Tag: decarbonisation

5 projects proving carbon capture is a reality

Petra Nova Power Station

The concept of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from power station, refinery and factory exhausts has long been hailed as crucial in mitigating the climate crisis and getting the UK and the rest of the world to net zero. After a number of false starts and policy hurdles, the technology is now growing with more momentum than ever. Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) is finally coming of age.

Increasing innovation and investment in the space is enabling the development of CCUS schemes at scale. Today, there are over 19 large-scale CCUS facilities in operation worldwide, while a further 32 in development as confidence in government policies and investment frameworks improves.

Once CO2 is captured it can be stored underground in empty oil and gas reservoirs and naturally occurring saline aquifers, in a process known as sequestration. It has also long been used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process where captured CO2 is injected into oil reservoirs to increase oil production.

Drax Power Station is already trialling Europe’s first bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) project. This combination of sustainable biomass with carbon capture technology could remove and capture more than 16 million tonnes of CO2 a year and put Drax Power Station at the centre of wider decarbonisation efforts across the region as part of Zero Carbon Humber.

Here are five other projects making carbon capture a reality today:

Snøhvit & Sleipner Vest 

Who: Sleipner – Equinor Energy, Var Energi, LOTOS, KUFPEC; Snøhvit – Equinor Energy, Petoro, Total, Neptune Energy, Wintershall Dean

Where: Norway

Sleipner Vest Norway

Sleipner Vest offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant, Norway [Click to view/download]

Sleipner Vest was the world’s first ever offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant, and has been active since 1996. The facility separates CO2 from natural gas extracted from the Sleipner field, as well as from at the Utgard field, about 20km away. This method of carbon capture means CO2 is removed before the natural gas is combusted, allowing it to be used as an energy source with lower carbon emissions.

Snøhvit, located offshore in Norway’s northern Barents Sea, operates similarly but here natural gas is pumped to an onshore facility for carbon removal. The separated and compressed CO2 from both facilities is then stored, or sequestered, in empty reservoirs under the sea.

The two projects demonstrate the safety and reality of long-term CO2 sequestration – as of 2019, Sleipner has captured and stored over 23 million tonnes of CO2 while Snøhvit stores 700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Petra Nova

Who: NRG, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, Inc. (MHIA) and JX Nippon, a joint venture with Hilcorp Energy 

Where: Texas, USA

In 2016, the largest carbon capture facility in the world began operation at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant.

Using a solvent developed by Mitsubishi and Kansai Electric Power, called KS-1, the CO2 is absorbed and compressed from the exhausts of the plant after the coal has been combusted. The captured CO2 is then transported and used for EOR 80 miles away on the West Ranch oil field.

Carbon capture facility at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant, Texas, USA

As of January 2020, over 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 had been captured, reducing the plant’s carbon emissions by 90%. Oil production, on the other hand, increased by 1,300% to 4,000 barrels a day. As well as preventing CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, CCUS has also aided the site’s sustainability by eliminating the need for hydraulic drilling.


Gorgon LNG, Barrow Island, Australia [Click to view/download]

Gorgon LNG

Who: Operated by Chevron, in a joint venture with Shell, Exxon Mobil, Osaka Gas, Tokyo Gas, Jera

Where: Barrow Island, Australia

In 2019 CCS operations began at one of Australia’s largest liquified natural gas production facilities, located off the Western coast. Here, CO2 is removed from natural gas before the gas is cooled to -162oC, turning it into a liquid.

The removed CO2 is then injected via wells into the Dupuy Formation, a saline aquifer 2km underneath Barrow Island.

Once fully operational (estimated to be in 2020), the project aims to reduce the facility’s emissions by about 40% and plans to store between 3.4 and 4 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Quest

Shell’s Quest carbon capture facility, Alberta, Canada

Who: Operated by Shell, owned by Chevron and Canadian Natural Resources

Where: Alberta, Canada

The Scotford Upgrader facility in Canada’s oil sands uses hydrogen to upgrade bitumen (a substance similar to asphalt) to make a synthetic crude oil.

In 2015, the Quest carbon capture facility was added to Scotford Upgrader to capture the CO2 created as a result of making the site’s hydrogen. Once captured, the CO2 is pressurised and turned into a liquid, which is piped and stored 60km away in the Basal Cambrian Sandstone saline aquifer.

Over its four years of crude oil production, four million tonnes of CO2 have been captured. It is estimated that, over its 25-year life span, this CCS technology could capture and store over 27 million tonnes of CO2.

Chevron estimates that if the facility were to be built today, it would cost 20-30% less, a sign of the falling cost of the technology.

Boundary Dam

Who: SaskPower

Where: Saskatchewan, Canada

Boundary Dam, a coal-fired power station, became the world’s first post-combustion CCS facility in 2014.

The technology uses Shell’s Cansolv solvent to remove CO2 from the exhaust of one of the power station’s 115 MW units. Part of the captured CO2 is used for EOR, while any unused CO2 is stored in the Deadwood Formation, a brine and sandstone reservoir, deep underground.

As of December 2019, more than three million tonnes of CO2 had been captured at Boundary Dam. The continuous improvement and optimisations made at the facility are proving CCS technology at scale and informing CCS projects around the world, including a possible retrofit project at SaskPower‘s 305 MW Shand Power Station.

Top image: Carbon capture facility at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant, Texas, USA

Learn more about carbon capture, usage and storage in our series:

6 disused power stations renovated and reimagined

E-WERK entrance

The Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station along the banks of the Thames are architectural icons of the London skyline. But before they were landmarks, they were oil- and coal-burning power stations, right in the heart of the city they powered.

As the city developed, the technology used to generate power advanced, and the need for cleaner fuel sources grew, the requirement for large, city-based fossil fuel power stations like these fell. The closure of Battersea and the Bankside power stations became inevitable.

Rather than knocking them down, however, it was clear their scale, heritage and location could be repurposed to meet an entirely new set of needs for the city. Now, as an art gallery and modern, mixed-use neighbourhood space, they remain in service to the city while retaining part of their heritage.

Eindhoven’s Innovation Powerhouse, Netherlands

Eindhoven’s Innovation Powerhouse, Netherlands. Photo: Tycho Merijn.

The reimagining of disused power stations is not just a London phenomenon. It is one seen around the world, where industrial buildings like these are being transformed for a range of purposes.

Eindhoven’s Innovation Powerhouse

Eindhoven’s Innovation Powerhouse in the Netherlands remains distinguishable as a power station due to its enormous coal chimneys, but today it serves a different purpose. The original skeleton of the building has been repurposed as a creative office space for innovative tech companies. The open plan structure encourages collaboration and creativity and its location right in the city centre makes it easily accessible to employees. In a nod to its previous use, however, a biogas plant remains situated next door, burning wood waste to produce renewable electricity and heat for the building.

Beloit’s cultural ‘Powerhouse’

Like Innovation Powerhouse, the exterior of Blackhawk Generating Station in Beloit, Wisconsin remains clearly identifiable as a power station. A century ago the once gas-fired plant supplied peak-time electricity to surrounding cities, but since being bought by Beloit University, it’s being transformed into ‘The Powerhouse’– a leisure and cultural centre for both students and the general public. Designs include an auditorium, a health and wellness hub, a swimming pool, lecture halls and more. It sits along the Rock River, between the university and the city – a prime location for bringing communities together, and is due to open in January 2020.

CGI of The Powerhouse, Beloit College Wisconsin. Image: Studio Gang Architects

An artist’s impression of The Powerhouse, Beloit College Wisconsin. Photo: Studio Gang Architects.

The Tejo Power Station Electricity Museum, Lisbon, Portugal.

Lisbon’s electricity museum

The Tejo Power Station once supplied electricity to the whole of Lisbon. Today it’s a museum and art gallery, but remains a testament to Portugal’s technological, historical and industrial heritage. It pays homage to the evolution of electricity through a permanent collection that includes original machinery from its construction in 1908, and charts its evolution from baseload electricity generator to standby power station used only to complement the country’s prominent supply of hydro plants. It’s a space that celebrates the heritage of the building, an attitude reflected throughout Portugal – there is even an energy museums roadmap created for people to tour a trail of decommissioned power stations.

Rome’s renaissance power station

Centrale Montemartini Thermoelectric plant was Rome’s first public power station, operating between 1912-1963. Decommissioned in the 1960s, it was adapted to temporarily house an exhibition of renaissance sculptures and archaeological finds from Rome’s Capitoline Museums that were at the time undergoing renovation. The clash of the classical artworks and the power station’s original equipment was such a success that it has been open ever since.

Centrale Montemartini, Rome, Italy.

Berlin’s E-WERK Luckenwalde

Why replace a power station with an art gallery if it could in fact be both? Berlin’s E-WERK Luckenwalde is a hybrid – what was once a coal power plant before the collapse of communism in 1989, is now both a renewable power plant and an art gallery. It uses waste woodchips from neighbouring companies to generate and sell power to the grid to fund the cost of a contemporary art centre housed inside it. It still generates electricity, only this time it’s renewable and powers the art gallery, which in turn energises the artistic community of Berlin.

 

Copenhagen’s futuristic Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy-Plant

 Copenhagen’s Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy-Plant is one of the cleanest incineration plants in the world. Opened in 2017 to replace a nearby 45-year-old incineration plant, it burns municipal waste to create heat and power for the surrounding area. What really sets it apart, however, is its artificial ski slope cascading down one side of the building, which has been open to the public all year-round since October 2019. This purposefully bold design sets out to change people’s perceptions of what power stations can do.

CopenHill ski slope, Amager Bakke, Copenhagen, Denmark. Photos: Max Mestour.

CopenHill ski slope, Amager Bakke, Copenhagen, Denmark. Photos: Max Mestour.

The decommissioning of power stations has resulted in cities’ acquiring buildings in prime central locations for the public to enjoy. These examples demonstrate the world’s transition to renewable power, the advances of technology, and populations’ increasing awareness of the environmental impact of their energy usage.

Top image: Entrance of E-WERK Luckenwalde, 2019. Photo: Ben Westoby. Click here to view/download

What is net zero?

Skyscraper vertical forest in Milan

For age-old rivals Glasgow and Edinburgh, the race to the top has taken a sharp turn downwards. Instead, they’re in a race to the bottom to earn the title of the first ‘net zero’ carbon city in the UK.

While they might be battling to be the first in the UK to reach net zero, they are far from the only cities with net zero in their sights. In the wake of the growing climate emergency, cities, companies and countries around the world have all announced their own ambitions for hitting ‘net zero’.

It has become a global focus based on necessity – for the world to hit the Paris Agreement targets and limit global temperature rise to under two degrees Celsius, it’s predicted the world must become net zero by 2070.

Yet despite its ubiquity, net zero is a term that’s not always fully understood. So, what does net zero actually mean?

Glasgow, Scotland. Host of COP26.

What does net zero mean?

‘Going net zero’ most often refers specifically to reaching net zero carbon emissions. But this doesn’t just mean cutting all emissions down to zero.

Instead, net zero describes a state where the greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted [*] and removed by a company, geographic area or facility is in balance.

In practice, this means that as well as making efforts to reduce its emissions, an entity must capture, absorb or offset an equal amount of carbon from the atmosphere to the amount it releases. The result is that the carbon it emits is the same as the amount it removes, so it does not increase carbon levels in the atmosphere. Its carbon contributions are effectively zero – or more specifically, net zero.

The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment likens the net zero target to running a bath – an ideal level of water can be achieved by either turning down the taps (the mechanism adding emissions) or draining some of the water from the bathtub (the thing removing of emissions from the atmosphere). If these two things are equally matched, the water level in the bath doesn’t change.

To reach net zero and drive a sustained effort to combat climate change, a similar overall balance between emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere must be achieved.

But while the analogy of a bath might make it sound simple, actually reaching net zero at the scale necessary will take significant work across industries, countries and governments.

How to achieve net zero

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommends that to reach net zero all industries must be widely decarbonised, heavy good vehicles must switch to low-carbon fuel sources, and a fifth of agricultural land must change to alternative uses that bolster emission reductions, such as biomass production.

However, given the nature of many of these industries (and others considered ‘hard-to-treat’, such as aviation and manufacturing), completely eliminating emissions is often difficult or even impossible. Instead, residual emissions must be counterbalanced by natural or engineered solutions.

Natural solutions can include afforestation (planting new forests) and reforestation (replanting trees in areas that were previous forestland), which use trees’ natural ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere to offset emissions.

On the other hand, engineering solutions such as carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) can capture and permanently store carbon from industry before it’s released into the atmosphere. It is estimated this technology can capture in excess of 90% of the carbon released by fossil fuels during power generation or industrial processes such as cement production.

Negative emissions essential to achieving net zero

Click to view/download graphic. Source: Zero Carbon Humber.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) could actually take this a step further and lead to a net removal of carbon emissions from the atmosphere, often referred to as negative emissions. BECCS combines the use of biomass as a fuel source with CCUS. When that biomass comes from trees grown in responsibly managed working forests that absorb carbon, it becomes a low carbon fuel. When this process is combined with CCUS and the carbon emissions are captured at point of the biomass’ use, the overall process removes more carbon than is released, creating ‘negative emissions’.

According to the Global CCS Institute, BECCS is quickly emerging as the best solution to decarbonise emission-heavy industries. A joint report by The Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society estimates that BECCS could help the UK to capture 50 million tonnes of carbon per year by 2050 – eliminating almost half of the emissions projected to remain in the economy.

The UK’s move to net zero

In June 2019, the UK became the first major global economy to pass a law to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. It is one of a small group of countries, including France and Sweden, that have enacted this ambition into law, forcing the government to take action towards meeting net zero.

Electrical radiator

Although this is an ambitious target, the UK is making steady progress towards it. In 2018 the UK’s emissions were 44% below 1990 levels, while some of the most intensive industries are fast decarbonising – June 2019 saw the carbon content of electricity hit an all-time low, falling below 100 g/kWh for the first time. This is especially important as the shift to net zero will create a much greater demand for electricity as fossil fuel use in transport and home heating must be switched with power from the grid.

Hitting net zero will take more than just this consistent reduction in emissions, however. An increase in capture and removal technologies will also be required. On the whole, the CCC predict an estimated 75 to 175 million tonnes of carbon and equivalent emissions will need to be removed by CCUS solutions annually in 2050 to fully meet the UK’s net zero target.

This will need substantial financial backing. The CCC forecasts that, at present, a net zero target can be reached at an annual resource cost of up to 1-2% of GDP between now and 2050. However, there is still much debate about the role the global carbon markets need to play to facilitate a more cost-effective and efficient way for countries to work together through market mechanisms.

Industries across the UK are starting to take affirmative action to work towards the net zero target. In the energy sector, projects such as Drax Power Station’s carbon capture pilots are turning BECCS increasingly into a reality ready to be deployed at scale.

Along with these individual projects, reaching net zero also requires greater cooperation across the industrial sectors. The Zero Carbon Humber partnership between energy companies, industrial emitters and local organisations, for example, aims to deliver the UK’s first zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region by the mid-2020s.

Nonetheless, efforts from all sectors must be made to ensure that the UK stays on course to meet all its immediate and long-term emissions targets. And regardless of whether or not Edinburgh or Glasgow realise their net zero goals first, the competition demonstrates how important the idea of net zero has become and society’s drive for real change across the UK.

Drax has announced an ambition to become carbon negative by 2030 – removing more carbon from the atmosphere than produced in our operations, creating a negative carbon footprint. Track our progress at Towards Carbon Negative.

[*] In this article we’ve simplified our explanation of net zero. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most abundant greenhouse gas (GHG). It is also a long-lived GHG that creates warming that persists in the long term. Although the land and ocean absorb it, a significant proportion stays in the atmosphere for centuries or even millennia causing climate change. It is, therefore, the most important GHG to abate. Other long-lived GHGs include include nitrous oxide (N2O, lifetime of circa 120 years) and some F-Gasses (e.g. SF6 with a lifetime of circa 3,200 years). GHGs are often aggregated as carbon dioxide equivalent (abbreviated as CO2e or CO2eq) and it is this that net zero targets measure. In this article, ‘carbon’ is used for simplicity and as a proxy for ‘carbon dioxide’, ‘CO2‘, ‘GHGs’ or ‘CO2e’.

What makes a country’s electricity system stable?

How reliable is Great Britain’s electricity system? Across the country electricity is accessible and safe to use for just about everyone, every day. Wide-scale blackouts are very rare, but they do happen.

On 9 August 2019 a power cut saw more than 1 million people and services lose power for just under an hour. It was the first large-scale blackout since 2013. Although this proves the network is not infallible, the fact it was such an outlier in the normal performance of the grid highlights its otherwise exemplary stability and reliability.

But what is it exactly that makes an electricity system stable and reliable?

At its core, system stability comes down to two key factors: a country or region’s ability to generate enough electricity, and its ability to then transport it through a transmission system to where it’s needed.

When everything is running smoothly an electricity system is described as being ‘balanced’. In this state supply meets demand exactly and all necessary conditions – such as voltage and frequency – are right for the safe and efficient transport of electricity. Any slight deviation or mismatch across any of these factors can cause power stations or infrastructure to trip and cut off power.

A recent report by Electric Insights identified the countries around the world with most reliable power systems, in which the UK was fourth. It offers an insight into what factors contribute to building a stable system, as well as those that hold some countries back.

Generation and reliable infrastructure  

According to the report, France has the most reliable electricity system of any country with a population of more than five million people, having gone a decade without a power outage. One reason for this is the country’s fleet of 58 state-controlled nuclear power stations which generate huge amounts of consistent baseload power.

In 2017 nuclear power made up more than 70% of France’s electricity generation while hydropower accounted for another 10% of the 475 Terawatt hours (TWh) consumed across the county that year.

Penly Nuclear Power Station near Dieppe, France.

Now, as its nuclear stations age, France is increasing its renewable power generation. As these sources are often weather dependent, imports from and exports to its neighbours are expected to become a more important part of keeping the French network stable at times when there is little sunlight or wind – or too much.

Importing and exporting electricity is also key to Switzerland’s power system (third most reliable network on the list), with 41 border-crossing power lines allowing the country to serve as a crossroads for power flowing between Italy and Germany. It means its total imports and exports can often exceed electricity production within the country.

Electricity pylons in Switzerland.

Switzerland’s mountainous landscape also means ensuring a reliable electricity system requires a carefully maintained transmissions system. The Swiss grid is 6,700 kilometres long and uses 40,000 hi-tech metering points along it to record and process around 10,000 data points in seconds.

The key to the stability of South Korea – the second most stable network on the list – is also its imports, but rather than actual megawatts it comes in the form of oil, gas and coal. The country is the world’s fourth biggest coal importer and its coal power stations account for 42% of its total generation.

Seoul, South Korea.

However, in the face of urban smog issues and global decarbonisation goals it is pursuing a switch to renewables. This can come with repercussions to stability, so South Korea is also investing in transmission infrastructure, including a new interconnector from the east of the country to Seoul, its main source of electricity consumption.

It highlights that if decarbonisation is going to accelerate at the pace needed to meet Paris Agreement targets, then many of the world’s most stable and reliable electricity systems need to go through significant change. Balance will be needed between meeting decarbonisation targets with overall system stability.

However, there are many countries around the world that focus less on ensuring consistent stability through decarbonisation and are instead more focused on how to achieve stability in the first place.

Stalling generation

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the eleventh-largest country on earth. It is rich with minerals and resources, yet it is the least electrified nation. Just 9% of people have access to power (in rural areas that number drops to just 1%) and the country suffers blackouts more than once a month as a result of ‘load shedding’, when there isn’t enough power to meet demand so parts of the grid are deliberately shut down to prevent the entire system failing.

Currently, the country has just 2.7 GW of installed electricity capacity, 2.5 GW of which comes from hydropower. The country’s Inga dam facility on the Congo river has the potential to generate more electricity than any other single source of power on the planet (it’s thought the proposed Grand Inga site could produce as much as 40 GW, twice that of China’s Three Gorges Dam) and provide electricity to a massive part of southern Africa. A legacy of political instability in the country, however, has so far made securing financing difficult.

Congo River, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nigeria is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and with that comes rapidly rising demand for electricity. However, just 45% of the country is currently electrified, and of these areas, many still suffer outages at least once a month. The country has 12.5 GW of installed capacity, most of which comes from thermal gas stations, but technical problems in power stations and infrastructure, mean it is often only capable of generating as much as 5 GW to transmit on to end consumers.

This limited production capability means it often fails to meet demand, resulting in outages. The problem has been prolonged by struggling utility companies that are unable to make the investments needed to stabilise electricity supply.

Keen to resolve what it has referenced as an ‘energy supply crisis’, the Nigerian government recently secured a $1 billion credit line from the World Bank to improve access to electricity across the country.

The investment will focus in part on securing the transmission system from theft, thus allowing the private utility companies to generate the revenue needed to improve generation.

Transmission holding back emerging systems

Balancing transmissions systems is a crucial part of stable electricity networks. Maintaining a steady frequency that delivers safe, usable electricity into homes and businesses is at the crux of reliability. Even countries that can generate enough electricity are held back if they can’t efficiently get the electricity to where it is needed.

Brazil has an abundance of hydropower installed. Its 97 GW of hydro accounts for more than 70% of the country’s electricity mix. However, the country’s dams are largely concentrated around the Amazon basin in the North West, whereas demand comes from cities in the south and eastern coastline. Transporting electricity across long distances between generator and consumer makes it difficult to maintain the correct voltage and frequency needed to keep a stable and reliable flow of electricity. As a result, Brazil suffers a blackout every one-to-three months.

Hydropower plant Henry Borden in the Serra do Mar, Brazil.

The country is tackling its transmissions problems by diversifying its electricity mix to include greater levels of solar and wind off its east coast – closer to many of its major cities. The country has also looked to new technology for solutions.

At the start of the decade as much as 8% of all electricity being generated in Brazil was being stolen, reaching as high as 40% in some areas. These illegal hookups both damage infrastructure, making it less reliable, as well as blur the true demand, making grid management challenging.

Brazil has since deployed smart meters to measure electricity’s journey from power stations to end users more accurately, allowing operators to spot anomalies sooner. Electricity theft is a major problem in many developing regions, with as much as $10 billion worth of power lost each year in India, which suffers blackouts as often as Brazil.

It highlights that even when there is generation to meet demand, maintaining stability at a large scale requires constant attention and innovation as new challenges arise.

This looks different around the world. Some countries might face challenges in shifting from stable thermal-based systems to renewables, others are attempting to build stability into newly connected networks. But no matter where in the world electricity is being used, ensuring reliability is an ever-ongoing task.

Electric Insights is commissioned by Drax and delivered by a team of independent academics from Imperial College London, facilitated by the college’s consultancy company – Imperial Consultants. The quarterly report analyses raw data made publicly available by National Grid and Elexon, which run the electricity and balancing market respectively, and Sheffield Solar. Read the full Q3 2019 Electric Insights report or download the PDF version.

How Scotland’s sewage becomes renewable energy

Stevie Gilluley Senior Operator at Daldowie fuel plant

From traffic pollution to household recycling and access to green spaces, cities and governments around the world are facing increasing pressure to find solutions to a growing number of urban problems.  

One of these which doesn’t come up often is sewage. But every day, 11 billion litres of wastewater from drains, homes, businesses and farms is collected across the UK and treated to be made safe to re-enter the water system.   

Although for the most part sewage treatment occurs beyond the view of the general population, it is something that needs constant work. If not dealt with properly, it can have a significant effect on the surrounding environment.  

Of the many ways that sewage is dealt with, perhaps one of the most innovative is to use it for energy. Daldowie fuel plant, near Glasgow is one such place which processes sewage sludge taken from the surrounding area into a renewable, low carbon form of biomass fuel.  

The solution in the sludge   

In operation since 2002, Daldowie was acquired by Drax at the end of 2018 and today processes 35% of all of Scotland’s wastewater sludge, into dry, low-odour fuel pellets.   

“We receive as much as 2.5 million tonnes of sludge from Scottish Water a year,” says Plant Manager Dylan Hughes who leads a team of 71 employees, “And produce up to 50,000 tonnes of pellets, making it one of the largest plants of this kind in the world.”  

“We have to provide a 24/7, 365-day service that is built into the infrastructure of Glasgow,” he explains.   

This sludge processed at Daldowie is not raw wastewater, which is treated in Scottish Water’s sewage facilities. Instead, the sludge is a semi-solid by-product of the treatment process, made of the organic material and bacteria that ends up in wastewater from homes and industry, from drains, sinks and, yes, toilets.   

Until the late 1990s, one of Great Britain’s main methods of disposing of sludge was by dumping it in the ocean. After this practice was banned, cities where left to figure out ways of dealing with the sludge.   

Using sludge as a form of fertiliser or burying it in landfills was an already established practice. However, ScottishPower, instead decided to investigate the potential of turning sludge into a dry fuel pellet, that could offer a renewable, low carbon substitute to coal at its power plants. 

Cement manufacturing fuel kilns

Daldowie was originally designed to supply fuel to Methil Power Station near Fife, which ran on coal slurry. However, it was decommissioned in 2000, before Daldowie could begin delivering fuel to it. This led the plant to instead provide fuel to Longannet Power Station where it was used to reduce its dependency on coal, before it too was decommissioned in 2016. 

Today Daldowie’s pellets are used in England and Scotland to fuel kilns in cement manufacturing – an industry attempting to navigate the same decarbonisation challenges as power generation which Daldowie was established to tackle.  

Though the end use of the fuel has changed, the process through which the facility transforms the waste remains the same.  

The process of turning waste to energy  

The process starts after wastewater from Glasgow and the surrounding area is treated by Scottish Water. Daldowie receives 90% of the sludge it processes directly via a pressurised sludge pipeline, the rest is delivered via sealed tanker lorries.   

When it arrives at Daldowie, the sludge is 98% water and 2% solid organic waste. It is first screened for debris before entering the plant’s 12 centrifuges, which act as massive spinning driers. These separate water from what is known as ‘sludge cake’, the semi-solid part of the sludge feedstock. This separated water is then cleaned so it can either be used elsewhere in the process or released into the nearby River Clyde. 

Membrane Tank at Daldowie fuel plant

The remaining sludge cake is dried using air heated to 450 degrees Celsius using natural gas (this also reduces germs through pasteurisation), while the rotating drums give the fuel granules their pellet shape. Once dried the pellets are cooled and inspected for quality. Any material not up to necessary standards is fed back into the system for reprocessing. Fuel that does meet the right standards is cooled further and then stored in silos.   

Where possible throughout the process, hot air and water are reused, helping keep costs down and ensuring the process is efficient.  

Nearly two decades into its life, very little has had to change in the way the plant operates thanks to these efficiencies. But while the process of turning the waste sludge into energy remains largely unchanged, there is, as always, room for new innovation 

 Improving for the future of the site 

Daldowie is contracted to recycle wastewater for Scottish Water until 2026. To ensure the plant is still as efficient and effective as possible, the Daldowie team is undertaking a technical investigation of what, if anything, would be needed to extend the life of the plant for at least an additional five years. 

“The plant operates under the highest environmental and health and safety standards but further improvements are being planned in 2020.” Hughes explains, “We are upgrading the odour control equipment to ensure we have a best in class level of performance.  

The control room and plant operators at Daldowie

“Drax’s Scotland office, in Glasgow, is working with other industrial facilities in the area, as well as the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), to work with the local community. We are putting in place a series of engagement events, including plant tours from early 2020, offering local residents an opportunity to meet the local team and discuss the planned improvements.”    

There are also other potential uses for the fuel, including use at Drax Power Station. As the pellets are categorised as waste and biomass, it would require a new license for the power station.  

However, at a time when there is a greater need to reduce the impact of human waste and diversify the country’s energy, it would add another source of renewable fuel to Great Britain’s electricity mix that could help to enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future.  

Will Gardiner’s Drax carbon negative ambition remarks at COP25

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

Thank you very much Nick, it’s a pleasure to be here in Madrid. My name is Will Gardiner and I am the CEO of the Drax Group. We have been proud members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance for a year now, but our journey beyond coal began more than a decade ago, when we realised that we had a responsibility to our communities, our shareholders and our colleagues to be part of the solution to the escalating climate crisis.

And so at Drax we did something that many believed wasn’t possible and began to replace coal generation with sustainable, renewable biomass.

With the right support and commitment from successive UK ministers, and through the ingenuity of our people, within a decade we transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project and its biggest source of renewable power – generating 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity last year while reducing our carbon emissions by more than 80% since 2012.

We have reduced our emissions, we believe, more than any other energy company in the world and we have enabled a just transition for thousands of UK workers who began their career in coal but will end it by producing renewable, flexible and low carbon power for 13 million British homes.

But as the climate crisis intensifies and the clock counts down, we can’t stand still. So today I am pleased to share our new ambition: to move beyond carbon neutrality, to achieve something that nobody has before, and become the world’s first carbon negative company by 2030.

By applying carbon capture and storage technology to our bioenergy generation we can become the first company in the world to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than we produce, while continuing to produce about 5% of the UK’s overall electricity needs.

As the IPCC and UK government’s Committee on Climate Change make clear – negative emissions are vital if we are to limit the earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

At Drax we can be the first company to produce negative emissions at scale, helping to arrest climate change and redefining what is possible in the transition beyond coal.

If we are to defeat the climate crisis we must do it in a way that unlocks jobs and economic growth, unleashes entrepreneurial spirit and leaves nobody behind. The UK is unrivalled in decarbonising in this way. We are second to none in deploying renewables like offshore wind and bioenergy, which have transformed lives and our post-industrial communities.

We need to apply a similar framework to Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage as made offshore wind so successful. Fundamentally, an effective strategic partnership of government and the private sector was critical. The government provided support and an effective carbon tax regime. With confidence in that regulatory framework, many businesses provided investment and innovation. As a result, offshore wind has grown from less than 600 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity in 2008 to more than 8,000 MW in 2018 — an increase of more than 13 times in 10 years to produce 7.5% of the UK’s electricity.

At the same time, the cost of that electricity has declined from £114/MWh in 2015 to £39/MWh in 2019, the latter being a cost that will make offshore wind viable without subsidy. With government support and an effective regulatory regime to give the private sector the confidence to invest and innovate, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage will trace that same path. At the same time, investing in this technology will both save lots of existing jobs and create many next generation green technology jobs.

That is why we have founded, along with Equinor and National Grid, Zero Carbon Humber, to work with the government to bring carbon capture and storage infrastructure to the northeast of the UK. We can save 55,000 existing heavy industry jobs, while capturing as much as 30 million tons of CO2 per year. At the same time we will create a new industry and also the infrastructure for a new hydrogen economy to take our decarbonisation further.

By creating the right conditions for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage to flourish, Britain can continue to benefit – socially, economically and environmentally from being at the vanguard of the fight against climate change.

And at the same time, it is our ambition at Drax to play a major role in that fight by becoming the first carbon negative company.

Thank you

Read the press release: Drax sets world-first ambition to become carbon negative by 2030

Photo caption: Will Gardiner at Powering Past Coal Alliance event in the UK Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid. Click to view/download.

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The policy needed to save the future

Abstract picture of a modern building closeup

Over the past decade the United Kingdom has decarbonised significantly as coal power has been replaced by sources like biomass, wind and solar. Every year power generation emits fewer and fewer tonnes of carbon thanks to renewables and with the ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars coming in no later than 2040, roads and urban areas are about to get cleaner too.

However, there are still tough challenges ahead if the UK is to meet its target of carbon neutrality by 2050. Aviation, heavy industry, agriculture, shipping, power generation – some of the key activities of daily economic life – all remain reliant on fuels that emit carbon.

This is where Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) technologies have a big role to play. These can capture carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and either store them or use them, helping the drive towards carbon neutrality.

While the idea of being able to capture carbon has been around for some time, the technology is fast catching up with the ambition. There now exist a number of credible solutions that allow for capturing emissions. The challenge, however, is putting in place the framework and policies needed to enable technologies to be implemented at scale.

Time is short. A recent report by Vivid Economics for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) emphasised the need for government action now if we are to achieve the volume of carbon removal needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The tech to take emissions out of the atmosphere

The planet naturally absorbs CO2, forests absorb it as they grow, mangroves trap it in flooded soils, and oceans absorb it from the air. So, harnessing this power through planting, growing and actively managing forests is one natural method of GGR that can be easily implemented by policy.

Aerial view of mangrove forest and river on the Siargao island. Philippines.

The idea of using technology to capture CO2 and prevent its release into the atmosphere has been around since the 1970s. It was first deployed successfully in enhanced oil recovery, when captured emissions are injected into underground oil reserves to help remove the oil from the ground.

Over time it’s been developed and is now in place in a number of fossil fuel power stations around the world, allowing them to cut emissions. However, by combining the same technology with renewable fuels like compressed biomass wood pellets, we can generate electricity that is carbon negative.

Each of these solutions operate in different ways, but all are important. Vivid Economics’ report emphasises that a range of different solutions will be required to reach a point where 130 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) are being removed from the atmosphere in the UK annually by 2050.

However, investment and clear government planning and guidance will be crucial in enabling the growth of GRR. The report estimates large-scale GGR could cost around £13 billion per year by 2050 in the UK alone, a figure similar in size to current government support for renewables.

“If you went back 20-odd years, people were sceptical of the role of wind, solar and biomass and whether the technologies would ever get to a cost point where they could be viably deployed at scale,” explains Drax Policy Analyst Richard Gow.

“In the last few years we’ve seen enormous cost reductions in renewables and people are far more confident in investing in them – that has been driven by very good government policy.”

GGR needs the same clear long-term strategy to enable companies to make secure investments and innovate. But what shape should those policies take for them to be effective?

Options for policies                    

Perhaps the most straightforward route to enabling GGR is to build on existing policies. For example, there are existing tree planting schemes such as the Woodland Carbon Fund, Woodland Carbon Code and the Country Stewardship Scheme, all of which could receive greater regulatory support, or additional rules obliging emitters to invest in actively managed forests.

More technically complex solutions, like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS), could be incentivised by alternative mechanisms in order to provide clarity on, and to stabilise, revenue streams. These are already used to support companies building low-carbon power generation such as through the Contracts for Difference scheme and have been effective in encouraging investment in projects with high upfront costs and long-payback periods.

Alternative options to support the roll-out of negative emissions technologies should also be considered. For example, the government could make it obligatory for companies that contribute to emissions, to pay for GGR to avoid increased burden on electricity consumers.

In such a scenario, fossil fuel suppliers would be required to offset the emissions of their products by buying negative emissions certificates from GGR providers. As a result, the price of fossil fuels for users would likely rise to cover this expense and the costs would then be shared across the supply chain rather than just a single party.

Another approach that passes the costs of GGR deployment on to emitters is using emissions taxes to fund tax credits for GGR providers.

Making these tax credits tradable would also mean any large tax-paying company, such as a supermarket or bank, could buy tax credits from GGR providers. This approach would come at no cost to government as sales of the tax credits would be funded by an emissions tax and would offer revenue to GGR providers.

The challenge with tax credits, however, is they are vulnerable to changes in government. An alternative is to offer direct grants and long-term contracts with GGR providers which would ensure funding for projects that transcends changes in Parliament. They could, however, prove costly for government.

Whatever policy pathway the government may choose to follow, there are underlying foundations needed to support effective GGR deployment.

Making policies work

 There are still many unknown factors in GGR deployment, such as the precise volume that will be needed to counter hard-to-abate emissions. This means all policy must be flexible to allow for future changes, and the individual requirements of different regions (forest-based solutions might suit some regions, DACCS might be better in others).

Underlying the strength of any of these policies, is the need for accurate carbon accounting. Understanding how much emissions are removed from the atmosphere by each technology will be key to reaching a true net zero status and giving credibility to certificates and tax credits.

Pearl River Nursery, Mississippi

Proper accounting of different technologies’ impact will also be crucial in delivering innovation grants. These can come through the UK’s existing innovation structure and will be fundamental to jumpstarting the pilot programmes needed to test the viability of GGR approaches before commercialisation.

Different approaches to GGR have different levels of effectiveness as well as different costs. BECCS, for example, serves two purposes in both generating low-carbon power and capturing emissions – resulting in overall negative emissions across the supply chain. 

“It’s important to account for the full value chain of BECCS,” explains Gow. “Therefore, it should be rewarded through two mechanisms: a CfD for the clean electricity produced and an incentive for the negative emissions. A double policy here is important because you are providing two products which benefit different sectors of the economy, one benefits power consumers and the other provides a service to society and the environment as a whole, and cost should be apportioned as such.

BECCS and DACCS also have to consider wider supply chains, such as carbon transport and storage infrastructure. Although this requires a high initial investment, by connecting to industrial emitters, it can enable providers to recover the costs through charges to multiple network users.

Ultimately, the key to making any GGR policies work effectively and efficiently is speed. In order to put in place accounting principles, test different methods, and begin courting investors, government needs to act now.

The Vivid Economics report “is further confirmation of the vital role that BECCS will play in reaching a net zero-carbon economy and the need to deploy the UK’s first commercial project in the 2020s,” Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner says.

“Our successful BECCS pilot is already capturing a tonne of carbon a day. With the right policies in place, Drax could become the world’s first negative emissions power station and the anchor for a zero carbon economy in the Humber region.”

It will be significantly more cost efficient to begin deploying GGR in the next decade and slowly increase it up to the level of 130 MtCO2 per year, than attempting to rapidly build infrastructure in the 2040s in a last-ditch effort to meet carbon neutrality by 2050.

Read the Vivid Economics report for BEIS, Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) policy options – Final Report. Our response is here. Read an overview of negative emissions techniques and technologies. Find out more about Zero Carbon Humber, the Drax, Equinor and National Grid Ventures partnership to build the world’s first zero carbon industrial cluster and decarbonise the North of England.

Learn more about carbon capture, usage and storage in our series: