Drax has announced plans to trial carbon capture and storage (CCS) on one of the three biomass units at its power station in Yorkshire.

The demonstration project is the first of its kind in Europe. If successful, the scheme will enable the company to generate renewable power with negative emissions.

Drax has partnered with the company C-Capture for the £400,000 trial. The initial phase, starting this month, will examine whether the solvent developed by C-Capture is compatible with the biomass flue gas emitted from the plant.

A lab-scale study into the feasibility of re-purposing the flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) absorbers at the power station will also be carried out to assess potential capture rates. The equipment has become redundant on three of six generating units at the facility which have been converted from coal to biomass, as the wood pellets they burn emit minimal levels of sulphur.

Depending on the outcome of the feasibility study, a demonstration CCS unit will be connected up to one of the biomass units in autumn for the second phase of the trial. The captured carbon dioxide will be stored on site in high-pressure cylinders and used for processes at the plant.

“If the world is to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and pursue a cleaner future, negative emissions are a must – and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) is a leading technology to help achieve it,” said Drax Group chief executive Will Gardiner.

“This pilot is the UK’s first step, but it won’t be the only one at Drax. 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.”

C-Capture founder and professor of organic chemistry at the University of Leeds, Chris Rayner, said: “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. The key part is now to move it from our own facilities and into the real world at Drax.

“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”.

Drax Power chief executive Andy Koss told Utility Week the company is aiming to capture up to a tonne of carbon dioxide per day if the second phase of the trial goes ahead – a miniscule fraction of the overall emissions from the power station.

“Clearly this is just a pilot,” he added, “but if it is successful then we want to roll it out at a much larger scale”.

This is not the first occasion on which Drax has proposed to deploy CCS. The company was key partner in the White Rose project – a scheme to build a new coal-fired plant with CCS next to its existing power station.

The firm pulled out of the project in September 2015. A few months later it was cancelled after the government axed a £1 billion competition to commercialise CCS.

Koss said, before it was cancelled, the project established that it is feasible to transport captured emissions from the area to geological storage sites under the North Sea.

He said the commercialisation of the technology will depend on the development of CCS clusters, the nearby Humber region being an ideal place for one to be built. “The potential is huge,” he remarked.

The Committee on Climate Change has said the development of BECCS will be crucial towards reaching net zero emissions due to the difficulty in decarbonising certain sectors of the economy.

Koss also highlighted the need for reliable flexible generation to help balance the power grid during periods when renewable output is low. As BECCS is both dispatchable and carbon negative, he said it would be “vitally important as we drive towards that net zero emissions level.”

The announcement was welcomed by energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry, who said: “We aim to make the UK a world leader in carbon capture usage and storage, a key part of our modern industrial strategy.

“It’s hugely exciting that Drax has chosen to invest in this innovative project, demonstrating how government support for innovation can create an environment where companies can develop new technologies and scale up investment to build the sectors we will need to achieve long term decarbonisation.”

Luke Warren, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, commented: “Today’s announcement represents an important step forward in the development of technology that can capture and store carbon dioxide from sustainable bio-energy to deliver negative emissions.

“It is clear that negative emissions are likely to be needed if we are to deliver on UK and global climate change goals.”

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