Tag: BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage)

The roadmap to zero carbon

The UK has come a long way in its efforts to decarbonise. Greenhouse gas emissions last year were 43% below 1990 levels, while increasing renewable electricity generation and a strengthening carbon price means the country could soon go coal-free for an entire summer.

There is still, however, much work needed to reach the UK target of reducing emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050 and meeting the Paris Agreement’s aim of keeping temperature increases below two degrees Celsius. As ambitious as these goals may be, recent research by the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) believes they can be met by 2050, with the right government policies and action from businesses.

To help to mitigate man made climate change, all industries, across all sectors must cut carbon emissions. It’s a big challenge but a clear first step must be the decarbonisation of electricity generation. This step will enable other industries to reduce their emissions in turn through electrification.

Since 2000 we have been building our experience in decarbonising electrical generation, transforming what was once Western Europe’s largest coal-fired power station into the UK’s biggest decarbonisation project. This puts us in a unique position to offer the leadership and innovation needed – across the electricity industry and other sectors – to reach a zero-carbon world.

Electricity generation will lead decarbonisation

The electrification of carbon-intensive sectors, such as transport and heating, will only contribute to reducing overall emissions if the electricity comes from mostly low or zero-carbon sources.

The ETC’s research suggests wind and solar will be capable of providing 85% of the world’s electricity generation by 2050. When these intermittent sources are unable to generate electricity the remaining 15% will come from a combination of nuclear, hydro, biomass and storage (including batteries, pumped storage and new technologies).

In fact, biomass alone could provide as much as half of that 15% but it is critical that this flexible, renewable, low carbon fuel must be sustainably sourced. For the wood biomass we use at Drax Power Station, its sourcing should contribute to growing and healthy forests, which will be another key part of the climate change solution.

Will Gardiner, CEO, Drax Group

At Drax, we have a long history of finding ways to cut emissions and improve the efficiency of our own biomass pellet supply chain, from bigger ships to more efficient rail freight loading and unloading.

The skills and experiences gained from these efforts serve not only to decarbonise our business but will benefit other supply chain-based industries along the path to lower-carbon emissions. More than this, it is far from the only way we are working towards doing this.

From here to zero-carbon

One of the biggest hopes for removing carbon from industry lies in carbon capture and storage. We’re leading the charge on bringing this technology to the fore by running a six-month pilot of a Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) system, which will capture a tonne of carbon every day from one of our four, 600+ megawatt (MW) biomass units.

Capturing emissions not only further reduces the carbon intensiveness of electricity generators of all kinds, but also opens new revenue streams for businesses through utilising captured carbon. For Drax, BECCS takes us another step towards becoming a carbon negative operation, where we remove more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit. It is also an opportunity to further expand the knowledge and experience of our team and become leading experts in a field which will be essential in meeting climate change goals.

Alongside this, our plans to repower the last of our coal-fired units to highly-efficient combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) and build four, rapid-response open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) will give the electricity system the flexibility needed to support more intermittent renewable sources. The abilities of gas plant in balancing and system services can help to complete the journey away from coal before 2025. In subsequent decades, gas can play a pivotal role assisting the transition to a zero-carbon power system.

Our retail businesses, Haven Power and Opus Energy, also allow us to help companies and the public sector outside of electricity generation to reduce their carbon footprint. Beyond just supplying renewable electricity, we’re also looking at ways through closer customer partnerships to help businesses leverage new technologies to use electricity more efficiently and in turn lower their costs.

Reaching a zero-carbon future is a monumental task for electricity producers that depends on innovative thinking and new technologies. We have the experience in developing transformative ideas and making them a reality – all of which will be essential in guiding us into a brighter, more stable, decarbonised future.

What can be made from captured carbon?

The combination of a heatwave and an entertaining world cup campaign put big demands on Great Britain’s beer supplies this summer. But European-wide carbon dioxide (CO2) shortages put a hold on that celebratory atmosphere as word spread that a lack of bubbles could result in the country running out of beer.

The drinks business managed to hold out, but the threat of long term CO2 shortages still lingers over the continent. One possible – and surprising – solution could lie in electricity generation, thanks to the capturing and storing of its carbon emissions.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is one of the key technologies in need of development to allow nations to meet their Paris Agreement goals. It has the potential to stop massive amounts of emissions entering the atmosphere, but it also raises the question: what happens to all that carbon once it’s captured?

Drax recently met with the British Beer & Pub Association to discuss using some of the carbon it plans to capture in its upcoming trial of Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) to keep the fizz in drinks.

It’s a novel solution to a potential problem, but it’s just one of the many emerging possibilities being developed around the world.

Smarter sneakers

Carbon capture is all about reducing carbon footprints – a phrase energy company NRG interpreted quite literally by creating ‘The Shoe Without A Footprint’. The white trainer was created to showcase the abilities of carbon capture, use and storage (CCuS) and is made of 75% material produced from captured emissions that have been turned into polymers, a molecular structure similar to plastics.

Only five pairs of the sneakers were created as part of NRG’s Carbon XPrize competition to find uses for captured carbon. However, they remain symbolic of the versatility offered by captured and stored carbon and its potential to contribute to the manufacture of everyday objects.

Better furniture

Finding an alternative to plastics is one of the key ways of facilitating a move away from global dependencies on crude oil. Sustainable materials company Newlight uses captured CO2 or methane emissions to create a bioplastic called AirCarbon –  a thermopolymer, which means it can be melted down and reshaped.

The company has teamed up with IKEA, which will buy 50% of the 23,000 tonnes of bioplastic Newlight’s plant produces per year. It’s part of the Swedish furniture giant’s efforts to increase the amount of recycled materials it uses and means upcycled carbon could soon be appearing in millions of homes around the world.

Cleaner concrete

If the shoes people walk around on can be made from captured carbon, so too can the cities they walk within. Making concrete is a notoriously dirty process. Cement, the main binding agent in concrete, is thought to contribute to as much as 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but this could change thanks to clever use and implementation of carbon capture technology.

At one level, CCS can be introduced to capture emissions from the manufacturing process. On another, the CO2 captured can be used as a raw material from which to create the concrete, effectively ‘locking in’ carbon and storing it for the long term.

Teams of engineers, material scientists and economists at UCLA who have worked on the problem for 30 years have succeeded in creating construction materials from CO2 emissions in lab conditions using 3D printing technology. Now it’s just a matter of scaling it up to industrial usage.

A metal alternative

Carbon nanotubes are stronger than steel but lighter than aluminium, which makes them a hugely useful material. They’re currently used in jets, sports cars and even in industrial structures, but producing them can be expensive and, until recently, could not utilise CO2 for manufacture. A team from George Washington University is changing that.

Its C2CNT technology splits captured CO2 into oxygen and carbon in a molten carbonate bath using electrolysis. From here the carbon is repurposed into carbon nanotubes at a high rate and lower cost than previous methods.

Future fuels

Transportation is one of the major emitters of carbon around the world, so any way it can be reduced or re-used in this field will be a huge positive. Carbon recycling company LanzaTech has developed a way to do this via a process that uses anaerobic bacteria to ferment emissions into cleaner chemicals and fuels.

Its first facility, opening this year in China, will create fuel-grade bioethanol that can be blended with gasoline to create vehicle fuel, or even converted into jet fuel with 65% lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Aviation, too, can benefit from carbon recycling through the creation of synthetic crude oil and gas using CO2. Technology company Sunfire is developing processes that combine hydrogen (set to become a major part of industry and transport) and biogenic CO2, (emissions from natural sources), to create synthetic hydrocarbons that could fuel planes.

From Silicon Valley to Valles Marineris

Earth isn’t the only place humans are innovating around carbon capture – at least, right now. With the race to send men and women to Mars stepping up, the challenges of dealing with its inhospitable atmosphere (which is 95% CO2) and ensuring a minimal human impact to the planet are becoming more acute. Carbon capture and use presents an opportunity to tackle both.

Californian company Opus 12 has developed a device that recycles CO2 from ambient air and industrial emissions and turns it into fuels and chemicals using only electricity and water. The device has the CO2 conversion power of 37,000 trees (or 64 football fields of dense forest) packed into the volume of a suitcase, and can convert CO2 into 16 different products.

In the long-term, the technology might provide critical services for human colonies on the Red Planet by capturing and using CO2 from the atmosphere or any future Mars-based factories. The Opus 12 device can also use ice (buried on the planet in places that could be accessible to astronauts) to convert Mars CO2 into plastic to make bricks and tools, methane that can form rocket fuel, and feedstocks for microbes to create medicine or food.

Turning pollution into possibilities

Many of these technologies are in their infancy, but the possibilities they present are very real. In fact, Drax’s upcoming trial of BECCS will see it capture and store as much as a tonne of carbon every day.

The proliferation of this technology in industry and electricity production – and the resultant increase in captured carbon – will help encourage more companies to see CO2 emissions as an opportunity for revenue while helping countries meet their Paris Agreement emissions goals.

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

A positive negative

Tubes running in the direction of the setting sun. Pipeline transportation is most common way of transporting goods such as Oil, natural gas or water on long distances.

This story was updated in June 2018 following the announcement of Drax’s pilot BECCS project.

Is there a way to generate electricity not only with no emissions, but with negative emissions?

It’s an idea that, after decades of being reliant on coal had seemed almost impossible. But as Drax has shown by announcing a pilot of the first bioenergy carbon capture storage (BECCS) project of its kind in Europe, it might not be impossible for much longer.

A few years on from the historic Paris Agreement – which sets a target of keeping global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius – innovative solutions for reducing emissions are critical. Among these, few are more promising than BECCS.

It sounds like a straightforward solution – capture carbon emissions and lock them up hundreds of metres underground or turn the carbon into useful products – but the result could be game-changing: generating electricity with negative emissions.

Capturing carbon

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology works by trapping the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted after a fuel source has been used and moving it to safe storage – often in depleted oil and gas reservoirs underground.

There are a number of CCS technologies available but one of the simplest is oxyfuel combustion. Fuel such as coal, gas or biomass, is burnt in a high oxygen environment and CO2 – rather than carbon (C) or carbon monoxide (CO) – is produced. Other impurities are removed and the resulting pure CO2 is compressed to form a liquid. This CO2 can then be transported via pipeline to its designated storage space, normally hundreds of metres underground.

The UK is well-placed to benefit from the technology thanks to the North Sea – which has enough space to store the EU’s carbon emissions for the next 100 years.

It’s a technology that can drastically reduce the emissions from fossil fuel use, but how can it be used to produce negative emissions?

Two technologies, working as one

Biomass, such as sustainably sourced compressed wood pellets, is a renewable fuel – the CO2 captured as part of its life in the forest is equal to the emissions it releases when used to generate electricity. When coupled with CCS, the overall process of biomass electricity generation removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it releases.

A report published by the Energy Technology Institute (ETI) looking at the UK has suggested that by the 2050s BECCS could deliver roughly 55 million tonnes of net negative emissions a year – approximately half the nation’s emissions target.

It’s not the only body heralding it as a necessary step for the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated in a 2014 report that keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius would be difficult if BECCS had limited deployment.

Support is widespread, but for it to lead to a practical future, BECCS needs suitable support and investment.

Morehouse BioEnergy pellet plant

Mills such as Morehouse BioEnergy manufacture compressed wood pellets – a sustainably-sourced fuel for BECCS power plants of the future.

Positive support for negative emissions

There are only a handful of CCS projects in operation or under construction across the world and many simply re-use rather than capture the CO2. Part of the reason is cost. It’s estimated that optimal CCS technology can cost about as much as the power station itself to install, and running it can consume up to 20% of a station’s power output. This means more fuel is needed to produce the same amount of power compared to a conventional power plant of similar efficiency.

Without government support, it remains a prohibitively expensive solution for many power generators. With government support in the form of multi-decade contracts, large CCS or BECCS plants could leverage economies of scale. They could deliver energy companies and their shareholders a return on the investments in the long-term.

Drax research and development

Past plans by Drax could have put the company on a timeline towards becoming the world’s first large scale negative emitter of CO2. It would have achieved it firstly with the construction of a CCS power station at its Selby, North Yorkshire site.

The 428 MW White Rose power station was to be fuelled by a mixture of coal and biomass and once in operation, could have paved the way for similar facilities elsewhere as carbon capture technology improved and costs came down, but unfortunately the project never went ahead.

There are some positive signs that carbon capture technologies are developing around the world. The first ‘clean coal’ power station became operational in the US earlier this month – and a second CCS plant is on the way. A UK-backed carbon capture and use (CCU) project in India recently opened at a chemicals factory, involving the capture of emissions for use in the manufacturing process.

Back in the UK, where the government outlined plans to end coal-fired power generation by 2025, carbon capture power stations must become financially competitive if they are to become a major part of the country’s low carbon future. But if the world is to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and pursue a cleaner future, negative emissions are a must, and BECCS remains a leading technology to help achieve it.