Sourcing Sustainable Biomass - Drax

Sourcing sustainable biomass

At Drax we use wood pellets sourced from sustainably managed working forests and residues from forest industries to generate low-carbon, renewable electricity. We ensure our biomass is sustainable and compliant with appropriate legislation through a combination of proactive supplier engagement, third-party certification schemes and our own audits and checks.

Responsible Sourcing Policy for Biomass

In 2019, we published Responsible Sourcing: A policy for biomass from sustainable forests. The Responsible Sourcing policy for biomass strengthens ourapproach in line with recommendations made by a report commissioned by the European Climate Foundation. This is to provide further assurance that the sustainable biomass we source makes a net positive contribution to climate change, protects and enhances biodiversity and has a positive social impact on local communities.

The Responsible Sourcing policy outlines our forest biomass sustainability commitments:

  1. We will reduce carbon dioxide emissions

We are committed to ensuring the biomass we use makes a positive contribution to tackling the climate change crisis and fulfilling the UK’s Paris Agreement targets.

  1. We will protect the natural environment

We recognise our duty to keep forests thriving and to respect the many benefits they bring, including carbon storage, protection of soil and water quality, supporting biodiversity and provision of habitat.

  1. We will support people and communities

From state-owned forests to smallholdings, and from the US Southeast to the Baltic states, forest owners, forest workers and communities in our sourcing areas are bound by their common reliance on forests for employment, wellbeing and quality of life.

  1. We will invest in research, outreach and intervention

The strength of our collaboration with others will improve the sourcing choices we make. We are committed to working with governments, nongovernmental organisations, academia and other stakeholders to continually improve biomass sourcing and develop best practice.

Independent Advisory Board

In 2019, we established an Independent Advisory Board (IAB) of scientists and leaders in the field of sustainability to provide impartial advice and guidance. The IAB will advise on feedstock options, forest science and how Drax can optimise carbon benefits. It will also give advice on the role of sustainable biomass in Drax’s climate change mitigation activities and in supporting the transition to a net zero energy system.

The advice from the IAB means our stakeholders can be assured that Drax will keep our Sustainability and Responsible Sourcing policies under review and that the biomass we use follows the latest scientific research and best practice.

The independent group is chaired by Professor Sir John Beddington, former UK government Chief Scientific Adviser. It will meet twice a year and will provide feedback and make recommendations on Drax’s sustainable biomass approach and performance.

Ensuring Sustainable Biomass

We ensure our biomass is sustainable and compliant with appropriate legislation through a combination of proactive supplier engagement, third-party certification schemes and our own audits and checks. We rely on a number of forest certification programmes, including the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) – Drax FSC License Code: FSC-C119787, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP).

Our Biomass Sustainability Requirements

The Group Sustainability policy outlines our requirements and it is evidenced and included in biomass supplier contracts. We adhere to the UK Government criteria for sustainable biomass, the Forest Europe Sustainable Forest Management criteria and we comply with the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR).

  • Group sustainability policy – in place since 2008, our policy covers our core sustainability values on protecting biodiversity, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and contribution to social values.
  • UK Government criteria for sustainable biomass – we report monthly on compliance with the UK sustainability criteria, including life cycle emissions limits and the land criteria. This covers the requirements of the Forest Europe Sustainable Forest Management criteria, including: maintaining forest area and carbon stocks; encouraging the production of forest products; maintaining the health and vitality of the forest ecosystem; conserving and enhancing biological diversity; contributing socio-economic benefits; and ensuring that soil and water protection is maintained.
  • European Union Timber Regulation – in place since 2013, the EUTR requires purchasers of wood products to have coherent due diligence processes in place to minimise the risk of trading illegally logged timber.

Further to our Group Sustainability policy, Responsible Sourcing: A policy for biomass from sustainable forests outlines our forest biomass sustainability commitments.

Due Diligence Process

Drax has developed a rigorous process to ensure that new and existing biomass suppliers demonstrate that all necessary sustainability and legal requirements are met. Our eight key stages for ensuring compliance are: chain of custody; supplier audits; the EUTR legality assessment; GHG life cycle assessment and monitoring; the sustainability data return (SDR) captured in the contract; the SDR and annual declaration; regional and country risk assessments; and supplier relationship management and monitoring. These stages are implemented in an ongoing cycle to provide robust evidence across each element.

Our due diligence process always begins with a regional risk assessment, which identifies high-level risks such as deforestation or illegal logging, corruption and issues with workers’ rights. This ensures that we focus on these high risks and how they are being mitigated. These reports are renewed every three years, or more frequently if there are causes for concern, to ensure that we always stay on top of developing issues.

This is followed by the SDR, where we ask the supplier 43 detailed questions about all aspects of their supply chain and to provide documentary evidence to support their answers. This sustainability declaration subsequently forms part of the contract between Drax and the supplier.

Third-Party Audits

Each new supplier is subject to an independent audit commissioned by Drax before pellets can be delivered. Existing suppliers are audited at least once every three to four years. The audit requires the supplier to pass a series of detailed environmental and social checks along the whole length of their supply chain and pellet manufacturing process. Findings are categorised as high, medium or low priority.

High-priority findings can result in termination of a supplier agreement. Medium-priority findings result in the supplier being given a deadline for rectifying them. Low-priority issues highlight areas where our independent auditors believe there is scope for the supplier to improve their practices. Drax engages with our suppliers to share best practice and support and encourage improvements to procedures.

The Sustainable Biomass Program

Alternatively, suppliers can evidence the necessary sustainability requirements through Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) certification. Drax was instrumental in the creation of SBP, which is a certification system for woody biomass.

SBP-certified material has been benchmarked by Ofgem to fully meet the UK sustainability requirements. We encourage our suppliers to progress from our own checks and third-party audits commissioned by Drax towards SBP certification. In 2019 93% of the woody biomass we sourced was SBP certified, an increase compared to 86% in 2018 and exceeding our target of 92% for 2019.

The Sustainable Biomass Program

Forest Management Certification

In addition to our own checks, third-party audits commissioned by Drax and SBP certification, sustainability can also be demonstrated through the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) – Drax FSC License Code: FSC-C119787 – and PEFC’s Forest Management (FM) certification. These schemes are global not-for-profit organisations dedicated to the promotion of responsible forest management worldwide. FM certification process confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves the natural ecosystem and benefits the lives of local people and workers, while ensuring that it sustains economic viability.

FM certification may be difficult to achieve for some types of forest owners and, for this reason, a secondary level of FSC certification called Controlled Wood is available. This ensures that wood fibre is not: illegally harvested; harvested in violation of traditional and human rights; harvested in forests in which high conservation values are threatened by management activities; harvested in forests being converted to plantations or non-forest use; or from forests in which genetically modified trees are planted.

American Tree Farm

Chain of Custody

Once certified, Chain of Custody can be used as a mechanism for tracking wood fibre from the forest to the final product and destination. Each supplier in the chain must have a documented system that enables the supplier to demonstrate that the wood fibre has been identified and separated from non-certified and non-controlled wood at each stage in the supply chain. Drax requires that all of its suppliers achieve Chain of Custody certification before contracts are signed and pellets can be delivered.

At Drax, our key biomass buyers, logistics, legal and communications colleagues are required to complete Chain of Custody training with the sustainability team.

Supplier Engagement

Drax operates a proactive supplier engagement programme to develop closer relationships with all biomass suppliers on sustainability issues. Our approach includes regular site visits to improve overall performance by identifying any potential risks, understanding constraints and capacity, monitoring audit findings and corrective actions, carrying out training and providing resources as required.

Biomass Sources in 2019

In 2019 our biomass was sourced from established, responsibly managed working forests in the US South, Europe, Canada, South America and Russia. To enhance our biomass supply chain transparency, we provide detailed supply chain information at Drax ForestScope.


Sawmill Residues (t)Branches, Tops and Bark (t)End of Life Timber (t)Thinnings (t)Low Grade Roundwood (t)Short Rotation Forestry (t)Agricultural Residues (t)Total (t)
Other European5,902<1----22,76128,665

Biomass Supply Chain Emissions

We monitor each step in the supply chain to ensure our requirements are met and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with producing our biomass are calculated according to regulatory requirements.

Emissions from each stage and in each different supply region are calculated and reported. The Renewables Obligation sets out the basis on which Drax is required to determine and report on the life cycle GHG emissions associated with its supply chain. Every supplier is required to give detailed information on what type of fibre is used to make wood pellets along with full details of their sources, the distances and vehicle types involved in their production, the production process itself, data about fuel and energy usage, plus any sea freight data (including what type of vessel was used, over which route, and over what distance). GHG calculations are carried out for all material consumed by us using the UK Solid and Gaseous Biomass Carbon Calculator which uses the methodology prescribed in the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which is reported each month to the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem).

GHG emissions are affected by a wide range of factors including cultivation, harvesting and transportation. The majority of our pellets are shipped to the UK from North America. The most significant GHG impacts in the biomass supply chain are the electricity used in pelletisation and the sea freight emissions in transport.

The impact of shipping emissions is determined by both distance and vessel size. For longer distances (e.g. from North America) it is essential to use large-scale vessels capable of transporting more than 40,000 tonnes of wood pellets (sometimes up to 60,000 tonnes); this significantly reduces the emissions per tonne of wood pellets. Within Europe, shipping distances are much shorter and therefore smaller vessels can be utilised, which allows vessels to access small ports that can reduce inland transportation.

Drax uses specially designed rail wagons to transport the biomass pellets direct from port to the power station. This is dramatically more carbon efficient than road transport. Pellet mills are ideally located close to the forest resource and close to ports in order to minimise inland transport emissions.

The UK Government has set a limit on biomass supply chain GHG emissions which must be met by generators to be eligible for support under the Renewables Obligation and Contract for Difference schemes. The current limit is 285 kgCO2-eq/MWh of electricity, reducing to 200 kgCO2-eq/MWh of electricity in 2020. In 2019, our average biomass supply chain GHG emissions amounted to 124 kgCO2-eq/MWh of electricity. This is lower than our 2018 average biomass supply chain GHG emissions and 56% less than the UK Government limit.

 Unit of Measure20192018201720162015
Average Biomass Supply Chain GHG EmissionskgCO2-eq/MWh124 *131130122114
* Limited external assurance using the assurance standard ISAE 3000 for 2019 data as indicated. For assurance statement and basis of reporting see