Tag: sustainability

Morehouse catchment area analysis

Working forest in southern Arkansas within the Morehouse catchment area

The forest area around the Drax Morehouse BioEnergy plant has a long history of active management for timber production. 96% of the forest owners are private and around half of these are corporate investors seeking a financial return from forest management. The pulp and paper (p&p) sector dominates the market for low grade roundwood with over 75% of the total demand. The wood pellet markets use only 6% of the roundwood, of which 4% is used by Morehouse.

Given the small scale of demand in the pellet sector, the extent of influence is limited. However, the new pellet markets have had a positive impact, replacing some of the declining demand in the p&p sector and providing a market for thinnings for some forest owners and a new off-take for sawmill residues.

Pine forest is dominant in this area with an increasing inventory (growing stock) despite a stable forest area. Active management of pine forests has increased the amount of timber stored in the standing trees by 68 million tonnes from 2006 to 2018.  Over the same period the hardwood inventory remained static.

Chart showing historic inventory and timberland area in Morehouse catchment

Historic inventory and timberland area in Morehouse catchment; click to view/download.

US Forest Service FIA data shows that the pine resource in this catchment area has been maturing, the volume of timber has been increasing in each size class year on year. This means that the volume available for harvesting is increasing and that more markets will be required to utilise this surplus volume and ensure that the long-term future of the forest area can be maintained.

Chart showing historic pine inventory by DBH Class

Historic pine inventory by DBH Class in Morehouse catchment; click to view/download.

This is reflected in the growth drain ratio – the comparison of annual growth versus harvesting. A ratio of one shows a forest area in balance, less than one shows that harvesting is greater than growth. This can be the case when the forest area is predominantly mature and at the age when clear cutting is necessary.

A growth drain ratio of more than one shows that growth exceeds harvesting, this is typically the case in younger forests that are not yet ready for harvesting and are in the peak growing phase, but it can also occur when insufficient market demand exists and owners are forced to retain stands for longer in the absence of a viable market.

Drax Morehouse plant

Drax’s Morehouse BioEnergy compressed wood pellet plant in northern Louisiana

This can have a negative impact on the future growth of the forest; limiting the financial return to forest owners and reducing the cumulative sequestration of carbon by enforcing sub-optimal rotation lengths.

The current growth drain ratio of pine around Morehouse is 1.67 with an average annual surplus of around 7 million metric tonnes. This surplus of growth is partly due to a decline in saw-timber demand due to the global financial crisis but also due to the maturing age class of the forest resource and the increasing quantity of timber available for harvesting.

Historic growth and removals of pine in Morehouse catchment (million metric tonnes)

YearGrowthRemovalsNet GrowthGrowth-to-Drain
200914.112960762411.1860124622.92694830041.26166145535
201014.580331100610.91819493463.662136166021.33541589869
201115.129903273610.72162297824.408280295451.41115792865
201215.357258404710.30755904395.049699360811.48990254039
201315.63898206189.701617808065.93736425371.61199733603
201415.91041518229.376564771556.533850410651.69682773701
201515.94235364499.669133266476.273220378431.64878828387
201616.43527840789.579357241816.855921165961.71569740985
201716.838075354610.1594737396.678601615681.65737672908
201817.770968348910.65938820047.111580148561.66716588371

The chart below shows the decline in pine saw-timber demand in the catchment area following the financial crisis in 2008. It also shows the recent increase in pulpwood demand driven by the new pellet mill markets that have supplemented the declining p&p mills.

Sawmills are a vital component of the forest industry around Morehouse, with most private owners seeking to maximise revenue through saw-timber production from pine forests.

As detailed in the table below, there are 70 markets for higher value timber products around this catchment area. These mills also need an off-taker for their residues and the pellet mills can provide a valuable market for this material, increasing the viability of the saw-timber market.

Operating grade-using facilities near Morehouse timber market

TypeNumber of MillsCapacityCapacity UnitsHardwood Roundwood At Mill From Market Softwood Roundwood At Mill From Market 
Consumption, million green metric tonnes
Lumber6810538.8235294M m³1.737194320550.88604623042613.06745552335.69986977638
Plywood/Veneer2904M m³000.9617438725360.506109617373
Total701.737194320550.88604623042614.02919939586.20597939376

Pulp and paper mills dominate the low grade roundwood market for both hardwood and softwood. The pellet mill market is small with just 3 mills and therefore does not influence forest management decisions or macro trends in the catchment area. However, demand for wood pellet feedstock exceeds 1.5 million tonnes p.a. and this can provide a valuable market for thinnings and sawmill residues. A healthy forest landscape requires a combination of diverse markets co-existing to utilise the full range of forest products.

Operating pulpwood-using facilities near Morehouse timber market

TypeNumber of MillsCapacityCapacity UnitsHardwood Roundwood At Mill From Market Softwood Roundwood At Mill From Market 
Consumption, million green metric tons
Pulp/Paper117634.86896M metric tons3.489826926741.192570970097.557287050371.66598821268
OSB/Panel62412.55M m³002.567325398621.19890681942
Chips178395.08999M metric tons2.938909722111.46484421365.287607151192.18745126814
Pellets31573.965975M metric tons002.078219858451.01128896402
Total346.428736648862.6574151836917.49043945866.06363526426

In its analysis, Forisk Consulting considered the impact that the new pellet mills including Morehouse BioEnergy have had on the significant trends in the local forest industry. The tables below summarise the Forisk view on the key issues. In its opinion, the Morehouse plant has had no negative impact.

Bioenergy impacts on markets and forest supplies in the Morehouse market

ActivityIs there evidence that bioenergy demand has caused the following?Explanation
DeforestationNo
Change in forest management practiceNo
Diversion from other marketsPossiblyBioenergy plants compete with pulp/paper and OSB mills for pulpwood and residual feedstocks. There is no evidence that these facilities reduced production as a result of bioenergy markets, however.
Increase in wood priceNoThere is no evidence that bioenergy demand increased stumpage prices in the market.
Reduction in growing stocking timberNo
Reduction in sequestration of carbon / growth rateNo
Increasing harvesting above the sustainable yieldNo

Bioenergy impacts on forests markets in the Morehouse market

Forest metric Bioenergy impact
Growing Stock Neutral
Growth Rates Neutral
Forest Area Neutral
Wood Prices Neutral
Markets for Solid Wood Neutral to Positive*
*Access to viable residual markets benefits users of solid wood (i.e. lumber producers).

Read the full report: Morehouse, Louisiana Catchment Area Analysis. An interview with the co-author, Amanda Hamsley Lang, COO and partner at Forisk Consulting, can be read here. Explore every delivery of wood to Morehouse BioEnergy using our ForestScope data transparency tool.

This is part of a series of catchment area analyses around the forest biomass pellet plants supplying Drax Power Station with renewable fuel. Others in the series include: ,

Others in the series include: Georgia MillEstonia, Latvia, Chesapeake and Drax’s own, other three mills LaSalle BionergyMorehouse Bioenergy and Amite Bioenergy.

Letter from Will Gardiner to the Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass

Dear John, 

Thank you for your letter of the 9 January, detailing the findings and recommendations from the first meeting of the Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass.

I want to begin by reiterating how important the work of the IAB is to Drax’s purpose and ambition. As you know, we recently announced our intention to become the world’s first carbon negative company by 2030 by scaling up our pioneering biomass with CCS (BECCS) pilot project. This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use makes a positive contribution to our climate, the environment and the communities in which we operate. To that end, both you and the IAB will play a vital role by guiding us on our sourcing choices and challenging us to be as sustainable and transparent as we can be.

I enjoyed meeting with the IAB and hearing your conclusions from the first meeting. I am also pleased to hear from my team that the longer discussions were useful and constructive. Please pass on my thanks to all the members of the IAB for their time and consideration.

In particular, I am grateful for their consideration of our new sustainable biomass sourcing policy and the insight and recommendations that were given. I am pleased to hear that you agree our policy is an accurate representation of the criteria laid down in the Forest Research report.

I agree that a key topic for us to explore is how science can be further developed with regards the use of small, early thinnings and small roundwood. I also agree that understanding the counter factuals in the usage of wood that has come to us is important. This is an area we have, and continue to, explore, and I would refer the IAB to a report we have published subsequent to the meeting, “Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends (2019)”– which contains an independent analysis of the impact of our sourcing at our Amite pellet mill in Mississippi. The team look forward to discussing this with you at a future meeting and receiving your input to shape the next phases of this work.

I also agree the need to continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light, as well as ensure that the current policy is embedded into our operations. For that reason, our policy will be kept under regular review to accommodate changes in science and new evidence as it emerges. We have also committed to advancing scientific research in the areas applicable to our operations through partnerships with academic institutions and direct support for academic research.

With regards your suggestion of a restatement of the academic evidence on biomass sustainability, we shall give this interesting approach due consideration. I do believe that better alignment through a shared understanding of the evidence among the academic community, environmental groups, policy makers and industry would be a welcome development and would be grateful to the IAB for its further consideration of how this might be achieved.

I will also raise your considerations regarding the Sustainable Biomass Program (SPB) in my position a member of the SPB Board. You are correct that our new policy goes beyond SBP, and so an important work programme for us is how we demonstrate we are meeting the new policy.

Lastly, I welcome the addition of two interim telephone calls which will help to keep momentum between the half yearly meetings and will support us as we develop our policy, research and implementation projects further. Thank you for this commitment.

As the work of the IAB progresses, I look forward to hearing how you believe Drax can best build the evidence required to demonstrate that we are sourcing according to the best available science. As the world’s largest biomass consumer it is important that we lead by example. This means not only having a world leading biomass sustainability policy in place, but also the data and evidence available to give all our stakeholders the confidence that we are fulfilling our purpose of enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future.

Thank you once again for your participation and expertise.

Yours,

 

 

 

 

 

Will Gardiner

Group CEO

View/download the PDF version here

How a Mississippi wood pellet mill supports healthy forests and rural economies

Pine saplings in Weyerhaeuser tree nursery, Hazlehurst, Mississippi

The landscape of the Amite catchment area in Mississippi is dense with forests. They cover 84% of the area and play a crucial role in the local economy and the lives of the local population.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – land area distribution by land classification & use (2017)

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – land area distribution by land classification & use (2017)

On the state’s western border with Louisiana, near the town of Gloster, Drax’s Amite BioEnergy pellet mill is an important part of this local economy, providing employment and creating a market for low-grade wood.

Amite produces half-a-million metric tonnes of wood pellets annually that not only benefit the surrounding area, but also make a positive impact in the UK, providing a renewable, flexible low carbon source of power that could soon enable carbon negative electricity generation.

However, this is only possible if the pellets are sourced from healthy and responsibly managed forests. That’s why it’s essential for Drax to regularly examine the environmental impact of the pellet mills and their catchment areas to, ultimately, ensure the wood is sustainably sourced and never contributes to deforestation or other negative climate and environment impacts.

In the first of a series of reports evaluating the areas Drax sources wood from, Hood Consulting has looked at the impact of Amite on its surrounding region. The scope of the analysis had to be objective and impartial, using only credible data sources and references. The specific aim was to evaluate the trends occurring in the forestry sector and to determine what impact the pellet mill may have had in influencing those trends, positively or negatively. This included the impact of harvesting levels, carbon stock and sequestration rate, wood prices and the production of all wood products.

The report highlights the positive role that the Amite plant has had in the region, supporting the health of western Mississippi’s forests and its economy.

Woodchip pile at Amite BioEnergy (2017)

Woodchip pile at Amite BioEnergy (2017)

The landscape of the Amite BioEnergy wood pellet plant 

Amite BioEnergy’s catchment area – the working forest land from which it has sourced wood fibre since it began operating – stretches roughly 6,600 square kilometres (km2) across 11 counties – nine in Mississippi and two in Louisiana.

Map showing Amite BioEnergy catchment area boundary

Amite BioEnergy catchment area boundary

US Forest Service data shows that since 2014, when Amite began production, total timberland in this catchment area has in fact increased by more than 5,200 hectares (52 million m2).

An increase in market demand for wood products, particularly for sawtimber, can be one of the key drivers for encouraging forest owners to plant more trees, retain their existing forest or more actively manage their forests to increase production.

Markets for low grade wood, like the Amite facility, are essential for enabling forest owners to thin their crops and generate increased revenue as a by-product of producing more saw-timber.

Around 30% of the annual timber growth in the region is pine pulpwood, a lower-value wood which is the primary source of raw material used at Amite. More than 60% of the growth is what is known as sawtimber – high-value wood used as construction lumber or furniture, or chip n saw (also used for construction and furniture).

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – net growth of growing stock timber by major timber product. Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – net growth of growing stock timber by major timber product. Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

The analysis shows that harvesting levels in each product category are substantially lower than the annual growth (as shown in the table below). This means that every year a surplus of growth remains in the forest as stored carbon.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – harvest removals by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – harvest removals by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

In 2017, total timber growth was 5.11 million m3 while removals totalled 2.41 million m3 – less than half of annual growth. Of that figure, the pine pulpwood used to make biomass pellets grew by 1.52 million m3 while just 850 thousand m3  was removed.

The table below shows the ratio of removals to growth in the pine forests around Amite. A ratio of 1 is commonly considered to be the threshold for sustainable harvesting levels, in this catchment area the ratio is more than double that amount, meaning that there is still a substantial surplus of annual growth that has not been harvested.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – annual growth, removals & growth-to-removal ratios by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – annual growth, removals & growth-to-removal ratios by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Between 2010 and 2017 the total stock of wood fibre (or carbon) growing in the forests around Amite increased by more than 11 million m3. This is despite a substantial increase in harvesting demand for pulpwood.

Timber inventory by major timber product (2010-2017); projected values (2018)

Timber inventory by major timber product (2010-2017); projected values (2018)

The economic argument for sustainability

The timberland of the Amite BioEnergy catchment area is 85% privately owned. Among the tens of thousands of smaller private landowners are larger landowners like forestry business Weyerhaeuser; companies that manage forest land on behalf of investors like pension funds; and private families. For these private owners, as long as there are healthy markets for forest products forests have an economic value. Without these markets some owners may choose to convert their forest to other land uses (e.g. for urban development or agriculture).

More than a billion tree saplings have been grown at Weyerhaeuser’s Pearl River Nursery in Mississippi. The facility supplies these young trees to be planted in the Amite catchment area and across the US South.

Strong markets lead to increased investment in better management (e.g. improved seedlings, more weeding or fertilisation, thinning and selecting the best trees for future saw-timber production).

“Thinning pulpwood is part of the forest management process,” explains Dr Harrison Hood, Forest Economist and Principal at Hood Consulting. “Typically, with pine you plant 500 to 700 trees per acre. That density helps the trees grow straight up rather than outwards.”

But once the trees begin to grow beyond a certain point, they can crowd one another, and some trees will be starved of water, nutrients and sunlight. It is therefore essential to fell some trees to allow the others to grow to full maturity – a process known as thinning.

“At final harvest, you’ve got about 100 trees per acre,” continues Dr Hood. “You remove the pulpwood or the poor-quality trees to allow the higher-quality trees to continue to grow.”

These thinnings have typically been used as pulpwood to make things like paper, but with the slight decline of this industry over the last few decades there’s been a need to find new markets for it. Paper production in the Amite catchment area has declined since 2010 (as shown on the chart on the right), whilst demand for saw-timber (lumber) has been increasing following the economic recovery after the recession of 2008.

Producing saw-timber, without a market for thinnings and low-grade wood is a challenge. The arrival of a biomass market in the area has created a renewed demand – something that is even more important at the current time, when there is an abundance of forest, but wood prices are flat or declining slightly.

“Saw-timber prices haven’t moved much over the last six to eight years,” explains Dr Hood. “They’ve been flat because there’s so much wood out there that there’s not enough demand to eat away at the supply.”

Pulpwood consumers such as Amite BioEnergy create demand for pulpwood from thinning, allowing landowners to continue managing their forests while waiting for the higher value markets to recover. Revenue from pulpwood helps to support forest owners, particularly when saw-timber prices are weak.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area mill map (2019)

Amite BioEnergy catchment area mill map (2019)

“There’s so much pulpwood out there,” says Dr Hood. “You need a buyer for pulpwood to allow forests to grow and mature into a higher product class and to keep growing healthy forests.”

The picture of the overall forest in the catchment area is of healthy growth and, crucially, a sustainable environment from which Drax can responsibly source biomass pellets for the foreseeable future.

Read the full report: Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends: Amite BioEnergy (UK metric version). A short summary of its analysis and conclusions, written by our forestry team, can be read hereThis is part of a series of catchment area analyses around the forest biomass pellet plants supplying Drax Power Station with renewable fuel. Others in the series include: Morehouse BioEnergy.

Amite Bioenergy catchment area analysis

Foresters in working forest, Mississippi

The first of our planned Catchment Area Analysis reports is complete, looking at Amite BioEnergy, our compressed wood pellet manufacturing plant in Mississippi.

The aim of this analysis is to evaluate the trends occurring in the forestry sector around the plant and to determine what impact the pellet mill may have had in influencing those trends, positively or negatively. This includes the impact of increased harvesting levels, changes in carbon stock and sequestration rate, wood prices and the production of all wood products.

Analysis shows a maturing forest resource with a substantial surplus of annual growth; increasing in age and growing stock; increasing production of sawtimber and higher value wood products; stable wood prices and no market displacement.

Key report data

Since 2010 the total growing stock (the amount of wood stored in the forest) around Amite BioEnergy has increased by 11.1 million cubic metres (m3). This is partly due to an increase in the area of Timberland (which increased by more than 5,200 hectares (ha)), but predominantly due to the forest ageing and increasing the average size class (the average tree gets bigger, moving from a small diameter pulpwood tree to a larger sawtimber grade tree).

The chart below shows that the increase in volume is entirely within the private sector, where forests are more actively managed. The public sector has declined in growing stock by 1.5 million m3 whilst the private sector has increased by 12.6 million m3. The continual cycle of thinning, harvesting and replanting in the private forests, helps to keep the growing stock increasing.

Total growing stock volume on timberland, in cubic meters, by ownership group. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Total growing stock volume on timberland, in cubic meters, by ownership group. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Harvesting in the catchment area has increased, due to the increased demand from the pellet mill, but this is still substantially lower than average annual growth. The average annual surplus of growth compared to harvesting between 2010 and 2017 has been 3.5 million m3 p.a. with a surplus of 2.7 million m3 in 2017.

Average annual growth and harvest removals of total growing stock timber, in cubic meters, on timberland – Amite Catchment Area. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Average annual growth and harvest removals of total growing stock timber, in cubic meters, on timberland – Amite Catchment Area. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Average annual growth and harvest removals of total growing stock timber, in cubic meters, on timberland – Amite Catchment Area. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Amite BioEnergy, Mississippi (2017)

The Catchment Area Analysis also looks at stumpage prices, the revenue paid to forest owners at the time of harvesting, to see if the demand from the pellet mill is having a negative impact (increasing competition and prices for other markets).

The chart below shows that prices are now lower than when the pellet mill began operating. While this may be good for all markets in the area, it is not good for the forest owner.

When considering if trends are good or bad, we must also consider from which perspective we are making the assessment. Increasing prices can be a positive, encouraging owners to plant more trees or to invest more in the management of their forest. Providing that increasing prices do not result in a loss of production in existing markets.

Amite Bioenergy Catchment Area - average stumpage prices ($/metric tonne). Source: Timber Mart-South

Amite Bioenergy Catchment Area – average stumpage prices ($/metric tonne). Source: Timber Mart-South

An important part of this analysis is to look for evidence to evaluate Drax’s performance against its new forest commitments, some of which relate directly to these trends and data sets.

Hood Consulting – the authors of Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends: Amite BioEnergy – has looked at the impact of Amite BioEnergy on its supply basin.

The scope of the analysis had to be objective and impartial, using only credible data sources and references. However, in order to address some of the key issues and draw some conclusions, the consultants used their extensive experience and local knowledge in addition to the data trends.

A summary of their findings is detailed below.

Summary of key questions addressed in the analysis:

Is there any evidence that bioenergy demand has caused …?

Deforestation?

No. US Forest Service data shows that the total timberland area has increased by more than 5,200 ha.

A change in management practices (rotation lengths, thinnings, conversion from hardwood to pine)?

No / inconclusive. Changes in management practices have occurred in the catchment area over the last five to 10 years, but there is little evidence to suggest bioenergy demand has caused these changes. Market research shows thinnings have declined in this catchment area since 2014 (when Amite BioEnergy commenced production). However, local loggers identify poor market conditions for the decrease in thinnings, not increased bioenergy demand.

The primary focus of timber management in this area is the production of sawtimber. Rotation lengths of managed forests have remained unchanged (between 25-35 years of age) despite increases in bioenergy demand. Increased bioenergy demand, however, has benefited landowners in this catchment area, providing additional outlets for pulpwood removed from thinnings – a management activity necessary for sawtimber production.

Diversion from other markets?

No. Since 2014, softwood pulpwood demand not attributed to bioEnergy has increased 8% while demand for softwood sawtimber and hardwood pulpwood has increased 53% and 5%, respectively.

An abnormal increase in wood prices?

No. Prices for delivered pine pulpwood (the primary raw material consumed by Amite BioEnergy) have decreased 12% since the pellet mill commenced production in 2014.

A reduction in growing stock timber?

No / inconclusive. Total growing stock inventory in the catchment area increased 5% from 2014 through 2017 (the latest available data). Specifically, pine sawtimber inventory increased 13%, pine chip-n-saw inventory increased 24%, and pine pulpwood inventory decreased 12% over this period. This is indicative of an aging forest.

A reduction in the sequestration rate of carbon?

No. US Forest Service data shows the average annual growth rate of growing stock timber has decreased slightly since 2014, and a slower timber growth rate essentially represents a reduction in the sequestration rate of carbon. However, the reduced growth rate and subsequent reduction in the sequestration rate of carbon is due to the aging of the forest (changes in timber age class distribution), not to increases in bioenergy demand. As trees get older the growth rate slows down.

An increase in harvesting above the sustainable yield capacity of the forest area?

No. Growth-to-removals ratios, which compare annual timber growth to annual harvests, provides a measure of market demand relative to supply as well as a gauge of market sustainability. In 2017, the latest available, the growth-to-removals ratio for pine pulpwood equalled 1.80 (a value greater than 1.0 indicates sustainable harvest levels). Even with the increased harvesting required to satisfy bioenergy demand, harvest levels remain well below the sustainable yield capacity of the catchment forest area.

Evaluate the impact of bioenergy demand (positive, neutral, negative) on …

Timber growing stock inventory

Neutral. Total wood demand (from biomass and other solid wood products) is up more than 35% compared to 2014 levels. Intuitively, increased demand means more timber is harvested, which reduces total growing stock inventory. However, in this catchment area, inventories are so substantial

that increases in demand from bioenergy, as well as from other sources, have not been great enough to offset annual timber growth, and, as such, total growing stock inventory has continued to increase – an average of 2% per year since 2014 (when Amite BioEnergy commenced production).

Timber growth rates

Neutral. Timber growth rates have declined since 2014; however, evidence suggests the reduction in growth rates is more a product of an aging forest and not due to changes in bioenergy demand.

Additionally, young planted pine stands are actually growing at a faster rate than ever before – due to the continued improvement of seedling genetics. And, as timber is harvested and these stands are replanted in pine (as has historically occurred in the catchment area), over the long term, the average timber growth rate is likely to increase.

Weyerhaeuser Nursery Hazlehurst Mississippi

Forest area

Positive / neutral. Total forest (timberland) area in the catchment area increased more than 5,200 ha from 2014 through 2017, the latest available. And while our analysis of biomass demand and forest area found a moderately strong relationship between the two, findings are inconclusive as to whether the increase in timberland acreage can be attributed to increases in biomass demand.

Wood Prices

Neutral. Despite the additional wood demand placed on this market by Amite BioEnergy, since 2014, prices for delivered pine pulpwood (the primary raw material consumed by Amite BioEnergy) have decreased 12% in the catchment area. Prices for pine sawmill residuals and in-woods chips (the other two raw materials consumed by Amite BioEnergy) have also declined over the last several years – down 3% since 2016 for pine sawmill residuals and down 3% since 2015 for in-woods chips.

Markets for solid wood products

Positive / neutral. In the Amite BioEnergy catchment area, demand for softwood sawtimber to produce lumber has increased more than 50% since 2014. A biproduct of the sawmilling process is sawmill residuals – a material utilized by Amite BioEnergy to produce wood pellets. Not only has Amite BioEnergy benefited from the greater availability of this biproduct, but lumber producers have also benefited, as Amite BioEnergy has provided an additional outlet for these biproducts.

Read the full report: Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends: Amite BioEnergy (UK metric version). An interview with the author, Dr Harrison Hood, Forest Economist and Principal at Hood Consulting, can be read here. Explore every delivery of wood to Amite BioEnergy using our ForestScope data transparency tool. This is part of a series of catchment area analyses around the forest biomass pellet plants supplying Drax Power Station with renewable fuel. Others in the series include: Georgia MillEstonia, Latvia, LaSalle BioenergyMorehouse Bioenergy and Chesapeake.

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:

How electric planes could help clean up the skies

Turbine blades of turbo jet engine for passenger plane, aircraft concept, aviation and aerospace industry

You probably haven’t heard the phrase “flygskam” before. But you might have felt it. The recently coined Swedish term refers to the a shame or embarrassment caused by flying and its effect of the environment.

It’s not an uncommon feeling either, with 23% of people in the country now claiming to have abstained from air travel in the past year to lessen their climate impact. From electric cars to cleaner shipping, transport is undergoing dramatic change. However, aviation is proving more difficult to decarbonise than most forms of transportation.

As airports, cargo and the number of passengers flying every day continues to expand, the need to decarbonise air travel is more pressing than ever if aviation is to avoid becoming a barrier to climate action.

For other transport sectors facing a similar dilemma, electrification has proved a key route forward. Could the electrification of aeroplanes be next?

The problem with planes

Aeroplanes still rely on fossil fuels to provide the huge amount of power needed for take-off. Globally flights produced 859 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2017. The aviation industry as a whole accounts for 2% of all emissions derived from human activity and 12% of all transport emissions. Despite growing awareness of the contribution CO2 emissions make to causing the climate change emergency, estimates show global air traffic could quadruple by 2050.

Electrification of air travel presents the potential to drastically cut plane emissions, while also offering other benefits. Electric planes could be 50% quieter, with reduced aircraft noise pollution potentially enabling airports to operate around the clock and closer to cities.

Electric planes could also be as much as 10% cheaper for airlines to operate, by eliminating the massive expense of jet fuel, and fewer moving parts making electric motors easier to maintain compared to traditional jets. These cost savings for airlines could be passed on to passengers and businesses needing to move goods in the form of cheaper flights.

But while the benefits are obvious, the pressing question is, how feasible is it?

The race to electric planes

Start ups are now racing to develop electric planes that will reduce emissions – such Ampaire and Wright Electric. The latter has even partnered with EasyJet to develop electric planes for short-haul routes of around 335-mile distances, which make up a fifth of the budget carrier’s routes.

EasyJet going electric? (Source: easyjet.com)

EasyJet has highlighted London to Amsterdam as a key route they hope Wright Electric’s planes will operate, with potential for other zero-emission flights between London and Belfast, Dublin, Paris and Brussels. The partners aim to have an electric passenger jets on the tarmac by 2027.

Ahead on the runway, however, is Israeli firm Eviation, which recently debuted a prototype for the world’s first commercial all-electric passenger aircraft. Named ‘Alice’ the craft is expected to carry nine passengers for 650 miles and could be up and running as early as 2022.

The challenge these companies face, however, is developing the batteries needed to power electric motors capable of delivering the propulsion needed for a plane full of passengers and luggage to take off. Currently, batteries don’t have anywhere near the energy density of traditional kerosene jet fuel – 60% less.

Alice’s battery is colossal, weighing 3.8 metric tons and accounting for 60% of the plane’s overall weight. By contrast, traditional planes allocate around 30% of total weight to fuel. As conventional jets burn fuel, they get lighter, whereas electric planes would have to carry the same battery weight for the full duration of a flight.

Closer to home, on Scotland’s Orkney Islands, electric planes could be perfectly suited to replace expensive jet fuel on the region’s super-short island hopping service. There’s little need for range-anxiety, with the longest flight, from Kirkwall to North Ronaldsay, lasting just 20 minutes and the shortest taking less than two minutes, between the tiny islands of Papa Westray and neighbouring Westray.

Orkney is already known for its renewable credentials, exporting more wind-generated power to the grid than it is able to consume. The local council plans to investigate retrofitting its eight-seater aircraft, which carried more than 21,000 passengers last year, with electric motors as early as 2022.

Taking electric long haul

The planes currently under development by Ampaire, Wright Electric and Eviation are small aircraft, only capable of short distance flights. This is a long way behind the lengths capable of traditional fossil fuel-powered jets built by airline industry stalwarts, Airbus and Boeing, which are making their own move into electrification.

Ampaire: electric but only for short distances (Source: Ampaire.com)

Even with drastic developments in battery technology, however, Airbus estimates its long-haul A320 airliner, which seats between 100 and 240 passengers, would only be able to fly for a fifth of its range as an electric plane and only manage to carry half its regular cargo load. Elsewhere, French jet engine-maker Safran predicts that full-size, battery-powered commercial aircraft won’t become a reality until 2050 at the earliest.

However, if going fully electric may not yet be possible for large, long-haul planes, hybrid aircraft, which use both conventional and electric power, offer a potential middle ground.

A team comprising Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens are working on a project set to launch in 2021 called E-Fan X, which would combine an electric motor with a BAE 146 aircraft’s jet engine.

Airbus say they may have to reduce their cargo to go electric (Source: www.airbus.com)

Hybrid models aim to use electric engines as the power source for the energy-intensive take-off and landing processes, saving jet fuel and reducing noise around airports. Then, while the plane is in the air, it would switch to conventional kerosene engines, which are most efficient when the plane reaches cruising altitude. Airbus aims to introduce a hybrid version of their best-selling single-aisle A320 passenger jet by 2035.

While start ups and established jet makers jostle to get electric and hybrid planes off the ground, there are other ideas around reducing aviation emissions.

Technology of the future for decarbonising planes

The University of Illinois is working with NASA to develop hydrogen fuel cells capable of powering all-electric air travel. Hydrogen fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen to cause a chemical reaction that generates an electric current. While the ingredients are very light, the problem is they are bulky to store, and on planes making effective use of space is key.

Researchers are combatting this by experimenting with cryogenically freezing the gases into liquids which makes them more space-efficient to store, but makes refuelling trickier as airports would need the infrastructure to work with the freezing liquids.

There have also been experiments into solar-powered planes. In 2016, a team of Swiss adventurers succeeded in flying around the world in an aircraft that uses solar panels on its wings to power its propellers. With a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747, but weighing just a fraction of a traditional jet, the Solar Impulse 2 is capable of staying airborne for as long as six days, though only able to carry a lone pilot.

Solar Impulse 2 has great staying power

While the feat is impressive the Solar Impulse team says the aim was to showcase the advancement of solar technology, rather than develop solar planes for mainstream usage.

Elsewhere, MIT engineers have been working on the first ever plane with no moving parts in its propulsion system. Instead, the model uses ionic wind – a silent but hugely powerful flow of ions produced aboard the plane. Ionic wind is created when a current is passed between a thick and thin electrode. With enough voltage applied, the air between the electrodes produces thrust capable of propelling a small aircraft steadily during flight. MIT hope that ionic wind systems could be paired with conventional jets to make hybrid planes for a range of uses.

A general blueprint for an MIT plane propelled by ionic wind (Source: MIT Electric Aircraft Initiative, news.mit.edu)

Like any emerging technology, it will take time to develop these alternative power sources to reach the point where they can safely and securely serve the global aviation industry.

However, it’s clear that the transition away from fossil fuels is underway.

Flying as we know it has been slow to adapt, but with a growing awareness and levels of “flygskam” among consumers, there is greater pressure on the industry to decarbonise and lay out positive solutions to cleaner air travel.

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time and Drax has a crucial role in tackling it.

All countries around the world need to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time growing their economies. Creating enough clean, secure energy for industry, transport and people’s daily lives has never been more important.

Drax is at the heart of the UK energy system. Recently the UK government committed to delivering a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Drax is equally committed to helping make that possible.

We’ve recently had some questions about what we’re doing and I’d like to set the record straight.

How is Drax helping the UK reach its climate goals?

At Drax we’re committed to a zero-carbon, lower-cost energy future.

And we’ve accelerated our efforts to help the UK get off coal by converting our power station to using sustainable biomass. And now we’re the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

We’re exploring how Drax Power Station can become the anchor to enable revolutionary technologies to capture carbon in the North of England.

And we’re creating more energy stability, so that more wind and solar power can come onto the grid.

And finally, we’re helping our customers take control of their energy – so they can use it more efficiently and spend less.

Is Drax the largest carbon polluter in the UK?

No. Since 2012 we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions by 84%. In that time, we moved from being western Europe’s largest polluter to being the home of the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

And we want to do more.

We’ve expanded our operations to include hydro power, storage and natural gas and we’ve continued to bring coal off the system.

By the mid 2020s, our ambition is to create a power station that both generates electricity and removes carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.

Does building gas power stations mean the UK will be tied into fossil fuels for decades to come?

Our energy system is changing rapidly as we move to use more wind and solar power.

At the same time, we need new technologies that can operate when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

A new, more efficient gas plant can fill that gap and help make it possible for the UK to come off coal before the government’s deadline of 2025.

Importantly, if we put new gas in place we need to make sure that there’s a route through for making that zero-carbon over time by being able to capture the CO2 or by converting those power plants into hydrogen.

Are forests destroyed when Drax uses biomass and is biomass power a major source of carbon emissions?

No.

Sustainable biomass from healthy managed forests is helping decarbonise the UK’s energy system as well as helping to promote healthy forest growth.

Biomass has been a critical element in the UK’s decarbonisation journey. Helping us get off coal much faster than anyone thought possible.

The biomass that we use comes from sustainably managed forests that supply industries like construction. We use residues, like sawdust and waste wood, that other parts of industry don’t use.

We support healthy forests and biodiversity. The biomass that we use is renewable because the forests are growing and continue to capture more carbon than we emit from the power station.

What’s exciting is that this technology enables us to do more. We are piloting carbon capture with bioenergy at the power station. Which could enable us to become the first carbon-negative power station in the world and also the anchor for new zero-carbon cluster across the Humber and the North.

How do you justify working at Drax?

I took this job because Drax has already done a tremendous amount to help fight climate change in the UK. But I also believe passionately that there is more that we can do.

I want to use all of our capabilities to continue fighting climate change.

I also want to make sure that we listen to what everyone else has to say to ensure that we continue to do the right thing.