Published on 23 February 2019

CSR

Drax power plan successfully captures CO2...But let it back into the air

It's a world’s first pilot, a British biomass plant has managed to capture the CO2 it emits. This is an important step forward in the fight against climate change. The IPCC estimates that this technology could remove about fifteen million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year by 2030.

Centrale biomasse Drax Angleterre BECCS Captage et stockage du CO2 DraxPower
The biomass plant in Drax (in England) is the first to successfully capture CO2.
@Drax Group

A few months ago, Novethic reported on geoengineering solutions that are closer to reality than science fiction. For one solution, this is now the case. A pilot CO2 capture and storage (CCS) experiment in a biomass plant has just been successfully executed. Conducted in the north of England, at the Drax power plant in early February, the pilot is a world first for CCS. Until now, CCS technologies have only involved coal-fired power plants.

The system currently in place captures one tonne of CO2 per day. Eventually Drax, the power plant operator, hopes to capture 10 million tons of CO2 per year. How? By either storing it geologically or finding use in other purposes, such as beverage gasification. Drax is thus in discussion with the UK Brewers Association. For now, the company has not managed to find an outlet for this CO2, and it is currently released in the atmosphere.

For the moment, operations resulting from biomass plants (which are powered by plant materials such as wood, plants, agricultural waste or organic household waste) is therefore considered to have zero impact on the planet. CO2 released into the atmosphere does not "add up" since it was originally captured by the plant during its growth. But the ultimate goal is to reach negative carbon emissions, by capturing the CO2 released a second time after burning biomass.

Competition and deforestation risk

This example of bio-energy with carbon capture storage (BECCS) is one of the most popular methods of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Among the different IPCC scenarios presented last October, all but one rely on the BECCS to align with the 1.5°C global warming scenario. For others, this technology can capture around 15 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030. There are around 20 pilot projects worldwide.

Several environmental associations, however, warn about competition with agricultural production to supply these power plants, as well as risk of increased deforestation. It would take between 5% and 18% of the Earth's surface to power the plants using BECCS. The Drax plant, which supplies 6% of electricity in the UK, requires 13 million tonnes of wood each year to operate. This alone accounts for 120% of total UK wood production. The country has massively increased its timber imports, particularly from the United States.

Concepcion Alvarez, @conce1


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