Power station to start 'dirty' fuel trial

Julie Hemmings TRIALS of a controversial "dirty" fuel will start at a Yorkshire power station in June. Drax, near Selby, will burn petcoke, a by-product of the petro-chemical industry, for an 18-month trial.

Bosses at western Europe's biggest coal-fired power station want to burn a blend of 85 per cent coal and 15 per cent petcoke in one of its six generating units. They say using the cheaper fuel is necessary to increase competitiveness.

Drax is acknowledged as the cleanest coal-fired power station in Britain but managers say the 30m a year cost of running the station's flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) equipment, which removes 90 per cent of sulphur dioxide from emissions, places the plant at a commercial disadvantage.

However, opponents to the trials include environmental campaigners, such as Friends of the Earth, and Selby Council, which fears the district will become a dirty fuel hotspot.

Petcoke contains nickel, which is a carcinogen, and vanadium, an irritant.

The Environment Agency gave permission for the trials last June and since then has been monitoring pollution levels in the air, land and water near Drax.

This will continue throughout the trial and the results will be published regularly on the agency's website.

An agency spokeswoman said it had consulted Selby Council and York and Selby Primary Care Trust in connection with the monitoring programme.

If the trial is successful it could lead to commercial burning of petcoke at Drax on a long-term basis.

Drax also is looking at other alternatives to coal, including experiments with burning biomass, such as locally-grown energy crops.