Multi-billion carbon capture scheme for Drax questioned in campaign group's report

Plans for a multi-billion carbon capture project at Drax power station in Yorkshire have been queried by an environmental campaign group.

A report by the Zero Hour organisation on the UK’s net zero ambitions has a specific section on proposals for Drax to employ a process known as BECCS (bioenergy for carbon capture and storage).

Drax says its plans for two BECCS units in Yorkshire – which would remove greenhouse emissions from the atmosphere that are produced by burning biomass fuel - could allow it to capture eight million tonnes of CO2 per year. The would make it the largest carbon capture and storage project in power in the world.

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But the Zero Hour report - which is endorsed by Professor John Barrett OBE, chair in Sustainability Research at the University of Leeds, amongst other academics – questions whether the technology could deliver promised carbon removals as well as highlighting concerns about its cost.

Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire. PIC: Simon HulmeDrax Power Station in North Yorkshire. PIC: Simon Hulme
Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire. PIC: Simon Hulme

The report highlighted previous research from a thinktank called Ember which estimated the cost of BECCS technology to taxpayers as over £31bn.

It also highlighted warnings from the European Science Academies organisation which has warned “many scenarios for BECCS assume that unrealistic quantities of biomass will be available” to make the process work.

The Zero Hour report argues the issues mean BECCS should not be treated as a carbon negative process.

But Drax has disputed the claims in the Zero Hour report.

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A Drax spokesperson said: “This report is completely at odds with globally accepted climate science. The UN IPCC and the UK’s Climate Change Committee both agree that we need engineered carbon removal technologies such as BECCS to reach our climate targets.

“Drax is ready to invest £2bn in our UK BECCS project, helping to create and support around 10,000 jobs at the peak of construction.”

A recent report from America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory on ways to deliver President Joe Biden’s goal of 100 per cent clean electricity in the States by 2035 highlighted the potential importance of BECCS in reaching the goal. But it also added that the performance and cost of BECCS and other carbon capture technologies are “highly uncertain given their low levels of current deployment”.

In summer, the British Government published a document setting out the submission process for BECCS projects ahead of a planned announcement in mid-December on which schemes it will invite into a detailed due diligence phase.

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It is intended that the first sites will be operational by the late 2020s as part of the country’s net zero ambitions.

Further detail on the role of BECCS in meeting net zero targets is expected to be provided in the Government’s biomass strategy which is due to be published later this year.

During the Tory leadership campaign, now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “excited” by the Drax proposals.

A Government spokesperson said today: “The Government has always been clear that biomass has a key role to play in boosting Britain’s energy security and with carbon capture and storage, it can permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“The importance of Greenhouse Gas Removal technologies to tackling climate change has also been recognised by a range of independent institutions, including the Climate Change Committee.”