Drax admits lack of any real-world evidence for capturing carbon from their biomass units

WRITTEN Responses from Drax Consultation Team 15/3/2021

Drax has also responded to questions from Biofuelwatch during a consultation in November 2021, in which it admitted a shocking lack of data about its own BECCS proposals.

[Comments/explanations in green added by Biofuelwatch]

Biofuelwatch: If the carbon capture technology proposed is added to the biomass units, what is the energy penalty and how much additional biomass will need to be burned for the same electricity output that Drax Power Station currently generates? [The term ‘energy penalty’ describes the proportion of energy generated by a plant that would be used to capture and compress CO2.]

Drax: The boiler heat rate will remain the same which means the biomass consumption rate will also not change. [This means that with Carbon Capture and Storage, Drax would be burning the same amount of wood pellets as today but generate less electricity.] In terms of energy penalty we are currently working with two main licensors, who have slightly different energy requirements. Any Carbon Capture technology when applied to any power or industrial process will require thermal energy and electricity to operate, meaning there will without doubt be some reduction in the electricity output from the Power Station, exactly how much will continue to be quantified as we move through the varying stages in the design. When completing our due diligence on carbon capture technologies, the energy requirement, alongside environmental & emissions performance were key drivers in our selecting the technologies we did to progress our work with.

Biofuelwatch: If the amount of wood burned at Drax doesn’t increase, how much less electricity will be generated? Or to put that another way, to generate the same amount of energy, how much more wood to you estimate you will need to burn? And what trials specific to the technology chosen are Drax’s BECCS assumptions based on?

Drax: This question is very similar to the above, to build out however our trials carried out on site have not been about energy performance, they have been about confirming our assumptions on the viability of biomass flue gas with our selected solvent technologies. The solvent technologies have been operated commercially on other flue gases such as coal, biomass when compared to coal is much more favourable as it contains much less nitrogen, and basically no sulphur based compounds. Our BECCS assumptions for energy are not based on trials, they will be based on our detailed design work which will provide us with a strong understanding of the heat and material balances associated with our chosen technologies, enabling us to optimise our design. [This is very important because efficiency and cost, therefore economic feasibility are closely linked to the amouont of energy needed to capture and compress CO2. As the answer confirms, there is no real-world evidence about this. Note that there nobody else has so far captured CO2 from wood combustion anywhere in the world.]

Biofuelwatch: How much CO2 has Drax captured and stored so far in each of your two pilot projects and over what time period?

Drax: The MHI pilot has been operating for 90 days continuously, and the capture rate is 300kg/s a day. [27 tonnes in total, from biomass units that emit around 13 million tonnes of CO2 a year.] None of the CO2 is being stored from either pilot yet, however our other Pilot from DeepBranch Biotechnology plans to start using some of the CO2 in the near future once there plant is up and running, [DeepBranch Biotechnology wants to use CO2 for a proprietary fish food, made with with genetically engineered microbes. The CO2 would thus quickly end up in the atmosphere.] we are also working with Econic Technologies to supply some CO2 for testing within their CO2 utilisation process. [Econic Technologies wants to develop a new way of using CO2 to make plastics. The technology is in the early Research & Development stages.]

Biofuelwatch: Why is Drax not going ahead with its BECCS partnership with C-Capture?

Drax: We continue to work with C-capture to develop their technology however, in order to meet the delivery timescales we have chosen to work with proven technology. [This is an admission that the technology of Drax’s main BECCS partner until 2021 is unproven.]