Drax moves closer to coal-free future with unit four conversion

By Drax Group | June 06, 2018

Drax Power Station today took a step closer to achieving its coal-free ambitions by taking its fourth coal-fired power generating unit offline as part of a planned outage program as it prepares to convert it to run on sustainable biomass.

Once the upgrade is complete, two-thirds of the power station’s capacity will produce renewable power.

Drax has already invested around £700 million in upgrading half the power station and associated supply chain infrastructure to use sustainable biomass instead of coal—transforming the business to become Europe’s largest decarbonization project.

The conversion of the fourth unit is expected to be complete over the summer, returning to service in the second half of 2018. The cost of conversion is significantly below the level of previous conversions, at around £30 million.

Drax’s engineers will upgrade the unit by re-using some redundant infrastructure left from when the company was first co-firing biomass with coal on a large scale, around eight years ago.

A trial last year confirmed that by modifying the old co-firing delivery system, compressed wood pellets can be delivered in the quantities required to fully convert the fourth generating unit.

Andy Koss, Drax Power CEO, said,“Switching the fourth unit from coal to biomass is another milestone in the transformation of the power station. It will extend the life of the plant, protecting jobs both here at Drax and in the supply chain, whilst delivering cleaner, reliable power for millions of homes and businesses.

“The conversion that’s underway is testament to the engineering expertise, skill and ingenuity we have at Drax. The team has developed some very innovative solutions for this upgrade, using all the knowledge we’ve gained throughout the work we have done so far to transform the business using sustainable biomass.”

Once it comes back online, the fourth unit will help the power station, at Selby in North Yorkshire, to deliver vital reliable and flexible power needed by the grid to maintain secure supplies as more renewables come online and the sector continues to decarbonize.

Once the conversion is complete Drax will turn its attention to its remaining two coal units, which it plans to replace with gas-fired power generating units. The Closed Cycle Gas Turbines it is looking to develop could deliver up to 3.6GW of capacity, as well as up to 200MW of battery storage.

Drax’s plans for the gas project have been submitted to the Planning Inspectorate, which has 28 days to determine if it will accept the application. If accepted, the proposals will be examined by the Planning Inspectorate and then considered by the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy with a decision expected in 2019.

In the U.K. there has been an 84 percent reduction in coal-fired power generation in the last five years as low carbon generation has increased.