Tag: BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage)

Half year results for the six months ended 30 June 2020

LaSalle BioEnergy (centre) and co-located sawmill (right), Louisiana

RNS Number : 3978U
Drax Group PLC (Symbol: DRX)

Six months ended 30 JuneH1 2020H1 2019
Key financial performance measures
Adjusted EBITDA (£ million) (1)(2)179138
Cash generated from operations (£ million)226229
Net debt (£ million) (3)792924
Interim dividend (pence per share)6.86.4
Adjusted basic earnings per share (pence) (1)10.82
Total financial performance measures
Coal obsolescence charges-224-
Operating (loss) / profit (£ million)-3234
(Loss) / profit before tax (£ million)-614
Basic (loss) / earnings per share (pence)-141

Financial highlights

  • Group Adjusted EBITDA up 30% to £179 million (H1 2019: £138 million)
    • Includes estimated £44 million impact of Covid-19, principally in Customers SME business
    • £34 million of capacity payments (H1 2019: nil) following re-establishment of the Capacity Market
    • Strong biomass performance in both Pellet Production and Generation
  • Strong cash generation and balance sheet
    • £694 million of cash and total committed facilities
    • Extended £125 million ESG CO2 emission-linked facility to 2025
    • DBRS investment grade rating
  • Sustainable and growing dividend
    • Expected full year dividend up 7.5% to 17.1 pence per share (2019: 15.9 pence per share), subject to good operational performance and impact of Covid-19 being in line with current expectations
    • Interim dividend of 6.8 pence per share (H1 2019: 6.4 pence per share) – 40% of full year
Biomass storage dome with conveyor in the foreground, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Biomass storage dome with conveyor in the foreground, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire [Click to view/download]

Operational highlights

  • Biomass self-supply – 9% reduction in cost, 15% increase in production and improved quality vs. H1 2019
  • Generation – 11% of UK’s renewable electricity, strong operational performance and system support services
  • Customers – lower demand and an increase in bad debt provisions, principally in SME business

Progressing plans to create a long-term future for sustainable biomass

  • Targeting five million tonnes of self-supply at £50/MWh(4) by 2027 from expanded sources of sustainable biomass
    • Plan for $64 million ($35/t, £13/MWh(4)) annual savings on 1.85Mt by 2022 vs. 2018 base
    • Investment in new satellite plants in US Gulf – targeting 20% reduction in pellet cost versus current cost
  • BECCS(5) – developing proven and emerging technology options for large-scale negative emissions
  • End of coal operations – further reduction in CO2 emissions and lower cost operating model for biomass

Outlook

  • Full year Adjusted EBITDA, inclusive of c.£60 million estimated impact of Covid-19, in line with market consensus
  • Evaluating attractive investment options for biomass growth: cost reduction and capacity expansion
  • Strong contracted power sales (2020–2022) 34TWh at £51.4/MWh and high proportion of non-commodity revenues

Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax Group said:

“With these robust half-year results, Drax is delivering for shareholders with an increased dividend while continuing to support our employees, communities and customers during the Covid-19 crisis.

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

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

“As well as generating the flexible, reliable and renewable electricity the UK economy needs, we’re delivering against our strategy to reduce the costs of our sustainable biomass and we’re continuing to make progress pioneering world-leading bioenergy with carbon capture technologies, known as BECCS, to deliver negative emissions and help the UK meet its 2050 net zero carbon target.

“National Grid stated this week that the UK can’t reach net zero by 2050 without negative emissions from bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. BECCS delivers for the environment and also provides an opportunity to create jobs and clean economic growth in the North and around the country.”

Operational review

Pellet Production – capacity expansion, improved quality and reduced cost

  • Adjusted EBITDA up 213% to £25 million (H1 2019: £8 million)
    • Pellet production up 15% to 0.75Mt (H1 2019: 0.65Mt) – impact of adverse weather in H1 2019
    • Cost of production down nine per cent to $154/t(6) (H1 2019: $170/t(6))
    • Reduction in fines (larger particle-sized dust) in each cargo
  • Cost reduction plan – targeting $64 million ($35/t, £13/MWh(4)) annual savings on 1.85Mt by 2022 vs. 2018 base
    • Expect to deliver $27 million of annual savings by end of 2020 – a saving of $18/t vs. 2018
    • Greater use of low-cost fibre, LaSalle (improved rail infrastructure, woodyard and sawmill co-location) and relocation of HQ from Atlanta to Monroe
    • Savings from projects to be delivered in 2020-2022
    • 35Mt capacity expansion (LaSalle, Morehouse and Amite), increased use of low-cost fibre, improved logistics and other operational enhancements
  • $40 million investment in three 40kt satellite plants in US Gulf – commissioning from 2021, potential for up to 0.5Mt
    • Use of Drax infrastructure and sawmill residues – targeting 20% reduction in pellet cost versus current cost
Power lines and pylon above Cruachan Power Station, viewed from Ben Cruachan above

Power lines and pylon above Cruachan Power Station, viewed from Ben Cruachan above [Click to view/download]

Power Generation – flexible, low-carbon and renewable generation

  • Adjusted EBITDA up 45% to £214 million (H1 2019: £148 million)
    • Limited impact from Covid-19 – strong contracted position provided protection from lower demand, reduction in ROC(7) prices offset by increased system support services
    • £34 million of Capacity Market income (H1 2019: nil; £36 million in relation to H1 2019 subsequently recognised in H2 2019 following re-establishment of the Capacity Market)
    • £54 million of Adjusted EBITDA from hydro and gas generation assets (H1 2019: £36 million)
    • System support (Balancing Market, ancillary services and portfolio optimisation) up 8% to £66 million (H1 2019: £61 million)
    • Good commercial availability across the portfolio – 91% (H1 2019: 87%)
  • Covid-19 – business continuity plan in place to ensure safe and uninterrupted operations
  • Biomass generation up 16% to 7.4TWh (H1 2019: 6.4TWh)
    • Strong supply chain (impact of adverse weather in H1 2019) and record CfD availability (Q2 2020 – 99.5%)
  • Pumped storage / hydro – excellent operational and system support performance
  • Gas – excellent operational and system support performance, Damhead Creek planned outage underway
  • Coal – 10% of output in H1 2020 – utilisation of coal stock before end of commercial generation (March 2021)

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

  • Adjusted EBITDA loss of £37 million (H1 2019: £9 million profit) inclusive of estimated £44 million impact of Covid-19 – reduced demand, MtM loss on pre-purchased power and increase in bad debt, principally in SME business
  • Covid-19 – implemented work from home procedures to allow safe and continuous operations and customer support
  • Good performance in Industrial and Commercial market – new contracts with large water companies providing five-year revenue visibility, while supporting the Group’s flexible, renewable and low-carbon proposition
  • Monitoring and optimisation of portfolio to ensure alignment with strategy

Other financial information

  • Total financial performance measures reflects £108 million MtM gain on derivative contracts, £224 million coal obsolescence charges and £10 million impact (£6 million adjusted impact) from UK Government’s reversal of previously announced corporation tax rate reduction resulting in revaluation of deferred tax asset and increased current tax charge
    • Additional c.£25–£35 million for coal closure costs expected to be reported as exceptional item in H2 2020 when coal consultation process is further advanced
  • Capital investment – continuing to invest in biomass strategy, some delay in investment due to Covid-19
    • H1 2020: £78 million (H1 2019: £60 million)
    • Full year expected investment £190–£210 million (was £230–£250 million), includes 0.35Mt expansion of existing pellet plants and $20 million initial investment in satellite plants ($40 million in total)
  • Net debt of £792 million, including cash and cash equivalents of £482 million (31 December 2019: £404 million)
    • Remain on track for around 2.0x net debt to Adjusted EBITDA by end of 2020

View complete half year report

View analyst presentation

Listen to webcast

View/download main image. Caption: LaSalle BioEnergy (centre) and co-located sawmill (right), Louisiana


Is Formula One on the road to a big clean-up?

London E-Prix is set for July 2021 Credit: Courtesy of Formula E

On the eve of the new F1 season, the motor sport faces an existential dilemma. While the Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted huge uncertainty throughout 2020, environmental concerns continue to question its long-term viability.

The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne has long been the curtain-raiser to eight months of gas-guzzling, decibel-deafening action on racetracks across the globe, contributing to a carbon footprint of 256,551 tonnes. Due to the season being delayed, the first race will now take place in Austria. But the focus on Australia has been sharpened by the New Year bushfires – visible evidence, say some scientists and environmentalists, of the climate crisis.  This adds fuel to the fiery debate on Formula One’s perceived failure to take its environmental responsibilities seriously.

Koala bear on eucalyptus branch escaping from Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020.

Significantly, it is not the cars doing 70 laps that generate most of F1’s emissions but the thousands of air miles covered by drivers, their teams, the media and spectators in getting to each race weekend:

Activity% of carbon footprint
🚚 Logistics (road, air and sea freight)45%
🛩 Personnel travel27.7%
🏭 Factories and facilities19.3%
🎤 Events7.3%
🏎 Total F1 car emissions including all race and test mileage0.7%

Carbon footprint of F1 in 2018, not including fans’ transport to races

But is a genuine shift in attitudes about to descend on the circuits of Monaco, Silverstone and Interlagos? Firstly, a raft of countries have announced plans to phase out petrol and diesel-powered engines between 2030 and 2050. This could force the hand of motorsport bosses who have long been accused of talking a good game but failing to act.

The sport recently announced a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030 and in pursuit of this goal, it is looking to introduce two-stroke engines that run on synthetic fuel by the mid-2020s while current F1 hybrid engines will be replaced by a new specification of power unit from 2025 or 2026.

Max Verstappen, Formula One driver

Max Verstappen, Formula One driver

Currently, under Article 19.4.4 of the FIA’s 2019 technical regulation for F1 a minimum of 5.75% of the fuel must comprise bio‐components. The sport wants to reach 100%, aiming for 10% in 2021 and a gradual subsequent increase.

Such developments could potentially seize upon the opportunities offered by companies pioneering the use of carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), such as Drax.

One of several ideas discussed to make the sport more sustainable has been capturing carbon that is then mixed with hydrogen from water to form liquid fuel. Such technology is in development and Drax is researching how carbon dioxide (CO2) can be used to produce fuels. Its innovation engineers recently met with Velocys, the fuels technology company, which plans to produce carbon negative fuels in the Humber.

Could F1 go electric?

While greener fuels are the most obvious way forward, there have been calls for alternative forms of energy to be used to power F1 cars. A hydrogen solution could be developed quickly but it would significantly increase the bulkiness and weight of cars. But what about electric?

Formula One race car

“Electric power is attractive, but it’s currently still quite difficult to scale that up,” Pat Symonds, Chief Technical Officer at Formula One, said in an interview. “With any of the technologies on the horizon at the moment an electric truck or an electric aircraft is not a particularly feasible product. So, there is still a case for having liquid hydrocarbon fuels in trucks and in aircraft. However, what we cannot do is carry on digging those out of the ground, we’re going to have to somehow synthesise them and that’s what we want Formula 1 to explore and hopefully to lead.”

Formula E set to challenge F1 dominance

Another driver of change looming larger in Formula One’s rear-view mirror is Formula E. While this fledgling sport’s claim to quieter cars may not appeal to the most hardened of petrol-head F1 fans, its credible narrative of boosting sustainability in each of the 12 cities that host its races is always a potential attraction to new generations of increasingly climate conscious young fans.

Take Formula E’s opening race in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the country’s most polluted city. The sport is a beneficiary of the kingdom’s aim to reduce its reliance oil and in the last six years, the Middle Eastern country has invested over $350 billion in renewable energy projects (mainly solar and wind).

Saudi formula e grand prix Credit: Courtesy of Formula E

Saudi Arabia Formula E grand prix. Credit: Courtesy of Formula E

As with all electric cars, there are challenges. Excess heat produced by electric motors is offset by reducing the performance of the car when it is too hot. A series of cooling systems using radiators and fluid in closed loops regulate temperatures to a satisfactory level.

Appealing to fans is critical for the sport’s prosperity. Sustainability credentials are a key strand but Formula E is going beyond that and looking to optimise raceday experience through features such as FanBoost. This is an online voting system where the three drivers voted as fans’ favourites get a five second power boost of 100kj which can provide serious assistance when a car overtakes.

Maybe this is just one innovation that F1 could learn from its much younger counterpart? Perhaps there is also a case for taking the best of what both have to offer – the cities, the cars and the technology – and merging into a single championship. Whatever lies ahead in the future, Formula One is aware of the need to change. It must do if it is to survive.

How do you store CO2 and what happens to it when you do?

Sunrise over Saltwick Bay, Whitby, North Yorkshire

The North Sea has long shaped British trade. It’s also been instrumental in how the country is powered, historically providing an abundant source of oil and natural gas. However, this cold fringe off the North Atlantic could also play a vital role in decarbonising the UK’s economy – not because of its full oil and gas reservoirs, but thanks to its empty ones.

In an effort to limit or reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, countries around the world are rushing towards large scale carbon capture usage and storage projects (CCUS). In this process, CO2 is captured from sources, such as energy production and manufacturing, or directly removed from the air, and reused or stored permanently – for example, underground in disused oil and gas reservoirs or other suitable geological formations.

CCUS transport overview graphic

Source: CCS Image Library, Global CCS Institute [Click to view/download]

The International Energy Agency estimates that 100 billion tonnes of CO2 must be stored by 2060 to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. Yet the Global CCS Institute reports that, as of 2019, the projects currently in operation or under construction had the capacity to capture and store only 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

It’s clear the global capacity for CCUS must accelerate rapidly in the coming decade, but it raises the questions: where can these millions of tonnes of CO2 be stored, and what happens to it once it is?

Where can you store CO2?

The most well-developed approach to storing CO2 is injecting it underground into naturally occurring, porous rock formations such as former natural gas or oil reservoirs, coal beds that can’t be mined, or saline aquifers. These are deep geological formations with deposits of very salty water present in the rock’s pores and most commonly found under the ocean. The North Sea and the area off the US Gulf Coast contain several saline aquifers.

Once CO2 has been captured using CCUS technology, it’s pressurised and turned into a liquid-like form known as ‘supercritical CO2’. From there it’s transported via pipeline and injected into the rocks found in the formations deep below the earth’s surface. This is a process called geological sequestration.

CCUS storage overview graphic

Source: CCS Image Library, Global CCS Institute [Click to view/download]

But while pumping CO2 into the ground is one thing, ensuring it stays there and isn’t released into the atmosphere is another. Fortunately, there are several ways to ensure CO2 is stored safely and securely.

Keeping the lid on CO2 stored underground

Put simply, the most straightforward way underground reservoirs store CO2 is through the solid impermeable rock that typically surrounds them. Once CO2 is injected into a reservoir, it slowly moves upwards through the reservoir until it meets this layer of impermeable rock, which acts like a lid the CO2 cannot pass through. This is what’s referred to as ‘structural storage’ and is the same mechanism that has kept oil and gas locked underground for millions of years.

White chalk stone

White chalk stone

Over time, the CO2 trapped in reservoirs will often begin to chemically react with the minerals of the surrounding rock. The elements bind to create solid, chalky minerals, essentially locking the CO2 into the rock in a process called ‘mineral storage’.

In the case of saline aquifers, as well as structural and mineral storage, the CO2 can dissolve into the salty water in a process called ‘dissolution storage’. Here, the dissolved CO2 slowly descends to the bottom of the aquifer.

In any given reservoir, each (or all) of these processes work to store CO2 indefinitely. And while there remains some possibility of CO2 leakage from a site, research suggests it will be minimal. One study, published in the journal Nature, suggests more than 98% of injected CO2 will remain stored for over 10,000 years.

Storage for the net zero future

In the United States, industrial scale storage is in action in Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Illinois, and there are projects in progress across the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Algeria and Canada. However, there is still a long way to go for CCUS to reach the scale it needed to limit the effects of climate change.

Research has shown that globally, there is an abundance of CO2 storage sites, which could support widespread CCUS adoption. A report compiled by researchers at Imperial College London and E4tech and published by Drax details an estimated 70 billion tonnes of storage capacity in the UK alone. The US, on the other hand, has an estimated storage capacity of 10 trillion tonnes.

It’s clear the capacity for storage is present, it now remains the task of governments and companies to ramp up CCUS projects to begin to reach the scale necessary.  

In the UK, Drax Power Station is piloting bioenergy carbon capture and storage projects (BECCS), which could see it becoming the world’s first negative emissions power station. As part of the Zero Carbon Humber partnership, it could also form a part of the world’s first zero carbon industrial hub in the north of the UK.

Such projects are indicative of the big ambitions CCUS technology could realise – not just decarbonising single sites, but capturing and storing CO2 from entire industries and regions. There is still a way to go to meet that ambition, but it is clear the resources and knowledge necessary to get there are ready to be utilised.

Zero Carbon Humber

Source: Zero Carbon Humber [Click to view/download]

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

Robust trading and operational performance; 2020 Adjusted EBITDA currently in line with consensus; delivering for all stakeholders

Drax employee in PPE in front of biomass storage dome

RNS Number : 4161K
Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Company”; Symbol: DRX)

Highlights

  • Robust trading and operational performance in first three months of 2020

  • Strong contracted forward power sales supporting 2020-21 earnings visibility

  • 2020 full year Adjusted EBITDA(1) currently in line with consensus(2) inclusive of £60 million estimated potential impact from Covid-19

  • Principally lower power demand and increased bad debt risk in Customers business

  • Lower ROC(3) recycle prices in Generation, partially offset by system support services

  • Strong balance sheet at 31 March 2020 – net debt: £818 million, available cash and committed cash facilities: £663 million

  • 2019 final dividend of 9.5 pence per share (£37 million) to be paid in respect of 2019 performance, as previously announced – subject to shareholder approval at AGM

  • Strategic focus remains on biomass supply chain expansion and cost reduction

Electricity pylon near Cruachan Power Station, Argyll and Bute

Electricity pylon near Cruachan Power Station, Argyll and Bute [Click to view/download]

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said:

“With our strong balance sheet, robust trading and operational performance, and resilient sustainable biomass supply chain, Drax is in a strong position to support its employees, business customers and communities during the Covid-19 crisis, while continuing to generate returns for shareholders.

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

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

“As an important part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, we recognise our responsibility to support the country’s response to Covid-19. We have strong business continuity plans in place and are in close contact with the UK Government. Our dedicated teams across England, Scotland and Wales, supported by our US biomass colleagues and business partners, are working around the clock to generate and supply the flexible, low-carbon and renewable electricity the UK needs, not least to the 250,000 businesses, including care homes, hospitals and schools we supply.

“The Group is also providing support for communities and others affected by Covid-19.

“Nevertheless, it is still early in this pandemic. As Covid-19 continues to develop, we remain vigilant in looking to protect all our stakeholders and will report further if there are significant changes to our outlook for 2020.”

Trading, operational performance and outlook

The trading and operational performance of the Group has been robust in the first three months of 2020.

While the impact of Covid-19 is still unfolding, the Group’s expectations for 2020 Adjusted EBITDA are currently in line with consensus inclusive of an estimated potential impact from Covid-19 of £60 million, principally in relation to its Customers business.

Full year expectations for the Group remain underpinned by good operational availability for the remainder of 2020.

In the Customers business, the consequences of Covid-19 are only now starting to become visible. It is expected to result in reduced demand and a potential increase in bad debt, which represents a major sensitivity, particularly in the SME(4) market. As a result, Drax has significantly increased its expectation of potential customer business failures and higher bad debt.

Assuming the continued impact of Covid-19 throughout 2020, Drax now expects a full year Adjusted EBITDA loss for the Customers business. The Group will closely monitor the impact on the Customers business and update the market accordingly.

In Generation, the Group’s expectations for the full year reflect a reduction in ROC recycle prices resulting from reduced power demand. Drax expects to partially offset this through increased activity in system support services across its generation portfolio.

The performance of the Generation business is dependent on the continuation of biomass deliveries to Drax Power Station. Biomass generation is currently the most material area of activity for the Group and a protracted suspension of the supply chain could lead to lower levels of biomass generation, resulting in a reduction in the Group’s expectations for the full year. At present there has been no impact from Covid-19 and the Group has a good supply of biomass throughout the supply chain, which continues to be robust and functioning well.

Engineer climbs cooling tower at Drax Power Station

Engineer climbs cooling tower at Drax Power Station [Click to view/download]

Generation

During the first three months of 2020 Drax’s generation portfolio performed well with good asset availability and optimisation of generation underpinning a strong financial performance.

The business benefits from a strong forward power sales position through 2022 which, combined with index-linked renewable schemes and capacity payments, provides a high level of earnings visibility, helping to protect the business from the current weakness in UK power prices.

In response to Covid-19, Drax has implemented robust business continuity procedures across its sites to protect employees and contractors and ensure continued operation. In addition to operating strategically important infrastructure, the components of the Group’s UK supply chain are considered key sectors allowing continued operation.

The Group’s biomass supply chain has a high level of operational redundancy designed to mitigate any potential disruption. Drax sources biomass from suppliers across North America and Europe, including the Group’s own facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi. In the UK, Drax utilises dedicated port facilities at Hull, Immingham, Tyne and Liverpool, with a capacity of eleven million tonnes, providing supply chain capacity in excess of the Group’s annual biomass usage of over seven million tonnes.

Sustainable biomass wood pellets destined for Drax Power Station unloaded from the Zheng Zhi bulk carrier at ABP Immingham

Sustainable biomass wood pellets destined for Drax Power Station unloaded from the Zheng Zhi bulk carrier at ABP Immingham [Click to view/download]

Drax Power Station has 300,000 tonnes of biomass storage capacity. Taken together with volumes throughout its supply chain the Group currently has visibility of over one million tonnes of biomass in transit – enough to operate the CfD(5) unit on its own for over four months, subject to managing deliveries to Drax Power Station.

Biomass generation has performed well in the first three months of 2020. Whilst Covid-19 has not had any measurable impact on biomass generation to date, a sustained reduction in electricity demand could result in a reduction in ROC recycle prices in the current compliance period. The Group has adjusted its expectations for the full year but the precise impact will be dependent on the depth and duration of any reduction in demand. Drax expects to partially offset this through increased activity in system support services across its generation portfolio.

Engineer at Cruachan Power Station

Engineer at Cruachan Power Station [Click to view/download]

The Group’s hydro assets have performed well, particularly the pumped storage business, primarily driven by activity in the system support services market. As previously disclosed, Cruachan Pumped Storage Power Station was successful in a tender process run by the system operator to procure inertia and reactive power services. The contract is worth up to c.£5 million per year over six years and is expected to commence during the second quarter of 2020. This was the first tender of its kind and reflects the growing importance of system support services as the generation market becomes increasingly supplied by intermittent renewable power sources. The system operator is expected to conduct further tenders over the coming year.

Thermal generation is performing in line with Drax’s expectations.

Pellet Production

LaSalle BioEnergy wood pellet manufacturing plant in Louisiana

LaSalle BioEnergy wood pellet manufacturing plant in Louisiana [Click to view/download]

Pellet Production has performed well in the first three months of 2020.

At present there has been no disruption to production caused by Covid-19, although the State of Louisiana is experiencing a high number of cases. The semi-automated nature of the pellet production process limits the need for individuals to be in contact with each other and this has been enhanced by robust business continuity procedures to further reduce the risk to employees and contractors.

Drax continues to monitor developments closely and notes that energy, rail, port and forestry are designated key sectors in the USA allowing continued operation.

Customers

The Group’s Customers business, which sells power, gas and energy services to the I&C(6) and SME markets has seen a significant reduction in demand as a result of Covid-19. The Group has been working to assess the potential impact of this demand reduction, the increased risk of business failure and bad debt. The impact is expected to be most pronounced in the SME market, which represents c.30 percent of monthly billing. The impact is expected to be partially mitigated by credit insurance in respect of certain customers.

Balance sheet

At 31 December 2019 Drax had £404 million of cash, which increased to £454 million at 31 March 2020.

The Group’s plan for 2020 included capital investment of £230-£250 million, with half of this assigned to strategic investment in biomass expansion and cost reduction. Whilst the Group continues to see its biomass strategy as both a primary long and short-term source of value, Drax is reviewing the timing of its investment programme in 2020 and in the short-term investment is expected to be lower.

At 31 March 2020 net debt had reduced to £818m million and Drax continues to target around 2 x net debt to EBITDA for the full year.

The Group has available cash and committed facilities of £663 million including a cash line available within a £315 million Revolving Credit Facility (RCF), which is currently undrawn and matures in April 2021. The Group has an ESG facility with final maturity in 2022 and a £350m sterling bond which matures in 2022. The Group has a further $500 million fixed rate USD bond maturing in 2025 and infrastructure private placement loans maturing through 2024-2029.

The Group’s facilities include a maintenance covenant which, if triggered, requires a minimum EBITDA level requirement around 40% of 2020 current consensus Adjusted EBITDA. Customary covenants apply to all other facilities.

The Group’s rolling five-year foreign exchange hedge book continues to provide protection from the recent weakness in sterling to 2025. The Group actively manages risk limits with counterparties providing forward foreign exchange contracts and the current weakness in sterling has led to the rebasing of a number of contracts, resulting in the acceleration of cash flows from these contracts to the benefit of Drax.

Contracted power sales

As at 16 April 2020, the power sales contracted for 2020, 2021 and 2022 were as follows:

 202020212022
Power sales (TWh) comprising:16.79.64.3
– Fixed price power sales (TWh) 17.110.14.3
Of which CfD unit (TWh)3.8
At an average achieved price (£ per MWh)53.249.448
– Gas hedges (TWh)-0.4-0.5-
At an achieved price (pence per therm)1.732-

Merchant power prices remain an important part of the Group’s earnings, but by focusing on flexible, renewable and low-carbon generation, which includes index-linked renewable schemes, capacity payments and system support services, the impact of power prices has reduced.

Exposure to merchant power prices by generation asset class

  • Biomass CfD – power produced by this unit is remunerated based on an index-linked strike price and underpinned by a private law contract which runs until March 2027. At baseload the unit is expected to produce over 5TWh per year. The current strike price is c.£116/MWh and taken together with a biomass cost at or below c.£75/MWh gives a margin of over £40/MWh and an annual contribution to gross profit of over £200 million, with daily cash settlement in 30 days
  • Biomass ROC – ROC buyout prices are index-linked and extend to March 2027, acting as a premium on UK power prices. The buyout price for the current compliance period is £50.05 per ROC. Annual generation is in the region of 9-10 TWh, with the associated power sold up to two years forward, providing strong earnings visibility over the period 2020-21
  • Hydro – a small but profitable volume of merchant power generation (144MW) with zero fuel cost
  • Pumped storage – operates in the system support services market and carries little net exposure to merchant power prices
  • Coal – commercial generation will end in March 2021, ahead of which date Drax will utilise its residual coal stock to realise further cash flows
  • Gas – the Group’s mid-merit CCGT(7) assets have power forward sales for 2020. To the extent that gas prices continue to set the price of power, the clean spark spread from these assets is expected to be maintained at or around current levels in future periods
Engineer working in PPE at Rye House Power Station in Hertfordshire

Engineer working in PPE at Rye House Power Station in Hertfordshire [Click to view/download]

Investment in biomass to increase capacity and reduce cost

Biomass sustainability remains at the heart of the Group’s activities and building a long-term future for sustainable biomass remains the Group’s strategic objective. Drax remains focused on reducing biomass costs to a level which makes biomass generation in the UK economically viable when the existing renewable schemes end in 2027.

Innovation engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit. The massive pipe above him could be used to transport more than 90% of the carbon captured in the BECCS power generation process.

An engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit (FGD) at Drax Power Station. The massive pipe would transport flue gas from the Drax boilers to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant for CO2 removal of between 90-95%. [Click to view/download]

The Group is targeting five million tonnes of self-supply capacity by 2027 (1.5 million today, plus 0.35 million tonnes in development), with greater scope for operational leverage and cost reduction. These savings will be delivered through further optimisation of existing biomass operations, greater utilisation of low-cost wood residues and an expansion of the fuel envelope to incorporate other low-cost renewable fuels across its expanded self-supply chain. Drax remains alert to sector opportunities for organic and inorganic growth.

By 2027 these activities would enable Drax to develop a biomass generation business operating without the current renewable schemes and potentially the development of BECCS(8), subject to the right support from the UK Government. Drax notes the incremental progress and support announced for carbon capture and storage at the UK Government’s Budget in March 2020.

These efforts support the Group’s ambition to become a carbon negative company by 2030.

In addition, the Group is exploring options to service biomass demand in other markets – Europe, North America and Asia.

Capital allocation and dividend

The Group remains committed to its capital allocation policy established in 2017, through which it aims to maintain a strong balance sheet; invest in the core business; pay a sustainable and growing dividend and return surplus capital beyond investment requirements.

A final dividend of 9.5 pence per share in respect of 2019 performance was proposed at the 2019 Full Year Results on 27 February 2020 and, subject to shareholder approval at today’s Annual General Meeting, will be paid on 15 May 2020.

An interim dividend of 6.4 pence per share was paid in October 2019, making the total dividend in relation to 2019 performance 15.9 pence per share.

In determining the continued appropriateness of the dividend, the Board has considered a range of factors – trading performance, current liquidity, the outlook for the year in the context of Covid-19, as well as the steps being taken to support all stakeholders. The Board believes payment of the final dividend remains consistent with the Group’s commitment to stakeholders.

Drax will update on its expectations for the 2020 full year dividend at the 2020 interim results on 29 July 2020.

Enquiries:

Drax Investor Relations: Mark Strafford

+44 (0) 1757 612 491

Media:

Drax External Communications: Ali Lewis

+44 (0) 7712 670 888

Website: www.drax.com/uk

END

The UK needs negative emissions from BECCS to reach net zero – here’s why

Early morning sunrise at Drax Power Station

Reaching the UK’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 means every aspect of the economy, from shops to super computers, must reduce its carbon footprint – all the way down their supply chains – as close to zero as possible.

But as the country transforms, one thing is certain: demand for electricity will remain. In fact, with increased electrification of heating and transport, there will be a greater demand for power from renewable, carbon dioxide (CO2)-free sources. Bioenergy is one way of providing this power without reliance on the weather and can offer essential grid-stability services, as provided by Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire.

Close up of electricity pylon tower

Close up of electricity pylon tower

Beyond just power generation, more and more reports highlight the important role the next evolution of bioenergy has to play in a net zero UK. And that is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or BECCS.

A carbon negative source of power, abating emissions from other industries

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says negative emissions are essential for the UK to offset difficult-to-decarbonise sectors of the economy and meet its net zero target. This may include direct air capture (DAC) and other negative emissions technologies, as well as BECCS.

BECCS power generation uses biomass grown in sustainably managed forests as fuel to generate electricity. As these forests absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while growing, they offset the amount of COreleased by the fuel when used, making the whole power production process carbon neutral. Adding carbon capture and storage to this process results in removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than is emitted, making it carbon negative.

Pine trees grown for planting in the forests of the US South where more carbon is stored and more wood inventory is grown each year than fibre is extracted for wood products such as biomass pellets

Pine trees grown for planting in the forests of the US South where more carbon is stored and more wood inventory is grown each year than fibre is extracted for wood products such as biomass pellets

This means BECCS can be used to abate, or offset, emissions from other parts of the economy that might remain even as it decarbonises. A report by The Energy Systems Catapult, modelling different approaches for the UK to reach net zero by or before 2050, suggests carbon-intensive industries such as aviation and agriculture will always produce residual emissions.

The need to counteract the remaining emissions of industries such as these make negative emissions an essential part of reaching net zero. While the report suggests that direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) will also play an important role in bringing CO2 levels down, it will take time for the technology to be developed and deployed at the scale needed.

Meanwhile, carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) technology is already deployed at scale in Norway, the US, Australia and Canada. These processes for capturing and storing carbon are applicable to biomass power generation, such as at Drax Power Station, which means BECCS is ready to deploy at scale from a technology perspective today.

As well as counteracting remaining emissions, however, BECCS can also help to decarbonise other industries by enabling the growth of a different low carbon fuel: hydrogen.

Enabling a hydrogen economy

The CCC’s ‘Hydrogen in a low-carbon economy report’ highlights the needs for carbon zero alternatives to fossil fuels – in particular, hydrogen or H2.

Hydrogen produced in a test tube

Hydrogen produced in a test tube

When combusted, hydrogen only produces heat and water vapour, while the ability to store it for long periods makes it a cleaner replacement to the natural gas used in heating today. Hydrogen can also be stored as a liquid, which, coupled with its high energy density makes it a carbon zero alternative to petrol and diesel in heavy transport.

There are various ways BECCS can assist the creation of a hydrogen economy. Most promising is the use of biomass to produce hydrogen through a method known as gasification. In this process solid organic material is heated to more than 700°C but prevented from combusting. This causes the material to break down into gases: hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO). The CO then reacts with water to form CO2 and more H2.

While CO2 is also produced as part of the process, biomass material absorbs CO2 while it grows, making the overall process carbon neutral. However, by deploying carbon capture here, the hydrogen production can also be made carbon negative.

BECCS can more indirectly become an enabler of hydrogen production. The Zero Carbon Humber partnership envisages Drax Power Station as the anchor project for CCUS infrastructure in the region, allowing for the production of ‘blue’ hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is produced using natural gas, a fossil fuel. However, the resulting carbon emissions could be captured. The CO2 would then be transported and stored using the same system of pipelines and a natural aquifer under the North Sea as used by BECCS facilities at Drax.

This way of clustering BECCS power and hydrogen production would also allow other industries such as manufactures, steel mills and refineries, to decarbonise.

Lowering the cost of flexible electricity

One of the challenges in transforming the energy system and wider economy to net zero is accounting for the cost of the transition.

The Energy Systems Catapult’s analysis found that it could be kept as low as 1-2% of GDP, while a report by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) projects that deploying BECCS would have little impact on the total cost of the power system if deployed for its negative emissions potential.

The NIC’s modelling found, when taking into consideration the costs and generation capacity of different sources, BECCS would likely be run as a baseload source of power in a net zero future. This would maximise its negative emissions potential.

This means BECCS units would run frequently and for long periods, uninterrupted by changes in the weather, rather than jumping into action to account for peaks in demand. This, coupled with its ability to abate emissions, means BECCS – alongside intermittent renewables such as wind and solar – could provide the UK with zero carbon electricity at a significantly lower cost than that of constructing a new fleet of nuclear power stations.

The report also goes on to say that a fleet of hydrogen-fuelled power stations could also be used to generate flexible back-up electricity, which therefore could be substantially cheaper than relying on a fleet of new baseload nuclear plants.

However, for this to work effectively, decisions need to be made sooner rather than later as to what approach the UK takes to shape the energy system before 2050.

The time to act is now

What is consistent across many different reports is that BECCS will be essential for any version of the future where the UK reaches net zero by 2050. But, it will not happen organically.

Sunset and evening clouds over the River Humber near Sunk Island, East Riding of Yorkshire

Sunset and evening clouds over the River Humber near Sunk Island, East Riding of Yorkshire

A joint Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering Greenhouse Gas Removal report, includes research into BECCS, DACCS and other forms of negative emissions in its list of key actions for the UK to reach net zero. It also calls for the UK to capitalise on its access to natural aquifers and former oil and gas wells for CO2 storage in locations such as the North Sea, as well as its engineering expertise, to establish the infrastructure needed for CO2 transport and storage.

However, this will require policies and funding structures that make it economical. A report by Vivid Economics for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) highlights that – just as incentives have made wind and solar viable and integral parts of the UK’s energy mix – BECCS and other technologies, need the same clear, long-term strategy to enable companies to make secure investments and innovate.

However, for policies to make the impact needed to ramp BECCS up to the levels necessary to bring the UK to net zero, action is needed now. The report outlines policies that could be implemented immediately, such as contracts for difference, or negative emissions obligations for residual emitters. For BECCS deployment to expand significantly in the 2030s, a suitable policy framework will need to be put in place in the 2020s.

Beyond just decarbonising the UK, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that BECCS could be of even more importance globally. Differing scales of BECCS deployment are illustrated in its scenarios where global warming is kept to within 1.5oC levels of pre-industrial levels, as per the Paris Climate agreement.

BECCS has the potential to play a vital role in power generation, creating a hydrogen economy and offsetting other emissions. As it continues to progress, it is becoming increasingly effective and cost efficient, offering a key component of a net zero UK.

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

From steel to soil – how industries are capturing carbon

Construction metallic bars in a row

Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) is a vital technology in the energy industry, with facilities already in place all over the world aiming to eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

However, for decarbonisation to go far enough to keep global warming below 2oC – as per the Paris Climate Agreement – emission reductions are needed throughout the global economy.

From cement factories to farmland, CCUS technology is beginning to be deployed in a wide variety of sectors around the world.

Construction

The global population is increasingly urban and by 2050 it’s estimated 68% of all people will live in cities. For cities to grow sustainably, it’s crucial the environmental impact of the construction industry is reduced.

Construction currently accounts for 11% of all global carbon emissions. This includes emissions from the actual construction work, such as from vehicle exhaust pipes, but a more difficult challenge is reducing embedded emissions from the production of construction materials.

Steel and concrete are emissions-heavy to make; they require intense heat and use processes that produce further emissions. Deploying widespread CCUS in the production of these two materials holds the key to drastically reducing carbon emissions from the built environment.

Steel manufacturing alone, regardless of the electricity used to power production, is responsible for about 7% of global emissions. Projects aimed at reducing the levels of carbon released in production are planned in Europe and are already in motion in the United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Masdar, a renewable energy and sustainability company, formed a joint venture in 2013 with the aim of developing commercial-scale CCUS projects.

In its project with Emirates Steel, which began in 2016, about 800,000 tonnes of CO2 is captured a year from the steel manufacturing plant. This is sequestered and used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The commercially self-sustaining nature of this project has led to investigation into multiple future industrial-scale projects in the region.

Cement manufacturing, a process that produces as much as 8% of global greenhouse gases, is also experiencing the growth of innovative CCUS projects.

Pouring ready-mixed concrete after placing steel reinforcement to make the road by mixing in construction site

Norcem Cement plant in Brevik, Norway has already begun experimenting with CCUS, calculating that it could capture 400,000 tonnes of CO2 per year and store it under the North Sea. If the project wins government approval, Norcem could commence operations as soon as 2023.

However, as well as reducing emissions from traditional cement manufacturing and the electricity sources that power it, a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is exploring a new method of cement production that is more CCUS friendly.

By pre-treating the limestone used in cement creation with an electrochemical process, the CO2 produced is released in a pure, concentrated stream that can be more easily captured and sequestered underground or harnessed for products, such as fizzy drinks.

Agriculture

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the agriculture industry. As well as feeding the world, it employs a third of it.

Within this sector, fertiliser plays an essential role in maintaining the global food supply. However, the fertiliser production industry represents approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions.

CCUS technology can reduce the CO2 contributions made by the manufacturing of fertiliser, while maintaining crop reliability. In 2019, Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s (OGCI) Climate Investments announced funding for what is expected to be the biggest CCUS project in the US.

Tractor with pesticide fungicide insecticide sprayer on farm land top view Spraying with pesticides and herbicides crops

Based at the Wabash Valley Resources fertiliser plant in Indiana, the project will capture between 1.3 and 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 from the ammonia producer per year. The captured carbon will then be stored 2,000 metres below ground in a saline aquifer.

Similarly, since the turn of the millennium Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering has deployed CCUS technology at fertiliser plants around Asia. CO2 is captured from natural gas pre-combustion, and used to create the urea fertiliser.

However, the agriculture industry can also capture carbon in more nature-based and cheaper ways.

Soil acts as a carbon sink, capturing and locking in the carbon from plants and grasses that die and decay into it. However, intensive ploughing can damage the soil’s ability to retain CO2.

It only takes slight adjustments in farming techniques, like minimising soil disturbance, or crop and grazing rotations, to enable soil and grasslands to sequester greater levels of CO2 and even make farms carbon negative.

Transport

The transport sector is the fastest growing contributor to climate emissions, according to the World Health Organisation. Electric vehicles and hydrogen fuels are expected to serve as the driving force for much of the sector’s decarbonisation, however, at present these technologies are only really making an impact on roads. There are other essential modes of transport where CCUS has a role to play. 

Climeworks, a Swiss company developing units that capture CO2 directly from the air, has begun working with Rotterdam The Hague Airport to develop a direct air capture (DAC) unit on the airport’s grounds.

Climeworks Plant technology [Source: Climeworks Photo by Julia Dunlop]

hydrogen filling station in the Hamburg harbor city

Hydrogen filling station in Hamburg, Germany.

However, beyond just capturing CO2 from planes taking off, Climeworks aims to use the CO2 to produce a synthetic jet fuel – creating a cycle of carbon reusage that ensures none is emitted into the atmosphere. A pilot project aims to create 1,000 litres of the fuel per day in 2021.

Another approach to zero-carbon transport fuel is the utilisation of hydrogen, which is already powering cars, trains, buses and even spacecraft.

Hydrogen can be produced in a number of ways, but it’s predominantly created from natural gas, through a process in which CO2 is a by-product. CCUS can play an important role here in capturing the CO2 and storing it, preventing it entering the atmosphere.

The hydrogen-powered vehicles then only emit water vapour and heat.

From every industry to every business to everyone

As CCUS technology continues to be deployed at scale and made increasingly affordable, it has the potential to go beyond just large industrial sites, to entire economic regions.

Global Thermostat is developing DAC technology which can be fitted to any factory or plant that produces heat in its processes. The system uses the waste heat to power a DAC unit, either from a particular source or from the surrounding atmosphere. Such technologies along with those already in action like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), can quickly make negative emissions a reality at scale.

However, to capture, transport and permanently store CO2 at the scale needed to reach net zero, collaboration partnerships and shared infrastructure between businesses in industrial regions is essential.

The UK’s Humber region is an example of an industrial cluster where a large number of high-carbon industrial sites sit in close proximity to one another. By installing BECCS and CCUS infrastructure that can be utilised by multiple industries, the UK can have a far greater impact on emissions levels than through individual, small-scale CCUS projects.

Decarbonising the UK and the world will not be achieved by individual sites and industries but by collective action that transcends sectors, regions and supply chains. Implementing CCUS at as large a scale as possible takes a greater stride towards bringing the wider economy and society to net zero.

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

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:

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’.

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.

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