Author: sarahfirminger

[Carbon Capture Magazine article] Spiking Energy Demand

This story first appeared in Carbon Capture Magazine.

By Raj Swaminathan, Senior Vice President at Drax.

While there’s little debate that the greenhouse gas emissions that sit at the heart of our planet’s unprecedented warming come from fossil fuel consumption and other human activities, clawing back these carbon outputs is a multi-faceted issue. In addition to efforts to transition to renewable power sources like wind, solar, and biomass, which remain essential to mitigating this crisis, leading scientists agree that reducing emissions is not sufficient; we must go further and faster with carbon removals.

It’s estimated that we’ll need to capture and store as much as 9.5 billion metric tons of CO2 every year by 2050 to reverse legacy emissions enough to achieve international climate targets, according to the IPCC. Today, carbon removal facilities only capture a fraction of the emissions generated across the planet, and we urgently need a spectrum of high-quality solutions to scale our ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

At the same time, spiking energy demand – driven largely by the growing needs of data centers, particularly those underpinning artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology, as well as new industrial and manufacturing facilities – also means we need to increase generation capacity rapidly to avoid an energy security crisis. This becomes more difficult to achieve through intermittent sources like wind and solar alone, which can’t be turned up and down when the grid is strained, opening an opportunity for solutions that can provide renewable, baseload power while permanently removing carbon from the atmosphere to fill this vital need.

Bioenergy with CCS – a critical technology for decarbonization

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a carbon removal technology that uses sustainably sourced biomass to generate renewable energy while permanently sequestering the carbon underground. Because BECCS is one of the only renewable sources that can generate baseload power around the clock, seven days a week, it can serve as the backbone of renewable power grids for when the sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing – a role fossil fuels often fill today.

At the same time, BECCS captures post-combustion carbon at the stack and pipelines it into geologic storage, permanently securing it underground. These high-quality carbon removals are more straightforward to measure in comparison with other solutions like nature-based removals, making it much simpler to quantify the overall impact achieved.

Compared to other carbon capture technologies, BECCS also has more diversified revenue streams – including renewable power generation, government incentives for carbon storage, and the sale of carbon dioxide removals (CDR) credits to offset emissions for other companies and industries. Because of this diversification, BECCS not only provides a clearer path to profitability but also offers a high-quality CDR at a much lower price point than alternatives like direct air capture (DAC). This results in a more sustainable and scalable path to adoption.

Due to these advantages, BECCS is positioned to do much of the heavy lifting regarding carbon removals, but it doesn’t replace the need for additional carbon capture and renewable energy solutions. Technologies like DAC, while costlier to operate today, will play an important role in helping to reverse legacy emissions as well; in fact, BECCS could even power DAC facilities to ensure they’re running on renewable energy. The same is true for renewable power technologies – we need far more wind and solar capacity in addition to BECCS.

Pioneering BECCS in the US and UK

Drax believes that BECCS will be integral to decarbonizing the power sector and hard-to-abate industries. To this end, Drax has launched a new independent business unit this year that is focused on becoming the global leader in large-scale carbon removals. This business unit will oversee the development and construction of Drax’s new-build BECCS plants in the US and internationally, and it will work with a coalition of strategic partners to focus on an ambitious goal of removing at least 6 Mt of CO2 per year from the atmosphere.

Previously, Drax successfully completed two BECCS pilots at Drax Power Station, the UK’s largest power station that contributes approximately 4 percent of Britain’s generation output and 11 percent of its renewables. The Drax team is now working to outfit Drax Power Station with BECCS technology that will remove an estimated 8 Mtpa of carbon while generating 10 TWh of power. This is slated to be the first carbon-negative power station in the world and is key to achieving Drax’s goal of becoming a carbon-negative company.
Drax is also pursuing an initial target in the U.S. to have two BECCS plants built and operating by the 2030s. These will be the first large-scale, biomass-fueled power stations in North America, generating an estimated total of 4 Twh of power while sequestering approximately 6 Mt of CO2 per year.

BECCS is an essential technology to help achieve global decarbonization targets. While it doesn’t replace the need for additional carbon capture and renewable power generation alternatives, its unique advantages can help reverse carbon pollution from the past while meeting the energy demands of the future.

3 Ways BECCS Will Provide Energy Security and Reduce Carbon Emissions

By Laurie Fitzmaurice, President of Global BECCS 

When it comes to energy, the United States is caught between a proverbial rock and hard place. Projected demand for power has never been higher, with the proliferation of modern technology like AI and datacenters expected to drive consumption up exponentially. At the same time, deep emissions reductions are needed immediately to curb the impact of climate change, and experts have warned that permanent carbon removals at scale are essential to limit global warming to theC tipping point for our planet.  

In February this year, I joined Drax Group as President of our new Houston-headquartered, independently operated business unit focused on delivering carbon dioxide removals and becoming a global leader in this emerging field. The new business unit will scale Drax’s ability to deliver high-quality carbon removals, which in turn offers organizations an opportunity to reduce their own carbon footprint.  

For example, in the past month Drax announced carbon removals deals with Karbon-X and C-Zero, organizations that have committed to purchasing 25,000 and 2,000 tonnes of carbon credits respectively from our planned carbon removal facilities. These companies will sell the credits on the voluntary carbon market, enabling individuals and organizations to achieve their own emissions reduction targets.   

Buyers rightfully seek confidence in their purchases; they want removals that are not only high quality but also robustly quantified and verified, and this is exactly what we are committed to delivering. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is the process of capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide (CO2) that is generated during the production of electricity from sustainable biomass. The carbon released during this process is captured and permanently stored underground – not only reducing emissions but permanently removing carbon from the atmosphere. 

As President of Drax’s new business unit focused on deploying BECCS globally, I want to share three fundamental ways that BECCS will provide energy security while reversing carbon pollution at the same time. 

1. BECCS Provides Dispatchable, Renewable Energy

Unlike other carbon removal technologies, our BECCS facilities will generate secure, reliable energy for millions of homes and businesses while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – uniquely helping to address two of the world’s greatest challenges at the same time.  

This end-to-end process can be delivered within the U.S., providing energy independence and security by delivering renewable power around the clock, seven days a week – and unlike intermittent renewables, BECCS operates even when the sun isn’t shining, and the wind isn’t blowing.  

Energy demands are increasing in the U.S. and around the world, and energy systems are struggling to keep pace. From the voracious energy consumption of AI, data centers, electric vehicles, changing climates, and population movements, states and energy networks are looking at how to keep up with demand, particularly during peak periods of strain. 

This is no small task. Globally, scientists tell us it will require thousands of gigawatts of additional renewable energy capacity while removing hundreds of millions more tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. 

And the need is now – we can’t wait. It has never been more important to diversify our sources of energy and build a system that is resilient to outside shocks. Energy grid blackouts and calls to conserve energy shouldn’t be the norm. We are at a critical moment in our industry: if we are to reliably meet the future energy needs of our global society, we need more dispatchable energy, and we need it to come from more sustainable sources. 

Drax’s ambition will help achieve just that. 

In fact, the Department of Energy recently released it’s 2023 Billion-Ton Report, which demonstrates that the U.S. could sustainably triple its production of biomass to more than 1 billion tons per year to support a robust bioeconomy. This reaffirms our position that biomass is well-positioned to meaningfully contribute to energy security and grid resilience at scale and serve as the sustainable fuel for BECCS. 

2. BECCS Permanently Removes Carbon from the Atmosphere 

At the same time, scaling up our ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere is crucial for combatting climate change and achieving Paris Agreement goals. Scientists estimate that up to 10 gigatons of CO2 will need to be permanently sequestered each year by 2050 in order to prevent catastrophic warming of our planet. So, while we need to produce more energy than ever before, we also need to capture and permanently lock up an increasing amount of CO2 

New research published by Foresight Transitions shows that BECCS is necessary to achieve ambitious decarbonization scenarios in the U.S., and it’s critical to delivering a zero-carbon power system by 2035. Our indicative plans for our first BECCS site estimate that we can remove 3 million tonnes of CO2 annually from the atmosphere. This is realistic and deliverable – and that is just with our first plant; it’s only the beginning of what we can deliver with BECCS globally. 

Credit for the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere from these projects can be purchased by forward thinking businesses looking to offset their emissions. This can be particularly useful for hard-to-abate sectors looking to offset residual emissions and meet net-zero targets.  

The carbon removals industry is estimated to be a $1.2 trillion opportunity by 2050 

The market is currently trading at high prices and small volumes, but as innovation continues, scaling the industry is achievable. Some of the steps needed to scale this industry include:  

  • Stronger buyer incentives 
  • Robust standards 
  • Clear demand signals and policy measures to encourage investment 

Trading carbon removal credits on the voluntary carbon market not only supports decarbonization ambitions but also enables developers, like Drax, to scale up carbon removals – it serves a dual benefit.  

3. BECCS Supports Jobs and Skills

Drax has already delivered over $1 billion in economic impact across the United States, with plans to invest even more. Our investment in the U.S. currently supports thousands of jobs in logging, trucking, railroad and port operations across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, and our operations in Texas will support additional new jobs. Were also supporting the communities were a part of with our focus on skills, education, and nature as well as jobs – through the creation of the Drax Foundation, giving back directly to our communities and helping to meet local needs.   

BECCS has the opportunity to create thousands more jobs across a number of industries. It’s a cost-effective solution that’s more affordable than other carbon removal technologies while also providing jobs in rural America. And by sourcing sustainable biomass from the areas where our plants will be built, BECCS will support important supply chains. 

BECCS is the only technology with the capability to generate 24/7 power, while removing carbon dioxide and permanently storing it. It can protect and create jobs, support healthy forests, and boost local and state economies. 

I couldn’t be more excited to be in this new role to tackle such vital challenges. Together with my talented colleagues, our partners, and the world’s forward-thinking businesses and governments, we’re going to make the difference the world needs.   

Learn more about our carbon removals journey by visiting www.draxcarbonremovals.com 

[POWER article] UK’s Drax eyes U.S. for bioenergy CCS expansion drive

The 2.6-GW Drax Power Station in northeastern England—once Western Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant—is poised to pioneer bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), a negative emissions technology. In a move to establish a stronghold on emerging prospects for BECCS, Drax Group has now set out to launch an independent business unit to develop and build new BECCS plants in the U.S.

The move is a remarkable step for Drax Group, a company established in 1967. After the discovery of the Selby coalfield—a deep underground resource in North Yorkshire—the UK’s state-owned Central Electricity Generating Board commissioned Drax Power Station, and the plant, comprising four 660-MW units equipped with Babcock and Wilcox subcritical boilers, was completed in 1975. The Drax plant doubled its capacity in 1986 to 4 GW, and in 1988, it pioneered flue gas desulphurization (FGD) in the UK. After a series of ownership shuffles following the privatization of the UK power sector in the 1990s, Drax Group was founded in 2005.

Read the full story on POWER

Helping Mississippi, Arkansas communities recover from tornadoes

Mississippi and Arkansas were devastated by a recent rash of tornadoes that ripped across the Southeastern U.S. in March.

As part of the Communities in Crisis Fund, Drax donated $25,000 to the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and $25,000 to the Heart of Arkansas United Way to support tornado damage relief efforts. Funds will be used for immediate relief efforts and long-term rebuilding and recovery in affected communities near Rolling Fork, Mississippi and Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The establishment of our Communities in Crisis Fund is an example of how we are strengthening our approach to supporting our communities, which includes an enhanced approach to philanthropic giving,” said Shona King, Group Head of Community for Drax.

The Crisis Fund provides donations to reputable relief organizations working on the ground or organizations that have been established to run emergency appeals in the immediate aftermath of disasters such as hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes and wildfires.

“United Way of Southeast Louisiana and our partners at WDSU-TV are grateful to Drax for supporting efforts to help our neighbors in Mississippi,” said Michael Williamson, President and CEO of United Way of Southeast Louisiana. “We know all too well the devastating effects of tornadoes on communities, and thanks to Drax’s generous donation, we can grant critical funds to our fellow United Ways to help their families rebuild and recover.”

Drax is committed to being a good neighbor, helping those in immediate need and playing a positive role in their communities.

“Drax’s generous gift will allow Heart of Arkansas United Way to provide victims of the March 31 tornadoes the support they need through recovery and rebuilding work that will be ahead for many months to come,” said Lynn Holzman Pharr, President of the Heart of Arkansas United Way President. “Disaster recovery is a long-term process – a marathon, not a sprint. Our community is thankful for the immediate response efforts of many who are helping to evaluate the scope and scale of the impact, so that we may begin planning for the support individuals and families will need in the long term.”

Drax’s philanthropic efforts focus on the well-being of the states especially as the company grows and wants to give back to local communities.

“Our employees live in Arkansas and Mississippi and know, or are related to, people impacted by the tornado damage,” said King. “They are part of our extended Drax family.”

To learn more about Drax’s approach to community engagement and corporate giving, visit our Community site, which contains more information about our Communities in Crisis Fund and the Drax Foundation.

Working towards carbon negative: Reducing supply chain emissions

Key takeaways:

  • Drax’s ambition of becoming a carbon negative company by 2030 means we’re always working to reduce our supply chain emissions further.
  • We’re partnering with different organisations to explore innovative solutions to lowering shipping emissions.
  • Through our experience of carbon capture and storage, we can deploy the technology to decarbonise operations at our pellet mills.
  • Using rail wagons specifically designed to transport biomass wood pellets helps us reduce transport on land emissions.
  • By developing a new BECCS power station in the U.S., we can help decarbonise electricity systems while removing emissions from the atmosphere and tackling climate change.

At Drax, we have ambitious plans to not only help countries around the world replace fossil fuels with renewable biomass, but to become a carbon negative company by 2030.

For the world to achieve its net zero targets and meet the Paris Agreement goals of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C, it’s essential to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than is produced.

Drax is leading in this effort through pioneering bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology. BECCS is the process of generating renewable power using sustainably sourced biomass while capturing and permanently storing CO2.

Developing BECCS at scale and achieving our own carbon negative objective means working to decarbonise the technology’s entire supply chain. It’s a responsibility we’ve been committed to for decades, even before the Drax Power Station was converted to run on sustainable biomass, and we continue to look for new innovations.

Here are three of the ways we’re working to optimise our supply chains to make them as energy efficient and low-carbon as possible:

1. Shipping emissions: Harnessing the wind

Around 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea, including the wood pellets produced at our pellet mills and used to generate renewable power at Drax Power Station in the U.K. And while shipping has a lower carbon footprint than road or air transport, the sector still accounts for around 3%, or 1 billion tonnes of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Initiatives to reduce the emissions associated with shipping are an important part of our efforts to decarbonise our supply chain and become carbon negative.

In 2022, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Japanese shipping company MOL Drybulk. Together, we’re exploring installing MOL’s proven Wind Challenger hard sail technology on vessels transporting wood pellets on routes such as British Columbia to biomass customers in Japan. Wind Challenger, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions by harnessing wind power through modern sails, could be ready to be fitted onto newly built vessels for Drax from 2025.

The Environmentally Friendly Bulk Carrier “EFBC” project’s use of new and more efficient wind-power could contribute to reducing emissions associated with shipping biomass by around 20%. At a later stage, the project could also incorporate the use of other low-carbon technologies, as well as lower-emission fuels such as liquefied natural gas, ammonia, and synthetic fuels.

We previously partnered with the Smart Green Shipping Alliance, dry bulk cargo transporter Ultrabulk, and Humphreys Yacht Design for a feasibility study that looked at reducing shipping emissions. The study examined the potential to retrofit an innovative sail solution known as FastRig onto Ultrabulk ships importing biomass into the UK. FastRigs, made from 100% recycled and recyclable material, are designed to considerably reduce GHG emissions and the use of fuel. The feasibility study found that the FastRig solution could help lower fuel use and GHG emissions on one of our export routes – from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Liverpool in the UK – by at least 20%.

2. Reducing emissions through carbon capture and storage

Biomass pellet plants are a key part of Drax’s supply chain. By producing renewable, sustainable biomass feedstock we can help countries around the world to replace fossil fuels.

Our pellet mills in Canada and the U.S. South use a mix of fibre sources – all of which are unsuitable for lumber or other solid wood products. Globally, in the first half of 2022, almost 70% of the fibre for our biomass came from sawmill residues, like sawdust and wood chips.

Fibre for biomass also comes from low-grade wood that’s rejected by the lumber industry, slash left over from lumber industry harvests, and trees removed in forest management processes, like thinning and wildfire mitigation.

The pelletisation process uses power from local grids – wedding us to regional power sources. In areas like the U.S. where 61% of electricity is still generated from fossil fuels, this adds to our Scope 2 emissions.

However, our pioneering development of carbon capture technology offers the potential to decarbonise emissions connected to pelletisation. It’s one of the ways that the experience and technology we put into action at a new U.S. BECCS plant can decarbonise other facilities, whole industrial clusters, and our own supply chains.

3. Rail: The low-carbon road option

For in-country transportation, Drax utilises rail freight as much as possible, as rail offers the capacity we need as well as having a lower carbon footprint than road transport. In the UK, we own 225 rail wagons, specifically designed to transport biomass wood pellets and will be taking delivery of 30 more in 2023. The bespoke wagons carry a greater volume of compressed wood pellets than traditional wagons are capable of, delivering around 20,000 tonnes of renewable biomass to Drax Power Station every day.

Train carrying sustainably sourced compressed wood pellets arriving at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

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

Optimising the volume of biomass on each train allow us to run fewer trains to the power station, keeping emissions minimal. Using rail rather than road transport is estimated to save around 270,000 truck journeys and more than 32,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

In 2020 a new rail link was opened to connect our LaSalle BioEnergy biomass pellet plant in Louisiana to the regional rail network, enabling the delivery of around 7,000 tonnes of biomass per week to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge. The rail link replaced the 27 tonnes that was previously transported by each individual truck.

Helping countries around the world achieve net zero and working towards becoming a carbon negative company is only possible if we continue our practice of examining our supply chain and developing new innovative ways to reduce emissions even further.