Tag: United States

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.

Drax Biomass invests in greenhouse gas efficiencies

close-up of truck raising and lowering

We have increased the capacity at Drax Biomass Amite and Morehouse pellet plants to increase capacity and made them more greenhouse gas (GHG) efficient. Central to the projects was the addition of storage silos and handling equipment to allow increased use of dry shavings and other mill residuals. The developments included the addition of an extra truck dump at each facility to allow delivery of increased volumes of these feedstocks.

Drax biomass pellet trucks

Use of mill residuals and dry shavings reduces the energy required to make a pellet, as such material does not need to be de-barked, chipped and re-sized in the same way as roundwood. Some of the material has a low moisture content and is therefore able to enter the process after the dryer, which effectively increases the capacity of each plant. This drives down the average GHG emission per tonne of pellets produced. A key measure of this is the KWh of electricity per tonne of pellets, and we saw this reduce by about 10% in the final months of the year compared with the start of the year, with further savings anticipated.

LaSalle BioEnergy in Louisiana

At LaSalle, a significant amount of our investment is going into allowing pellets to be transported to the port by rail, rather than truck. For the 250 km trip to Baton Rouge, a significant carbon saving compared to trucks will be achieved when LaSalle reaches its capacity of 450,000 tonnes per year. Moving pellets by rail should start in the next year.

Active management of forests increases growth and carbon storage

A study on the historical trends in the forest industry of the US South, carried out by supply chain consultancy Forest2Market, and commissioned by Drax Group, the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, found that over the last 60 years, as demand for forestry products has increased, the productivity of the area’s forests has increased too. In short, the more we’ve come to use them, the more forests have grown.

A forest is not like a mine – there is not a finite amount of wood in the ground that disappears when it is extracted, never to return. Forests are a renewable resource that can be replanted, improved, and harvested for as long as the land is managed responsibly.

What’s more, landowners have a strong financial incentive to not only maintain their holdings but to improve their productivity – after all, the more of something you have, the more of it you have to sell. It is an economic incentive that works.

Six decades of growth

The Forest2Market report found that increased demand for wood is statistically correlated with more annual tree growth, more wood volume available in the forest, and more timberland.

For example, between 1953 and 2015, tree harvests increased by 57%, largely driven by US economic growth and increased construction. Over the same period, annual wood growth increased by 112%, and inventory increased by 108%. In total, annual growth exceeded annual removals by 38% on average.

Annual forest growth in the US South increased from 193 million cubic metres in 1953 to 408 million cubic metres in 2015. Inventory increased from 4 billion to 8.4 billion cubic metres.

The forest products industry funded private-public research projects to enhance the quality and performance of seedlings and forest management practices to ensure a stable supply of wood. Because of these efforts, landowners saw the value of active management techniques, changing their approach to site preparation, fertilization, weed control, and thinning, and the use of improved planting stock. Healthy demand made it easy for landowners to take a long-term view, investing in more expensive management practices up front for greater returns in the future. And the results were extraordinary: seedlings established in the last 20 years have helped plantations to become nearly four times as productive as they were 50 years ago.

A changing market

Markets for wood have changed over the last two decades, precipitated by decreased demand for writing paper and newsprint, increased demand for absorbent hygiene products and containerboard and increased demand for biomass. These changes in demand have not impacted the way that landowners manage timberland, however. As sawtimber (the largest trees in the forest) remains the most valuable timber crop, it also remains the crop the landowners want to grow. Pulpwood is harvested from the forest only when the forest is being thinned to create optimal conditions for growing sawtimber or when sawtimber is harvested and the forest is being cleared for replanting.

Pellet production has expanded rapidly in the US South, though its overall footprint is still small in comparison to more traditional forest product industries.

In some local wood basins, however, like the one surrounding Bastrop, Louisiana (the location of one of Drax’s US production facilities), the use of biomass to create pellets has filled a gap left by the closure of an 80-year old paper mill. Drax’s decision to locate in this area is integral to supporting forest industry jobs and landowners who carefully consider local demand when deciding whether to continue growing trees.

According to Tracy Leslie, Director of Forest2Market’s biomaterials and sustainability practice, “As history has shown, forests in the US South have benefitted from increased demand for all types of wood. The rise of the pulp and paper industry did not detract from landowner objectives to maximize production of higher value sawtimber nor did it result in a shift in focus to growing only pulpwood. This new demand did, however, provide landowners with important interim and supplemental sources of income. Forest2Market’s research shows that an increase in demand for pellets will have the same effect, incentivizing landowners to grow and re-grow forests, increasing both forest inventory and carbon storage.”

The real threat to forests

Not only does demand for forest products increase the productivity and carbon storage of forests and provide an incentive for landowners to continue growing trees, but it also helps counter factors that irrevocably destroy this natural resource. The real threat to forests in the US is not demand for wood, but urbanisation. Nearly half of all US forestland that converted to another use between 1982 and 2012 was cleared for urban development.

Commercial forestry protects forested lands from development; between 1989 and 1999, just 1% of managed pine plantations in the US South were cleared for non-forest development compared to 3% of naturally-regenerated forest types.

Urbanisation, not the forest products industry, places the most pressure on forests in the US South. Forest2Market’s findings demonstrate that demand associated with healthy timber markets promotes the productivity of forests and mitigates forest loss by encouraging landowners to continue to grow, harvest, and regenerate trees.

Read the full report: Historical Perspective on the Relationship between Demand and Forest Productivity in the US South. An At A Glance version plus an Executive Summary are also available as a separate documents.