Drax aims to become carbon negative by 2030

By Erin Voegele | December 10, 2019

Drax group plc CEO Will Gardiner has announced the U.K. energy company plans to be carbon negative by 2030. Gardiner made the announcement on Dec. 10 at the Power Past Coal Alliance event at COP 25 in Madrid, Spain.  

In his remarks at the event, Gardiner said Drax’s journey beyond coal began more than a decade ago when the company began to replace coal generation with sustainable, renewable biomass. “With the right support and commitment from successive U.K. minsters, and through the ingenuity of our people, within a decade we transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonization project and its biggest source of renewable power—generating 12 percent of the U.K.’s renewable electricity last year while reducing our carbon emissions by more than 80 percent since 2012.”

Now, Drax aims to move beyond carbon neutrality and become the world’s first carbon negative company by 2030. “By applying carbon capture and storage technology to our bioenergy generation we can become the first company in the world to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than we produce, while continuing to produce about 5 percent of the U.K.’s overall electricity needs,” Gardiner said.

He explained that a similar framework needs to be applied to bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) that was applied with much success to offshore wind development. “Fundamentally, an effective strategic partnership of government and the private sector was critical,” Gardiner explained. “The government provided support and an effective carbon tax regime. With confidence in that regulatory framework, many businesses provided investment and innovation. As a result, offshore wind has grown from less than 600 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity in 2008 to more than 8,000 MW in 2018—an increase of more than 13 times in 10 years to produce 7.5 percent of the U.K.’s electricity.”

Gardiner said Drax has partnered with Equinor and National Grid to found Zero Carbon Humber, a partnership that will work with the U.K. government to bring carbon capture and storage infrastructure to the northeast region of the U.K. “We can save 55,000 existing heavy industry jobs, while capturing as much as 30 million tons of CO2 per year,” he  said. “At the same time we will create a new industry and also the infrastructure for a new hydrogen economy to take our decarbonization further.”

“By creating the right conditions for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage to flourish, Britain can continue to benefit—socially, economically and environmentally from being at the vanguard of the fight against climate change,” Gardiner continued. “At the same time, it is our ambition at Drax to play a major role in that fight by becoming the first carbon negative company.”

A statement issued by Drax indicates the company has converted two-thirds of its coal-fired power station to use sustainable biomass. During the first half of this year, 94 percent of the power produced by Drax Power Station was renewable, delivering a carbon savings of more than 80 percent compared to when the facility only used coal. Drax is currently piloting technology to capture carbon dioxide from biomass feedstock using BECCS technology. Drax said that closing its two remaining coal-fired power generation units by 2025 and using carbon capture technology on its biomass-fired power generation units would allow company operations to become carbon negative by 2030.

The U.K. Renewable Energy Association applauded Drax’s announcement. “This is an important announcement from Drax, whose exciting bioenergy with carbon capture demonstration project at its North Yorkshire site is at the global vanguard of negative emissions technology,” said Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the REA. “This ambition should be welcomed as not only evidence of the U.K.’s drive towards net zero, but the determination of first-moving private companies like Drax to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than it releases across the entirety of its operations, without the use of offsets.”

“This announcement shows the important role that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology will play in our future energy system,” added Benedict McAleenan, senior advisor to Biomass U.K. “Drax is currently leading the way on U.K. BECCS and now Government needs to follow with clear and material policy. Importantly, this ambition from Drax is underpinned by bioenergy, which has accelerated the U.K. towards its climate targets, accounting for 31.6 percebt of electricity generation in 2018, more than half of which came from plant biomass. Bioenergy is key: we won’t reach Net Zero without BECCS, and we can’t have BECCS without bioenergy. ”