Sustainable Energy

UK's largest power station pilots project that could result in 'carbon negative' electricity production

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The U.K.'s largest power station is to pilot a program that could make its renewable electricity "carbon negative" — meaning that it takes out more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it creates.

Originally built as a coal-fired power station, Drax in North Yorkshire, England, has been focusing on renewables in recent years and this new bioenergy carbon capture storage (BECCS) project is claimed to be the first of its kind in Europe.

The scheme will involve Drax partnering with C-Capture, a spin-out from the University of Leeds that designs solvent systems for the removal of carbon dioxide from gas streams. Drax will invest £400,000 ($536,706) in the project, according to a statement at the weekend.

Located near Selby, 65 percent of the electricity Drax Power produced in 2017 was renewable. Three of the facility's six power generation units have been converted from burning coal to using compressed wood pellets sourced from "responsibly managed working forests."

The average surface temperature of the planet has increased by around 1.1 degrees Celsius since the end of the 19th century, according to NASA. This change, NASA says, has been driven "largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere."

"If the world is to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and pursue a cleaner future, negative emissions are a must — and BECCS is a leading technology to help achieve it," Will Gardiner, the Drax Group's CEO, said in a statement.

Gardiner was referring to the landmark Paris Agreement, reached at the end of 2015. Under that agreement, world leaders committed to making sure global warming stayed "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"This pilot is the U.K.'s first step, but it won't be the only one at Drax," Gardiner added. "We will soon have four operational biomass units, which provide us with a great opportunity to test different technologies that could allow Drax, the country and the world, to deliver negative emissions and start to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

The first step of the project will start later this month, and will determine if the solvent developed by C-Capture is compatible with the biomass flue gas at Drax Power Station.

"We have developed fundamentally new chemistry to capture CO2 and have shown that it should be suitable for capturing the carbon produced from bioenergy processes," Chris Rayner, C-Capture's founder and professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Leeds, said.

"The key part is now to move it from our own facilities and into the real world at Drax," Rayner added.

"Through the pilot scheme we aim to demonstrate that the technology we've developed is a cost-effective way to achieve one of the holy grails of CO2 emissions strategies — negative emissions in power production, which is where we believe the potential CO2 emissions reductions are likely to be the greatest."