zero, to offset residual emissions from hard to decarbonise sectors such as aviation and agriculture. But there is no economic mechanism to reward negative emissions in the energy market.

For decarbonisation technologies like BECCS in power to develop to the scale and within the timeframe needed, the Government must implement the necessary policies to incentivise investment, and allow them to thrive as part of the energy and carbon markets.

BECCS is essential to bringing the whole economy to net zero

The primary benefit of BECCS in power is its ability to deliver negative emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere through responsibly managed forests, energy crops or agricultural residues, then storing the same amount of CO2 underground, while producing reliable, renewable electricity.

Looking down above units one through five within Drax Power Station

Looking down above units one through five within Drax Power Station

A new report by Frontier Economics for Drax highlights BECCS as a necessary cornerstone of UK decarbonisation and its wider impacts on a net zero economy. Developing a first-of-a-kind BECCS power plant would have ‘positive spillover’ effects that contribute to wider decarbonisation, green growth and the UK’s ability to meet its legally-binding climate commitments by 2050.

Drax has a unique opportunity to fit carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment to its existing biomass generation units, to turn its North Yorkshire site into what could be the world’s first carbon negative power station.

Plans are underway to build a CO2 pipeline in the Yorkshire and Humber region, which would move carbon captured from at Drax out to a safe, long-term storage site deep below the North Sea. This infrastructure would be shared with other CCS projects in the Zero Carbon Humber partnership, enabling the UK’s most carbon-intensive region to become the world’s first net zero industrial cluster.

Developing BECCS can also have spillover benefits for other emerging industries. Lessons that come from developing and operating the first BECCS power stations, as well as transport and storage infrastructure, will reduce the cost of subsequent BECCS, negative emissions and other CCS projects.

Hydrogen production, for example, is regarded as a key to providing low, zero or carbon negative alternatives to natural gas in power, industry, transport and heating. Learnings from increased bioenergy usage in BECCS can help develop biomass gasification as a means of hydrogen production, as well as applying CCS to other production methods.

The economic value of these positive spillovers from BECCS can be far reaching, but they will not be felt unless BECCS can achieve a robust business model in the immediate future.

With a 58% reduction in the carbon intensity of power generation, the UK’s electricity has decarbonised twice as fast as that of other major economies. As the UK pushes towards its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, new technologies are needed, and the market must extend to enable innovation.

Designing a BECCS business model

The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) outlined several key factors to consider in assessing how to make carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) economically viable. These are also valid for BECCS development.

Engineers working within the turbine hall, Drax Power Station

Engineers working within the turbine hall, Drax Power Station

One of the primary needs for a BECCS business model is to instil confidence in investors – by creating a policy framework that encourages investors to back innovative new technologies, reduces risk and inspires new entrants into the space. The cost of developing a BECCS project should also be fairly distributed among contributing parties ensuring that costs to consumers/taxpayers are minimised.

Building from these principles there are three potential business models that can enable BECCS to be developed at the scale and in the timeframe needed to bring the UK to net zero emissions in 2050.

  1. Power Contract for Difference (CfD):
    By protecting consumers from price spikes, and BECCS generators and investors from market volatility or big drops in the wholesale price of power, this approach offers security to invest in new technology. The strike price could also be adjusted to take into account negative emissions delivered and spillover benefits, as well as the cost of power generation.
  2. Carbon payment:
    Another approach is contractual fixed carbon payments that would offer a BECCS power station a set payment per tonne of negative emissions which would cover the operational and capital costs of installing carbon capture technology on the power station. This would be a new form of support, and unfamiliar to investors who are already versed in CfDs. The advantage of introducing a policy such as fixed carbon payment is its flexibility, and it could be used to support other methods of GGR or CCS. The same scheme could be adjusted to reward, for example, CO2 captured through CCS in industry or direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS). It could even be used to remunerate measurable spillover benefits from front-running BECCS projects.
  3. Carbon payment + power CfD:
    This option combines the two above. The Frontier report says it would be the most effective business model for supporting a BECCS in power project. Carbon payments would act as an incentive for negative emissions and spillovers, while CfDs would then cover the costs of power generation.
Cost and revenue profiles of alternative support options

Cost and revenue profiles of alternative support options based on assuming a constant level of output over time.

 Way to go, hybrid!

Why does the hybrid business model of power CfD with carbon payment come out on top? Frontier considered how easy or difficult it would be to transition each of the options to a technology neutral business model for future projects, and then to a subsidy free business model.

By looking ahead to tech neutrality, the business model would not unduly favour negative emissions technologies – such as BECCS at Drax – that are available to deploy at scale in the 2020s, over those that might come online later.

Plus, the whole point of subsidies is to help to get essential, fledgling technologies and business models off to a flying start until the point they can stand on their own two feet.

The report concluded:

  • Ease of transition to technology neutrality: all three options are unlikely to have any technology neutral elements in the short-term, although they could transition to a mid-term regime which could be technology neutral; and
  • Ease of transition to subsidy free: while all of the options can transition to a subsidy free system, the power CfD does not create any policy learnings around treatment of negative emissions that contribute to this transition. The other two options do create learnings around a carbon payment for negative emissions that can eventually be broadened to other GGRs and then captured within an efficient CO2 market.

‘Overall, we conclude that the two-part business model performs best on this criterion. The other two options perform less well, with the power CfD performing worst as it does not deliver learnings around remunerating negative emissions.’

Assessment of business model options

Assessment of business model options. Green indicates that the criteria is largely met, yellow indicates that it is partially met, and red indicates that it is not met.

Transition to a net zero future

Engineer inspects carbon capture pilot plant at Drax Power Station

Engineer inspects carbon capture pilot plant at Drax Power Station

Crucial to the implementation of BECCS is the feasibility of these business models, in terms of their practicality in being understood by investors, how quickly they can be put into action and how they will evolve or be replaced in the long-term as technologies mature and costs go down. This can be improved by using models that are comparable with existing policies.

These business models can only deliver BECCS in power (as well as other negative emissions technologies) at scale and enable the UK to reach its 2050 net zero target, if they are implemented now.

Every year of stalling delays the impact positive spillovers and negative emissions can have on global CO2 levels. The UK Government must provide the private sector with the confidence to deliver BECCS and other net zero technologies in the time frame needed.

Go deeper

Explore the Frontier Economics report for Drax, ‘Supporting the deployment of Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in the UK: business model options.’

At the heart of the energy transition

Tree nursery in Mississippi

Will Gardiner opened the second day of the Chatham House Energy Transitions conference. Watch his keynote address below or scroll down the page to read his speech in full.

The energy transition is central to our purpose of enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future.

Drax has been at the heart of Britain’s energy system for decades. And we have played a key role in the decarbonisation of the power sector: Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire, is the UK’s largest power station and Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Cruachan, our Scottish Pumped Storage facility is a key complement to Britain’s ever increasing supply of offshore wind.

Our transition from coal to biomass has allowed us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% while providing clean and flexible energy to millions of homes and businesses across the UK. This month saw the end of commercial coal generation at Drax power station – a milestone in the history of our company and of the UK economy, too.

But the scale of the climate crisis means that we cannot stop here.

Which is why we have committed to a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030.

We will achieve this by making a transformational investment in bioenergy with CCS, or BECCS, which will enable us to permanently remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere while continuing to supply the renewable electricity that millions of British homes and businesses depend upon.

Water outlet into Loch Awe from Cruachan Power Station

Water outlet into Loch Awe from Cruachan Power Station

Today, we are pioneering BECCS at Drax Power Station as part of the Zero Carbon Humber Cluster, a coalition of diverse businesses with one ambition: to create the world’s first net zero emissions industrial cluster.

The benefits are enormous

BECCS is a vital technology in the fight against climate change. Expert bodies such as the Climate Change Committee here in the UK and the IPCC at a global level are clear that we need negative emissions technologies including BECCS to reach net zero, and BECCS is central to the UK and Europe’s decarbonisation plans.

As the world’s largest, and most experienced, generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to pioneer BECCS than at Drax. The economic, social and environmental benefits are enormous.

BECCS at Drax will permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and help heavy industry in the UK’s largest emitting area decarbonise quickly and cost effectively;

It will enable the creation of tens of thousands of green jobs in the North of England, levelling up the economy and delivering a green recovery from the Covid crisis;

And it will put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to develop carbon removal technology in this, the year that we host COP26 in Glasgow.

The scale of the climate crisis means that we cannot stop here.

A proven technology

We know that BECCS works and that the technology is available now. Looking at cost projections from the CCC, we also know that it is the best value negative emissions technology.

Engineer at BECCS pilot project within Drax Power Station

Engineer at BECCS pilot project within Drax Power Station

We have already successfully run two BECCS pilots at the power station. In 2019 we demonstrated that we can capture CO2 from a 100% biomass feedstock. And in 2020, we began a second pilot working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to further enhance the potential for delivering negative emissions.

We aim to deploy BECCS at scale by 2027. To that end, earlier this month, we kickstarted the planning process for our proposals to build our first BECCS units, marking a major milestone in the project and putting us in a position to commence building BECCS as soon as 2024.

The support we need

Drax Power Station has a proud history of transformation. And today we are making rapid progress in further decarbonising our operations and making bold commitments about our future.

The core of our successful decarbonisation has been a close partnership with government. And it is this partnership that will make BECCS a reality and enable the multiple benefits that come with it. An effective negative emissions policy and regulatory framework from government will enable further investments from companies such as Drax.

We believe it is possible for such a policy framework to emerge in the coming months.

With COP26 later this year, making that policy commitment will allow us to accelerate our own decarbonisation journey and support the industries of the future here in the UK.

BECCS in context

But we know that there is no silver bullet solution to tackling climate change.

Negative emissions technologies such as BECCS will be needed alongside others, for example more renewables, electric vehicles, energy storage, energy efficiency and hydrogen.

BECCS will enable us to permanently remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere while continuing to supply the renewable electricity that millions of British homes and businesses depend upon.

BECCS complements – and does not – and should not – substitute for ambitious decarbonisation plans. Technologies such as BECCS have a clear and unique role to play by helping harder to abate sectors such as heavy industry, aviation and agriculture – decarbonise.

This is critically important if we are to meet our legally binding 2050 net zero target. The CCC estimates that 51m tonnes of CO2 will need to be captured via BECCS to meet net zero.

Sustainability at our core

We know that BECCS can only make a meaningful contribution to tackling climate change if the bioenergy is sustainably sourced. This has been fundamental to Drax’s transition from coal to biomass, and it remains fundamental as we progress our plans for BECCS.

Infographic showing how BECCS removes carbon from the atmosphere

Biomass, as the UK Government has stated, is one of our most valuable tools for reaching net zero emissions. So we need the right framework to ensure it is sourced sustainably.

As the world’s largest bioenergy producer and generator, we recognise our responsibility to be the world leaders in sustainability, too.

At Drax, we have invested in world leading policies, tools and expertise to ensure that our biomass is sustainably sourced. We go beyond regulatory compliance and have set up an Independent Advisory Board, Chaired by the UK Government’s former Chief Scientific Advisor, to help us and challenge us on sustainable biomass and its role in Drax’s transition to net zero.

front cover of 'Responsible sourcing' PDF

[click to read]

Thanks to our independent catchment area analyses, we know more about the forests we source from than ever before. We know and can demonstrate how demand for biomass can support healthy forests. For example, in the South East US where Drax sources most of its biomass, there is more than double the carbon stored in forests than there was 50 years ago.

A partnership with our stakeholders

The purpose of today’s session is to discuss all these issues and more. Our aim is clear: to enable a successful energy transition.

At Drax we stand ready to invest hundreds of millions of pounds to scale up BECCS technology;

To put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to reach net zero emissions;

And to help create tens of thousands of green jobs in the North of England.

But I want your help in making BECCS as sustainable and successful as it can be.

We know and can demonstrate how demand for biomass can support healthy forests.

Thank you very much for listening and I wish you a good and constructive session tackling this critical global challenge.

Will Gardiner delivered this keynote address at Energy Transitions 2021.

The video of Will’s speech can be watched in full here and with subtitles here.

Attracting investment in emerging low carbon technologies

Biomass dome at Drax Power Station

Hello everyone. My name is Will Gardiner and I am the CEO of the Drax Group. It is great to have the opportunity to speak to you today at the Utility Week Investor Summit and to discuss attracting investment in emerging low carbon technologies.

Drax at the heart of the energy transition

My company Drax has been at the heart of Britain’s energy system for decades. And we have played a key role in the decarbonisation of the power sector: Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire, is the UK’s largest power station and Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Cruachan, our Scottish Pumped Storage facility, is a key complement to Britain’s ever-increasing supply of offshore wind.

Our transition from coal to biomass has allowed us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% while providing clean and flexible energy to millions of homes and businesses across the UK.  This month saw the end of commercial coal generation at Drax power station – a milestone in the history of our company and of the UK economy, too.

But the drive to create a more sustainable, net zero economy means that we cannot stop here.

Which is why at Drax we have committed to a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030.

Engineer in the workshop at Drax Power Station

Engineer in the workshop at Drax Power Station

We will achieve this by increasing our capacity to generate renewable electricity, and by making a transformational investment in bioenergy with CCS, or BECCS, which will enable us to permanently remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

We are pioneering BECCS at Drax Power Station as part of the Zero Carbon Humber cluster, a coalition of diverse businesses with the same ambition: to create the world’s first net zero emissions industrial cluster.

I am delighted to confirm today that the Zero Carbon Humber Cluster project has received more than £21m in funding from the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to help accelerate our plans and to help transform our vision of a zero carbon industrial cluster into a reality.

The benefits are enormous

BECCS is a vital technology in the fight against climate change. Expert bodies such as the Climate Change Committee here in the UK and the IPCC at a global level are clear that we need negative emissions technologies including BECCS to reach net zero. And BECCS is central to the UK government and Europe’s decarbonisation plans.

As the world’s largest, and most experienced, generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to pioneer BECCS than at Drax.  The economic, social and environmental benefits are enormous.

BECCS at Drax will permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and help heavy industry in the UK’s largest emitting area decarbonise quickly and cost effectively;

It will enable the creation of tens of thousands of green jobs in the North of England, levelling up the economy and delivering a green recovery from the Covid crisis;

And it will put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to develop carbon removal technology in this, the year that we host COP26 in Glasgow.

A proven technology

We know that BECCS works and that the technology is available now. Looking at cost projections from the CCC, we also know that it is the best value negative emissions technology.

We have already successfully run two BECCS pilots at the power station. In 2019 we demonstrated that we can capture CO2 from a 100% biomass feedstock. And in 2020, we began a second pilot working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to further enhance the potential for delivering negative emissions.

We aim to deploy BECCS at scale by 2027. To that end, earlier this month, we kickstarted the planning process for our proposals to build our first BECCS unit, marking a major milestone in the project and putting us in a position to commence building BECCS as soon as 2024.

A partnership between industry and government

Successful decarbonisation has always been a partnership between industry and government.

This is evident looking at the incredible rise of Britain’s offshore wind sector. As a direct response to government’s political commitment, a strong price signal, and an investable Contract for Difference mechanism, offshore wind capacity has grown from 1GW to over 10GW in a decade. And build costs are now two thirds lower than what they were 10 years ago.

Pylon that takes excess wind power to be stored at Cruachan pumped hydro storage power station in Scotland

Pylon that takes excess wind power to be stored at Cruachan pumped hydro storage power station in Scotland

At Drax, our conversion from coal to biomass was benefited from much the same framework:

  • The UK Government was – and continues to be – very strong in its support for biomass as a renewable technology to replace coal;
  • Our CfD mechanism has given investors the certainty they need to invest;
  • And successive government’s commitment to a carbon price that matches or exceeds that of our European neighbours has told the market that Britain is serious about decarbonising the power sector rapidly.

That combination of factors – a clear, transparent, investable framework for renewables, combined with a strong price signal from the UK government discouraging fossil fuel power generation – has been the key to driving private sector investment in renewable power technology in the UK. As a result, the UK leads the world in decarbonising its electricity sector, while also enabling a global technology revolution in offshore wind power. Importantly, the whole effort has been underpinned by transparency, competition and confidence in the regulatory and legal framework, all of which are critical.

Building a partnership for the future

By continuing this partnership between industry and government, the UK could become the world leader in emerging green technologies such as BECCS.

Right now, markets and regulatory frameworks for BECCS or negative emissions more broadly either don’t exist – or aren’t flexible enough – to support the scaling of the technologies we need to get to net zero. But the first-generation framework, as I have just described, provides a great model.

Fundamentally, we believe that we can do BECCS at a cost of less than £100/t of CO2, which is less than any other negative emissions technology available.

We know this investment will help the UK reach net zero at a lower cost than it otherwise could do.

Maintenance inside a water cooling tower at Drax Power Station

Maintenance inside a water cooling tower at Drax Power Station

But although we’re ready to make the investment – the UK’s regulatory system isn’t yet ready to support it.

Despite being world leaders in these areas, our carbon pricing system and financial markets don’t yet recognise the value of negative emissions, even though our political institutions and scientists say they are vital to tackling climate change.

There is no government defined business model for BECCS, which will be essential to signalling long term political support as well as operational support.

And despite being the best placed country in the world to develop BECCS, we risk losing out as other countries race to deploy this technology first. Just last week we saw Aker, Microsoft and Orsted sign a memorandum of understanding to develop BECCS in Denmark.

However, in its ten-point plan, the UK government has committed to outline what role biomass and BECCS will play in the UK’s transition to net zero by the end of this year. Soon it will be consulting on a new bioenergy strategy. And it has already taken evidence on Greenhouse Gas Removal technologies and consulted on CCS clusters.

This, we believe, demonstrates that a set of policies could emerge in the coming months that will support investment in BECCS.

At their core, we think these policies should capture the stability and investability of a CfD for the renewable power that we will produce, as well as deliver payment for the negative emissions. By compensating negative emissions with a credit for every ton of CO2 they remove from the environment, the government can properly reward those technologies, and add a critical new set of tools to the fight against climate change – ultimately lower the cost of winning that battle.

This would enable Drax to invest in BECCS, begin delivering negative emissions and helping to decarbonise the North of England as soon as 2027.

With COP26 later this year, making this policy commitment will allow us to accelerate our own decarbonisation journey and support the industries of the future develop here in the UK.

BECCS in context

We know that there is no silver bullet solution to tackling climate change.

Negative emissions technologies such as BECCS will be needed alongside others, for example more renewables, electric vehicles, energy storage, energy efficiency and hydrogen.

Drax employee charging an electric car at Haven Power in Ipswich

Drax employee charging an electric car at Haven Power in Ipswich

BECCS complements – and does not – and should not – substitute for ambitious decarbonisation plans. Technologies such as BECCS have a clear and unique role to play by helping harder to abate sectors such as heavy industry, aviation and agriculture – decarbonise.

This is critically important if we are to meet our legally binding 2050 net zero target. The CCC estimates that 51m tonnes of CO2 will need to be captured via BECCS to meet net zero.

Sustainability at our core

We know that BECCS can only make a meaningful contribution to tackling climate change if the bioenergy is sustainably sourced. This has been fundamental to Drax’s transition from coal to biomass, and it remains fundamental as we progress our plans for BECCS.

Wood residues at Morehouse Bioenergy, Louisiana

Sustainably sourced wood residues at Morehouse Bioenergy pellet plant in Louisiana

Biomass, as the UK Government has stated, is one of our most valuable tools for reaching net zero emissions. So we need the right framework to ensure it is sourced sustainably.

As the world’s largest bioenergy producer and generator, we recognise our responsibility to be the world leaders in sustainability, too.

At Drax, we have invested in world leading policies, tools and expertise to ensure that our biomass is sustainably sourced. We go beyond regulatory compliance and have set up an Independent Advisory Board, Chaired by the UK Government’s former Chief Scientific Advisor, to help us and challenge us on sustainable biomass and its role in Drax’s transition to net zero.

Thanks to our independent catchment area analyses, we know more about the forests we source from than ever before. We know and can demonstrate how demand for biomass can support healthy forests. For example, in the South East US where Drax sources most of its biomass, there is more than double the carbon stored in forests than there was 50 years ago.

Ready to deliver

BECCS will be a critical green technology. And with the right support and policy framework we could be pioneers in making it a reality.

There is no better place to deliver BECCS than at Drax, and no better time to deliver it than now.

At Drax, we stand ready to invest hundreds of millions of pounds to scale up BECCS technology;

To put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to reach net zero emissions;

And to help create tens of thousands of green jobs in the North of England.

Thank you very much for listening.

Will Gardiner delivered this keynote address at the Utility Week Investor Summit

Standing together
against climate
change

Global leadership illustration

Tackling climate change requires global collaboration. As a UK-US sustainable energy company, with communities on both sides of the Atlantic, we at Drax are keenly aware of the need for thinking that transcends countries and borders.

Joe Biden has become the 46th President of my native country at a crucial time to ensure there is global leadership and collaboration on climate change. Starting with re-joining the Paris Agreement, I am confident that the new administration can make a significant difference to this once-in-a-lifetime challenge.

This is why Drax and our partners are mobilising a transatlantic coalition of negative emissions producers. This can foster collaboration and shared learning between the different technologies and techniques for carbon removal that are essential to decarbonise the global economy.

Biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire at sunset

Biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

Whilst political and technical challenges lie ahead, clear long-term policies that spur collaboration, drive innovation and enable technologies at scale are essential in achieving the UK and US’ aligned targets of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Collaboration between countries and industries

What makes climate change so difficult to tackle is that it requires collaboration from many different parties on a scale like few other projects. This is why the Paris Agreement and this year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow are so vital.

Sustainable biomass wood pellets being safely loaded at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge onto a vessel destined for Drax Power Station

Our effort towards delivering negative emissions using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is another example of ambitious decarbonisation that is most impactful as part of an integrated, collaborative energy system. The technology depends upon sustainable forest management in regions, such as the US South where our American communities operate. Carbon capture using sustainable bioenergy will help Drax to be carbon negative by 2030 – an ambition I announced at COP25, just over a year ago in Madrid.

Will Gardiner at Powering Past Coal Alliance event in the UK Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid

Will Gardiner announcing Drax’s carbon negative ambition at COP25 in Madrid (December 2019).

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic consider BECCS essential for net zero. The UK’s Climate Change Committee says it will play a major role in tackling carbon dioxide (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.

A variety of negative emissions technologies are required to capture between 10% and 20% of the 35 billion metric tonnes of carbon produced annually that the International Energy Agency says is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

We believe that sharing our experience and expertise in areas such as forestry, bioenergy, and carbon capture will be crucial in helping more countries, industries and businesses deploy a range of technologies.

A formal coalition of negative emissions producers that brings together approaches including land management, afforestation and reforestation, as well as technical solutions like direct air capture (DAC), as well as BECCS, would offer an avenue to ensure knowledge is shared globally.

Direct air capture (DAC) facility

Direct air capture (DAC) facility

It would also offer flexibility in countries’ paths to net zero emissions. If one approach under-delivers, other technologies can work together to compensate and meet CO2 removal targets.

As with renewable energy, working in partnership with governments is essential to develop these innovations into the cost-effective, large scale solutions needed to meet climate targets in the mid-century.

A shared economic opportunity

I agree whole heartedly that a nation’s economy and environment are intrinsically linked – something many leaders are now saying, including President Biden. The recently approved US economic stimulus bill, supported by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and which allocates $35 billion for new clean energy initiatives, is a positive step for climate technology and job creation.

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 are also a vital economic force as the world begins to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Engineer inside the turbine hall of Drax Power Station

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.

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.

We are also partnered with 11 other organisations in the UK’s Humber region to develop a carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen industrial cluster with the potential to spearhead creating and supporting more than 200,000 jobs around the UK in 2039.

The expertise and equipment needed for such a project can be shared, traded and exported to other industrial clusters around the world, allowing us to help reach global climate goals and drive global standards for CCUS and biomass sustainability.

Clear, long-term policies are essential here, not just to help develop technology but to mitigate risk and encourage investment. These are the next crucial steps needed to deploy negative emissions at the scale required to impact CO2 emissions and lives of people.

Engineer at BECCS pilot project within Drax Power Station

At Drax we directly employ almost 3,000 people in the US and UK, and indirectly support thousands of families through our supply chains on both sides of the Atlantic. 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 United States and the rest of the world – a world where major economies are committing to a net zero future and benefiting from a green economic recovery.

Committing to a net zero power system as part of COP26

Dear Prime Minister, Chancellor, COP26 President and Minister for Energy and Clean Growth,

We are a group of energy companies investing tens of billions in the coming decade, deploying the low carbon infrastructure the UK will need to get to net zero and drive a green recovery to the COVID-19 crisis.

We welcome the leadership shown on the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, and the detailed work going on across government to deliver a net zero economy by 2050. We are writing to you to call on the Government to signal what this will mean for UK electricity decarbonisation by committing to a date for a net zero power system.

Head of BECCS inspects pilot plant within Drax Power Station's CCUS Incubation Unit

Head of BECCS Carl Clayton inspects pipes at the CCUS Incubation Area, Drax Power Station

The electricity sector will be the backbone of our net zero economy, and there will be ever increasing periods where Great Britain is powered by only zero carbon generation. To support this, the Electricity System Operator is putting in place the systems, products and services to enable periods of zero emissions electricity system operation by 2025.

Achieving a net zero power system will require government to continue its efforts in key policy areas such as carbon pricing, which has been central in delivering UK leadership in the move away from coal and has led to UK electricity emissions falling by over 63% between 2012 and 2019 alone.

It is thanks to successive governments’ commitment to robust carbon pricing that the UK is now using levels of coal in power generation last seen 250 years ago – before the birth of the steam locomotive. A consistent, robust carbon price has also unlocked long term investment low-carbon power generation such that power generated by renewables overtook fossil fuel power generation for the first time in British history in the first quarter of 2020.

Yet, even with the demise of coal and the progress in offshore wind, more needs to be done to drive the remaining emissions from electricity as its use is extended across the economy.

In the near-term, in combination with other policies, continued robust carbon pricing on electricity will incentivise the continued deployment of low carbon generation, market dispatch of upcoming gas-fired generation with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects and the blending of low carbon hydrogen with gas-fired generation. Further forward, a robust carbon price can incentivise 100% hydrogen use in gas-fired generation, and importantly drive negative emissions to facilitate the delivery of a net zero economy.

Next year, the world’s attention will focus on Glasgow and negotiations crucial to achieving our climate change targets, with important commitments already made by China, the EU, Japan and South Korea amongst others. An ambitious 2030 target from the UK will help kickstart the Sprint to Glasgow ahead of the UK-UN Climate Summit on 12 December.

Electricity cables and pylon snaking around a mountain near Cruachan Power Station in the Highlands

Electricity cables and pylon snaking around a mountain near Cruachan Power Station, Drax’s flexible pumped storage facility in the Highlands

2030 ambition is clearly needed, but to deliver on net zero, deep decarbonisation will be required. Previous commitments from the UK on its coal phase out and being the first major economy to adopt a net zero target continue to encourage similar international actions. To build on these and continue UK leadership on electricity sector decarbonisation, we call on the UK to commit to a date for a net zero power system ahead of COP26, to match the commitment of the US President-elect’s Clean Energy Plan. To ensure the maximum benefit at lowest cost, the chosen date should be informed by analysis and consider broad stakeholder input.

Alongside near-term stability as the UK’s carbon pricing future is determined, to meet this commitment Government should launch a consultation on a date for a net zero power system by the Budget next year, with a target date to be confirmed in the UK’s upcoming Net Zero Strategy. This commitment would send a signal to the rest of the world that the UK intends to maintain its leadership position on climate and to build a greener, more resilient economy.

To:

  • Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  • Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UNFCCC COP26 President
  • Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth

Signatories:

BP, Drax, National Grid ESO, Sembcorp, Shell and SSE

View/download letter in PDF format

 

A net zero UK will be good for people and the planet

Peak district walker

For the UK to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and do its part in tackling the biggest challenge of our time, all sectors of the economy must reduce their emissions and do it quickly.

I believe the best approach to tackling climate change is through ‘co-benefit’ solutions: solutions that not only have a positive environmental impact, but that are economically progressive for society today and in the future through training, skills and job creation.

As an energy company, this task is especially important for Drax. We have a responsibility to future generations to innovate and use our engineering skills to deliver power that’s renewable, sustainable and that doesn’t come at a cost to the environment.

Our work on Zero Carbon Humber, in partnership with 11 other forward-thinking organisations, aims to deploy the negative emissions technology BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), as well as CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) in industry and power, and ramp up hydrogen production as a low carbon fuel. These are all essential technologies in bringing the UK to net zero, but they are also innovative projects at scale that can benefit society and the lives of people in the Humber, and around the UK.

New jobs in a new sector

The Humber region has a proud history in heavy industries. What began as a thriving ship building hub has evolved to include chemicals, refining and steel manufacturing. However, these emissions-intensive industries have grown increasingly expensive to operate and many have left for countries where they can be run cheaper, leading to a decline in the Humber region.

If they are not decarbonised, these industries will face an even greater cost. By 2040, emitters could face billions of pounds per year in carbon taxes, making them less competitive and less attractive for international investment.

Deploying carbon capture and hydrogen are essential steps towards modernising these businesses and protecting up to 55,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the region.

Capturing carbon at Drax: Delivering jobs, clean growth and levelling up the Humber. Click to view executive summary and case studies from Vivid Economics report for Drax.

A report by Vivid Economics commissioned by Drax, found that carbon capture and hydrogen in the Humber could create and support almost 48,000 new jobs at the peak of the construction period in 2027 and provide thousands of long term, skilled jobs in the following decades.

As well as protecting people’s livelihoods, decarbonisation is also a matter of public health. In the Humber alone, higher air quality could save £148 million in avoided public health costs between 2040 and 2050.

I believe the UK is well position to rise to the challenge and lead the world in decarbonisation technology. There is a clear opportunity to export knowledge and skills to other countries embarking on their own decarbonisation journeys. BECCS alone could create many more jobs related to exporting the technology and operational know-how and deliver additional value for the economy. As interest in negative emissions grows around the world, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a competitive advantage.

A fairer economy

This is in many ways the start of a new sector in our economy – one that can offer new employment, earnings and economic growth. It comes at just the right time. Without intervention to spur a green recovery, the COVID-19 crisis risks subjecting long-term economic damage.

Being at the beginning of the industrial decarbonisation journey means we also have the power to shape this new industry in a way that spreads the benefits across the whole of the UK.

We’ve previously seen sector deals struck between the government and industry include equality measures. For example, the nuclear industry aims to count women as 40% of its employees by 2030, while offshore wind is committed to sourcing 60% of its supply chain from the UK.

Wind turbines at Bridlington, East Yorkshire

At present, the Humber region receives among the lowest levels of government investment in research and development in the UK, contributing to a pronounced skills gap among the workforce. In addition, almost 60% of construction workers across the wider Yorkshire and Humber region were furloughed as of August 2020.

A project such as Zero Carbon Humber could address this regional imbalance and offer skilled, long term jobs to local communities. That’s why I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of £1bn investment to support the establishment of CCUS in the Humber and other ‘SuperPlaces’ around the UK.

As the Government’s Ten Point Plan says, CCUS can ‘help decarbonise our most challenging sectors, provide low carbon power and a pathway to negative emissions’. 

Healthier forests

The co-benefits of BECCS extend beyond our communities in the UK. We aim to become carbon negative by 2030 by removing our CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and abating emissions that might still exist on the UK’s path to net zero.

Background. Fir tree branch with dew drops on a blurred background of sunlight

This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use continues to be sourced from sustainable forests that positively benefit the environment and the communities in which we and our suppliers operate.

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

I believe we must continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light. We can help ensure the UK’s biomass sourcing is led by the latest science, best practice and transparency, supporting healthy, biodiverse forests around the world; and even apply it internationally.

Global leadership

Delivering deep decarbonisation for the UK will require collaboration from industries, government and society. What we can achieve through large-scale projects like Zero Carbon Humber is more than just the vital issue of reduced emissions. It is also about creating jobs, protecting health and improving livelihoods.

These are more than just benefits, they are the makings of a future filled with opportunity for the Humber and for the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution.

By implementing the Ten Point Plan and publishing its National Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year, the UK continues to be an example to the world on climate action.