King Coal turns green as giant Drax power station switches on to biomass generation


Going green - the giant Drax coal-fired power station
Going green – the giant Drax coal-fired power station

Britain’s largest coal-fired power station is set to become one of Europe’s biggest renewable electricity generators, with the potential for new future generation on the site to be based on truly clean coal.

UK Energy Minister Edward Davey has officially opened the Drax coal-to-biomass conversion plant, and announced the Government was awarding funding to further the White Rose CCS project, also based at the site.

At Drax, the £700 million planned conversion project will burn wood pellets rather than coal. Drax calculates that this will reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to coal.

This will provide enough low carbon power to supply the equivalent of around 1 million homes, and help to safeguard 1,200 jobs and many more in the supply chain and in local communities.

Today 40% of UK electricity comes from coal while 20% is from old nuclear. Most of that is due to come off line in the next decade.

Davey said: “We need to fill this emerging energy gap with low-carbon electricity that will keep the lights on, bring bills down and reduce emissions to tackle climate change.

“So we need a mix – of renewables (biomass and coal to biomass conversions, onshore and offshore wind and solar), Carbon Capture and Storage technology, nuclear and some gas.

“This will help to protect consumers from price spikes caused by importing expensive gas, and will lower people’s bills in the long-run with households getting £50 off their bills a year by early next year.

The multi-million pound FEED study funding will support the White Rose project, which is designing a c.£2 billion state-of-the-art coal power plant with full CCS that will be able to provide clean electricity to more than 630,000 homes. It also includes the planned development of a CO2 transport and storage network – the Yorkshire Humber CCS Trunkline – which would have capacity for additional CCS projects in the area.

This innovative project has the potential to create up to 2,000 jobs and safely capture 90% of the plant’s emissions.

Together, the two projects could support 3,200 jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber, and provide carbon transport infrastructure to help build a clean energy industry in the region.

Davey added: “Our coal industry has powered Britain for more than a century, and today we’re seeing a clear roadmap for its future – whether by converting existing coal plants to cleaner fuels, or building state-of-the-art power stations that mean coal is truly clean. While at the same time creating new green jobs for Yorkshire.

“I’m proud that the UK is at the forefront of developing Carbon Capture and Storage – which could be a game-changer in tackling climate change and provide a huge economic advantage not just to this region, but to the whole country.”

White Rose is the first project to be allocated funds under Government’s £1 billion CCS Commercialisation Programme. CCS allows the safe removal and permanent storage of carbon dioxide emissions from coal and gas power stations, as well as from industrial processes.

Old and polluting coal plants are being phased out and will be replaced by 2030 with clean coal or sustainably sourced biomass that has been fitted with CCS. We anticipate up to 12GW of CCS could be deployed by 2030, rising to 40GW by 2050. This could well be generating more electricity than total domestic electricity demand, and provide 22% of the UK’s energy by 2050.

  • Negotiations on the Peterhead CCS Project are still under way – they are progressing positively and the government is due to make a further announcement on the outcome shortly.

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