Tag: decarbonisation

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)?

Landmark moments on the path to a net zero UK

Biomass domes on a sunny day

In brief

  • £75m backing for Zero Carbon Humber to develop net zero technologies
  • Accenture and World Economic Forum report says Humber could decarbonise quicker than any other UK industrial region
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries partners with Drax, supplying its advanced carbon capture technology, making millions of tonnes of negative emissions possible at Drax Power Station this decade
  • Deploying bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) in the 2020s will have ‘positive spillover’ for a net zero economy, says Frontier Economics
  • Delaying BECCS until the 2030s, argues Baringa research, could increase energy system costs by £4.5bn
  • Planning consent process for BECCS at Drax from 2027 is underway, with public consulted
  • Drax and Bechtel studying global BECCS deployments

Around the world governments, industries and societies have begun to set themselves targets for reaching net zero but it is at home in the UK where real progress is starting to be made in answering some of the tougher challenges posed by the global environmental crisis.

Eyebrows were raised when the UK set itself one of the most stretching timeframes in which to decarbonise but like many business leaders, I am firmly of the belief that this ambitious target will be the catalyst to deliver the innovative thinking needed to get the planet to where it needs to be.

I was delighted to learn recently that Government has awarded the Zero Carbon Humber partnership £75 million in funding to develop world-leading net zero technologies.

MHI BECCS pilot plant within CCUS Incubation Area, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

MHI BECCS pilot plant within CCUS Incubation Area, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Drax was one of the founder members of the Partnership and its goal is to build the world’s first net zero industrial cluster and decarbonise the North of England. Along with the other members, we worked hard to secure this Government support and it consists of money from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge fund, with two thirds coming from private backing. This financing is a vote of confidence from investors and highlights the Government’s commitment to developing the world’s first zero-carbon industrial cluster in the region.

Projects of this scale, backed with meaningful funding, are key to accelerating a range of technologies that will be essential to advancing decarbonisation. These include hydrogen production, carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and negative emissions through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). But more than just having a positive effect on reducing emissions, delivering this in the Humber will also support clean economic growth and future-proof vital industries.

Biomass storage domes and water cooling towers at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

Biomass storage domes and water cooling towers at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

I believe that in a similar way to how renewables have made huge strides in helping decarbonise power, a range of new technologies are now needed to decarbonise industry and industrial regions. Our work as a partnership in the Humber is establishing a landmark project for the UK and the world’s journey to net zero and clean growth.

Reaching net zero depends on a diverse range of technologies

There are many factors that will be essential for the world to reach net zero, but perhaps none more important than open collaboration and integration. Government, industry and individual businesses will need to work together and share learnings and infrastructure to be able to make true progress. This collaboration will of course take many forms, but one that is crucially important is industrial clusters, such as Zero Carbon Humber and neighbouring Net Zero Teesside.

A recent report by Accenture highlighted how vital decarbonising industrial regions will be to reaching climate goals. Industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions account for as much as 11 gigatonnes, or 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). However, the report also highlights the opportunities, both environmental and economic, in decarbonising clusters. The market for global industrial efficiency alone is expected to receive investments worth as much as $40bn, while the global hydrogen market was estimated at around $175bn in 2019.

The Humber is the UK’s largest cluster by industrial emissions, emitting 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year – more than 2% of the UK’s total GHG emissions. Pioneering projects around hydrogen production, CCUS and negative emissions through BECCS are all ready to scale in the region, beginning the task of reducing and removing emissions. The potential benefit to the regional economy could also be significant – it’s estimated these technologies could create 48,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs in the Humber region by 2027. This new £75 million in funding will allow work to gather pace on these transformational projects.

The funding will be used to obtain land rights and begin front-end engineering design (FEED) for the hydrogen facility at H2H Saltend, as well as onshore pipeline infrastructure for CO2 and hydrogen. It marks the beginning of the vital work of putting transportation systems in place that will take captured CO2 from Drax Power Station’s BECCS generating units and permanently store it under the southern North Sea’s bed.

Drax’s BECCS power generation is one of Zero Carbon Humber’s anchor projects. Our recently confirmed partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will see its Advanced KM CDR™️ carbon capture technology deployed at Drax Power Station. The negative emissions that this long-term agreement will make possible, will enable the region to reduce its emissions faster than any other UK cluster, according to Accenture. Developing negative emissions through BECCS will help us achieve our ambition of becoming a carbon negative company by 2030. By that time, Drax Power Station could remove 8 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, playing a major part in helping the UK meet its climate goals.

From BECCS to a net zero UK

In March 2021, Drax kickstarted the process to gain the necessary planning permissions called a Development Consent Order (DCO) from the Government. It’s a crucial administrative step towards delivering a BECCS unit as early as 2027, and a landmark moment in developing negative emissions in the UK.

A report by Frontier Economics for Drax highlights BECCS as a necessary step on the UK’s path to decarbonisation. Developing a first-of-a-kind BECCS power plant would also have ‘positive spillover’ effects that can contribute to wider decarbonisation and a net zero economy. These include learnings and efficiencies that come from developing and operating the country’s first BECCS power station, as well as transport and storage infrastructure, which will reduce the cost of subsequent BECCS, negative emissions and other CCS projects.

However, the benefits of acting quickly and pioneering BECCS deployment at scale can only be achieved if policy is put in place to enable the right business models for BECCS and negative emissions. According to the Frontier report, intervention is needed to instil confidence in investors while also protecting consumer energy prices from spikes.

Inside MHI pilot carbon capture plant, Drax Power Station

Inside MHI pilot carbon capture plant, Drax Power Station

Failure to implement negative emissions through BECCS could also be costly. Time is of the essence for the UK to reach net zero by 2050 and research by energy consultancy Baringa, commissioned by Drax, highlights the economic cost of hesitation. Findings showed that delaying BECCS from 2027 to 2030 could increase energy system costs by more than £4.5bn over the coming decade and over £5bn by the time the UK has to reach net zero.

I believe what we are developing at Drax can become a world-leading and exportable solution for large-scale carbon negative power generation. The potential in negative emissions is economic as well as environmental, protecting thousands of jobs in the UK’s carbon-intensive industries, as well as overseas.

BECCS offers great potential for the UK to export skills, knowledge and equipment to an international market. To help establish this market we are working with engineering and construction project management firm Bechtel to explore locations globally where there is the opportunity to deploy BECCS, and identify how new-build BECCS plants can be optimised to deliver negative emissions for those regions.

Pictured L-R: Kentaro Hosomi, Chief Regional Officer EMEA, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI); Jenny Blyth, Project Analyst, Drax Group at Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire; Carl Clayton, Head of BECCS, Drax Group;

Multiple government and independent organisations have highlighted how essential negative emissions are to reaching net zero in the UK, as well as global climate goals. The recently formed Coalition for Negative Emissions aims to advance this vital industry at a global scale. By uniting a range of negative emissions providers and users from across industries, we can make it a more powerful force for decarbonisation and sustainable growth.

It will still be a long journey towards the UK’s goals, but the Government’s funding for Zero Carbon Humber, the beginning of our BECCS DCO and partnerships with MHI and Bechtel are key steps on the path to reaching net zero by 2050. I, for one, am excited to be on this journey.

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.’

Global collaboration
is key to tackling
the climate crisis

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

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

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

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

Collaboration between countries and industries

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

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

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

A shared economic opportunity

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

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

Under the Humber Bridge

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

A global company

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

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

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

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.


 

Supporting the deployment of Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in the UK: business model options

Innovation engineer inspecting CCUS incubation area BECCS pilot plant at Drax Power Station, 2019

Click to view/download the report PDF.

Drax Power Station is currently exploring the option of adding carbon capture and storage equipment to its biomass-fired generating units. The resulting plant could produce at least 8 million tonnes (Mt) of negative CO2 emissions each year, as well as generating renewable electricity. Drax is planning to make a final investment decision (FID) on its bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (‘BECCS in power’1) investment in Q1 2024, with the first BECCS unit to be operating by 2027.

The potential of BECCS as part of the path to Net Zero has been widely recognised.

  • BECCS in power is an important part of all of the Climate Change Committee (CCC)’s Net Zero scenarios, contributing to negative emissions of between 16- 39Mt CO2e per year by 20502. Investment needs to occur early: by 2035, the CCC sees a role for 3-4GW of BECCS, as part of a mix of low carbon generation3.
  • The Government’s Energy White Paper commits, by 2022, to establishing the role which BECCS can play in reducing carbon emissions across the economy and setting out how the technology could be deployed. The Government has also committed to invest up to £1 billion to support the establishment of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) in four industrial clusters4.
  • National Grid’s 2020 Future Energy Scenarios (FES) indicate that it is not possible to achieve Net Zero without BECCS5.

However, at present, a business model6 which could enable this investment is not in place. A business model is required because a number of barriers and market failures otherwise make economic investment impossible.

  • There is no market for negative emissions. There is currently no source of remuneration for the value delivered by negative emissions, and therefore no return for the investment needed to achieve them.
  • Positive spillovers are not remunerated. Positive spillovers that would be delivered by a first-of-a-kind BECCS power plant, but which are not remunerated include:
    • providing an anchor load for carbon dioxide (CO2) transport and storage (T&S) infrastructure that can be used by subsequent CCS projects;
    • delivering learning that will help lower the costs of subsequent BECCS power plants; and
    • delivering learning and shared skills that can be used across a range of CCS projects, including hydrogen production with CCS.
  • BECCS relies on the presence of CO2 transport and storage infrastructure. Where this infrastructure doesn’t already exist, or where the availability or costs are highly uncertain, this presents a significant risk to investors in BECCS in power.
CCUS incubation area, Drax Power Station, July 2019

CCUS incubation area, Drax Power Station; click image to view/download

Frontier Economics has been commissioned by Drax to develop and evaluate business model options for BECCS in power that could overcome these barriers, and help deliver timely investment in BECCS.

Business model options

We started with a long list of business model options. After eliminating options that are unsuitable for BECCS in power, we considered the following three options in detail.

  • Power Contract for Difference (CfD): the strike price of the CfD would be set to include remuneration for negative emissions, low carbon power and for learnings and spillover benefits.
  • Carbon payment: a contractual carbon payment would provide a fixed payment per tonne of negative emissions. The payment level would be set to include remuneration for negative emissions, low carbon power and for learnings and spillovers.
  • Carbon payment + power CfD: this option combines the two options above. The carbon payment would provide remuneration for negative emissions and learnings and spillovers while the power CfD would support power market revenues for the plant’s renewable power output.

We first considered if committing to any of these business model options for BECCS in power now might restrict future policy options for a broader GGR support scheme. We assessed whether these options could, over time, be transitioned into a broader GGR support scheme (i.e. one not just focused on BECCS in power), and concluded that this would be possible for all of them.

We then considered how these business model options could be funded, and whether the choice of a business model option is linked to a particular source of funds (for example, power CfDs are currently funded by a levy paid by electricity suppliers to the Low Carbon Contracts Company [LCCC]). We concluded that business models do not need to be attached to specific funding sources; all of the options can be designed to fit with numerous different funding options, so the two decisions can be made independently. This means that the business model options can be considered on their own terms, with thinking about funding sources being progressed in parallel.

We then evaluated the three business model options against a set of criteria developed from principles set out in the BEIS consultation on business models for CCS, summarised in the figure below.

Figure 1: Principles for design of business models

Instil investor confidence▪ Attract innovation
▪ Attract new entrants
▪ Instil supply chain confidence
Cost efficiency▪ Drive efficient management of investment costs
▪ Drive efficient quantity of investment
▪ Drive efficient dispatch and operation
▪ Risks allocated in an efficient way, taking into account the impact on the cost of capital
Feasibility▪ Limit administrative burden
▪ Practicality for investors
▪ Requirement for complementary policy
▪ Wider policy and state aid compatibility
▪ Timely implementation
Fair cost sharing▪ Allows fair and practical cost distribution
Ease of policy transition▪ Ease of transition to subsidy free system
▪ Ease of transition to technology neutral solution

Source: Frontier Economics. Click to view/download graphic. 

All three business model options performed well across most criteria. However, our evaluation highlighted some key trade-offs to consider when choosing a business model:

  • investor confidence: the power CfD and the two-part model with a CfD performed better than the carbon payment on this measure, as they shield investors from wholesale power market fluctuations;
  • feasibility: the power CfD performed best on this measure. Because it is already established in existing legislation and is well understood, it will be quick to implement. Introducing a mechanism to provide carbon payments may require new legislation. However, this will be needed in any case to support other CCUS technologies7, and could be introduced in time before projects come online; and
  • potential to become technology neutral and subsidy free: all three options could transition to a mid-term regime which could be technology neutral. However, the stand-alone power CfD performed least well as it does not deliver any learnings around remunerating negative emissions.

Overall, the two-part model performed well across the criteria and would offer a clear path to a technology neutral and subsidy free world, delivering learnings that will be relevant for other GGRs as well.

Conclusions

The UK’s Net Zero target will be challenging to achieve, and will require investment in negative emissions technologies to offset residual emissions from hard-to-abate sectors, as highlighted by the CCC8. BECCS in power is a particularly important part of this picture, and represents a cost-effective means of delivering the scale of negative emissions needed. Early investment in BECCS is also important in insuring against the risk and cost of ”back ending” significant abatement effort.

However, market failures, most notably the lack of a market for negative emissions, lack of remuneration for positive spillovers and learnings, and reliance on availability of T&S infrastructure, mean that without policy intervention, the required level of BECCS in power is unlikely to be delivered in time to contribute to Net Zero.

There are a number of business options available in the near term to overcome these barriers. In our view, a two-part model combining a power CfD and a carbon payment is preferable.

This measure:

  • addresses identified market failures;
  • can be implemented relatively easily and in time to capture benefits of early BECCS in power investment; and
  • can be structured to ensure an efficient outcome for customers (including with reference to investors’ likely cost of capital) and in a way that allocates risks appropriately.

View/download the full report (PDF).


1: Biomass can be combusted to generate energy (typically in the form of power, but this could also be in the form of heat or liquid fuel), or gasified to produce hydrogen. The resulting emissions can then be captured and stored using CCS technology. The focus of this report is on biomass combustion to generate power, with CCS, which we refer to as ‘BECCS in power’. We refer to biomass gasification with CCS as ‘BECCS for hydrogen’.

2: CCC (2020) , The Sixth Carbon Budget, Greenhouse Gas Removals, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Sector-summary-GHG-removals.pdf The CCC’s 2019 Net Zero report also saw a role for BECCS, with 51Mt of emissions removals included in the Further Ambition scenario by 2050. CCC (2019), Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming. https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/net-zero-the-uks-contribution-to-stopping-global-warming/

3: CCC (2020), Policies for the Sixth Carbon Budget, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Policies-for-the-Sixth-Carbon-Budget-and-Net-Zero.pdf

4: BEIS (2020), Powering our Net Zero Future, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/945899/201216_BEIS_EWP_Command_Paper_Accessible.pdf

5: National Grid (2020), Future Energy Scenarios 2020, https://www.nationalgrideso.com/future-energy/future-energy-scenarios/fes-2020-documents

6: In this report, we use “business model” to describe Government market-based incentives for investment and operation. This is in line with the use of this term by BEIS, for example in BEIS (2019), Business Models For Carbon Capture, Usage And Storage, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/819648/ccus-business-models-consultation.pdf

7: BEIS (2020), CCUS: An update on business models for Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/946561/ccus-business-models-commercial-update.pdf

8: CCC (2020) , The Sixth Carbon Budget, Greenhouse Gas Removals, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Sector-summary-GHG-removals.pdf

The jobs and careers supporting the UK’s net zero future

In October last year several of our employees, from policy managers to apprentices, took over the Energy UK Young Energy Professional (YEP) Forum’s Twitter account to share their experiences so far working in the energy industry and their roles at Drax. The YEP forum consists of a network of energy industry professionals with less than 10 years’ experience, and aims to provide them with opportunities to collaborate, develop and recognise successes. The following insights from employees at Drax show the importance of our workforce in achieving our ambition and what they have learnt so far about starting a career in the energy industry.

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

Meet Samuel, the apprentice

One of our technical apprentices, Samuel Plumb, explains why he decided to kick-start his career with a Drax apprenticeship plus what the selection process involves: “I applied for this role because it’s a mix of practical skills and problem-solving. Drax has a large site with a huge range of equipment and processes so no two days are the same. Working here appealed to me because I’m really interested in the power industry and Drax plays a key role in generation. I found out about this apprenticeship through online research, submitted an application, completed aptitude tests online, sat another aptitude test on-site and then eventually attended an interview.”

Meet Richard, the policy manager

Richard Gow explains that with the right policies in place, Drax could become a carbon negative power station, enabling a zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region. The Drax Group Policy and Government Relations Manager outlines how his role helps to develop the necessary frameworks: “I engage with policymakers, advisors and experts across the UK to understand the policy and political landscape and how this could impact Drax’s commercial objectives. The energy sector is at the forefront of decarbonisation and it’s exciting to be involved in developing policies and market frameworks to support this transition to net zero.”

By investing in bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), hydrogen and other green technologies in the Humber, industry can regain a competitive edge. New jobs can help to rejuvenate communities and the wider region, as evidenced by a recent report from Vivid Economics on the socio-economic benefits of BECCS. This investment at Drax supports the UK’s levelling up agenda and to Build Back Better, emphasising the need for the UK to have a skilled workforce to achieve net zero. Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax Group, has explained how our own ambitions will also boost our communities and local economies by “helping to create a cleaner environment for future generations whilst creating new jobs and export opportunities for British businesses.”

Noting that BECCS at Drax is not just limited to new engineering or technician roles, as a UK-US company, with sites from Selby to the Scottish Highlands to Louisiana and Mississippi in the US South, we continue to attain young professionals and apprentices across a wide-range of departments, including sustainable business and smart energy services.

Engineer below Cruachan Power Station dam

Engineer below Cruachan Power Station dam

Meet Emma, the renewables engagement officer

And at Drax we emphasise that now is the time for action to tackle climate change. Emma Persson, Renewables Engagement Officer, describes her motivations for joining the clean energy transition and how her role is helping to ensure the UK reaches its net zero target: “As a recent graduate with a Masters in energy and society, I wanted to work in the energy sector and be part of its real and current transition to mitigating climate change instead of contributing to it. This is an exciting time, and my part in this transformation involves stakeholder engagement and contributing to Drax’s climate policy to ensure we reach our carbon negative ambition.”

By developing talent within schools from a young age and inspiring students to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, Drax also encourages future career opportunities. We are proud to be working with a number of local schools and colleges, such as Selby College, with whom we recently signed a new five-year partnership. This shows our continued commitment to ensuring students of all ages are equipped with the skills needed to progress the UK’s cleaner energy future, while having a positive social impact on our local communities.

Mobilising a Million

Students from Selby College collect their laptops donated by Drax (April 2020)

We recently became the UK’s first energy company to announce an initiative to improve employability for a million people by 2025. Drax’s Opportunity Action Plan is in partnership with the Social Mobility Pledge, led by the former Education Secretary, the Rt Hon Justine Greening. Through our ‘Mobilising a Million’ initiative, we aim to connect with one million people by 2025, improving skills, education, employability and opportunity. This sets a new and higher standard for the levelling up agenda in Britain, with a wider focus on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues. Clare Harbord, Drax Group Director of Corporate Affairs, said of the initiative, “By boosting education, skills and employability opportunities for a million people, we can start to level the playing field and build a more diverse workforce. This will make the energy sector stronger and able to make a more significant contribution to the UK’s green recovery.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have also been using virtual resources to provide new ways of learning from home, delivering laptops for learners, and a new series of webinars titled ‘Drax in the Classroom’ as well as virtual work experience and tours of Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire and Cruachan in Scotland. Before the pandemic, we also hosted a number of inspiring careers events at Drax, including the ‘Women of the Future’. The event showcased the various opportunities available for young women, part of our continued efforts to increase diversity in our workforce and develop the future generation of energy professionals.

Learn more about careers at Drax and our current opportunities here.

Full year results for the twelve months ended 31 December 2020

Water outlet into Loch Awe from Cruachan Power Station

Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Group”; Symbol:DRX)
RNS Number : 2751Q

Twelve months ended 31 December20202019
Key financial performance measures
Adjusted EBITDA (£ million) (1)(2)412410
Continuing operations366371
Discontinued operations – gas generation4639
Cash generated from operations (£ million)413471
Net debt (£ million) (3)776841
Adjusted basic EPS (pence) (1)29.629.9
Total dividend (pence per share)17.115.9
Total financial performance measures
Coal and other asset obsolescence charges(239)-
Operating (loss) / profit (£ million)(156)48
Loss before tax (£ million)(235)(16)

Financial highlights

  • Adjusted EBITDA from continuing and discontinued operations up £2 million to £412 million (2019: £410 million)
    • Includes estimated impact of Covid-19 of around £60 million, principally SME customers
    • Strong performance in Pellet Production and Generation
  • Strong cash generation and balance sheet
    • 1.9 x net debt to Adjusted EBITDA, with £682 million of cash and committed facilities at 31 December 2020
    • New carbon-linked RCF, Eurobond and infrastructure facilities with maturities to 2030 and reduced cost of debt
  • Sustainable and growing dividend up 7.5% to 17.1 pence per share (2019: 15.9 pence per share)
    • Proposed final dividend of 10.3 pence per share (2019: 9.5 pence per share)

Operational highlights

  • Pellet Production – 7% increase in production, improved quality and 5% reduction in cost
  • Generation – 11% of UK’s renewable electricity, strong operations and system support performance
  • Customers – lower demand and an increase in bad debt provisions, principally SME customers
  • Sustainability – sale of gas assets, end of coal generation, CDP Climate A- rating (2019: C) and TCFD Supporter
Train carrying sustainably sourced compressed wood pellets arriving at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

Train carrying sustainably sourced compressed wood pellets arriving at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire [click to view/download]

Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax Group said:

“Drax has supported its customers, communities and employees throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and I want to thank colleagues across the Group for their commitment and hard work over the last year. We have delivered strong results, a growing dividend for shareholders and excellent progress against our business strategy.

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

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

“Our focus is on renewable power. Our carbon intensity is one of the lowest of all European power generators. We aim to be carbon negative by 2030 and are continuing to make progress. We are announcing today that we will not develop new gas fired power at Drax. This builds on our decision to end commercial coal generation and the recent sale of our existing gas power stations.

“The proposed acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy will position Drax as the world’s leading sustainable biomass generation and supply business, paving the way for us to develop bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – taking us even further in our decarbonisation.”

2021 outlook

  • Targeting carbon negative
    • No new gas generation at Drax Power Station, retain options for system support gas in next capacity auction
    • Completion of sale of existing gas generation (January 2021) and end of commercial coal (March 2021)
  • Progressing biomass strategy
    • Proposed acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. (Pinnacle) – supports long-term options for third-party supply, BECCS and biomass generation
    • BECCS – commencement of DCO planning process, potential FEED study and clarity on regional clusters

Infographic: How BECCS removes carbon from the atmosphere

  • Operations
    • Major planned outage on CfD unit and continued impact of Covid-19 on SME customers
    • Strong contracted power sales (2021–2023) 24.4TWh at £48.5/MWh

Operational review

Pellet Production – capacity expansion, improved quality and reduced cost

  • Adjusted EBITDA up 63% to £52 million (2019: £32 million)
    • Pellet production up 7% to 1.5Mt (2019: 1.4Mt)
    • Reduction in fines (larger particle-sized dust)
    • Cost of production down 5% to $153/t(4) (2019: $161/t(4))
  • Cost reduction plan – targeting $35/t (£13/MWh(5)) saving vs. 2018 on 1.9Mt by 2022 – annual savings of $64 million
    • $28 million of run-rate savings from projects delivered 2019-2020
    • Low-cost fibre, LaSalle (improved rail infrastructure, woodyard and sawmill co-location) and HQ relocation
    • $36 million of additional run-rate savings to be delivered by end of 2022
    • Expansion of Morehouse plant completed Q4 2020
    • Expansion of Amite and LaSalle, increased use of low-cost fibre and improved logistics
  • Additional savings from $40 million investment in three 40kt satellite plants in US Gulf – commissioning from 2021, with potential for up to 0.5Mt – targeting 20% reduction in pellet cost versus current cost

 Power Generation – flexible and renewable generation

  • Adjusted EBITDA up 9% to £446 million (2019: £408 million)
    • Biomass generation up 5% to 14.1TWh (2019: 13.4TWh) – record CfD availability (Q2 2020 – 99.5%)
    • Good commercial availability across the portfolio – 91% (2019: 88%)
    • Strong contracted position provided protection from lower demand and reduction in ROC(6) prices
    • Includes £46 million from discontinued gas (2019: £39 million)
Water cooling tower at Drax Power Station

Water cooling tower at Drax Power Station [click to view/download]

  • System support (balancing mechanism, Ancillary Services and optimisation) of £118 million (2019: £120 million)
    • Hydro and gas – one-off hydro contracts in 2019, offset by higher demand for system support services in 2020
    • Lower level of biomass activity due to higher value in generation market
    • 2019 included benefit of buying back coal generation
  • Pumped storage / hydro – excellent operational and system support performance
    • £73 million of Adjusted EBITDA (Cruachan, Lanark Galloway schemes and Daldowie) (2019: £71 million)
Aqueduct supplying water into the reservoir at Cruachan pumped hydro storage plant in Scotland

Aqueduct supplying water into the reservoir at Cruachan pumped hydro storage plant in Scotland [click to view/download]

  • Coal – 8% of output in 2020 and short-term increase in carbon emissions – utilisation of coal stock by March 2021
  • Covid-19 – business continuity plan in place to ensure continued operation and two major outages completed

Customers – managing the impact of Covid-19 on SME customers

  • Customer service employeeAdjusted EBITDA loss of £39 million (2019: £17 million profit) inclusive of estimated £60 million impact of Covid-19
    • Reduced demand, MtM loss on pre-purchased power and increase in bad debt, principally SME customers
    • Continue to evaluate SME options to maximise value and alignment with strategy
  • Development of Drax Customers Industrial & Commercial portfolio – increased sales to high-quality counterparties providing revenue visibility, while supporting the Group’s flexible and renewable energy proposition
  • Renewable and energy services expand Group system support capability and customer sustainability objectives

Other financial information

  • Total operating loss from continuing operations of £156 million reflects:
    • £70 million MtM loss on derivative contracts
    • £239 million obsolescence charges, principally coal (includes £13 million associated with decision not to develop new gas generation at Drax Power Station)
    • £34 million of costs associated with coal closure (redundancy, pensions and site reparations), with annual run-rate savings once complete of c.£30-35 million
  • Total loss after tax of £158 million includes £18 million reduced valuation of deferred tax asset resulting from UK Government’s reversal of previously announced corporation tax rate change (adjusted impact of £14 million, 3.5 pence per share)
  • Capital investment of £183 million(7) – continued invest in biomass strategy, some delay into 2021 due to Covid-19
    • 2021 expected investment of £190-210 million (excludes proposed acquisition of Pinnacle), includes expansion of LaSalle and Amite pellet plants and satellite plant development
  • Net debt of £776 million, including cash and cash equivalents of £290 million (31 December 2019: £404 million)
      • 1.9 x net debt to EBITDA, with £682 million of total cash and total committed facilities
      • Expect around 2 x net debt to EBITDA by end of 2022 inclusive of proposed acquisition of Pinnacle

 


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