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Drax aims to become carbon negative by 2030

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Energy firm Drax, which runs the UK’s largest power station on biomass and coal, has outlined plans to become carbon negative by 2030. The company’s ambition will depend on a negative emissions policy and investment framework for new technologies like bioenergy, alongside carbon capture and storage.

If Drax reaches its goal, it will mean the company removes more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than it produces throughout its operations. The company is already piloting carbon capture and storage at its power station in Yorkshire, capturing one tonne of CO2 every day. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UK Committee on Climate Change agree that carbon capture and storage is ‘critical’ to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The company uses biomass in the form of wood pellets at its power station in Yorkshire, UK. Wood pellets are sourced from ‘responsibly managed working forests’ in the US (62%), Canada (17%), Europe (21%) and Brazil (2%). Environmental campaigners and research groups believe that sourcing biomass from ‘sustainably managed forests’ overseas is not as sustainable as it is claimed to be.

Drax CEO Will Gardiner said: “Drax’s ambition is to be carbon negative by 2030. Having pioneered the use of sustainable biomass, Drax now produces 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity. With the right negative emissions policy, we can do much more, removing millions of tonnes of emissions from the atmosphere each year.

In recent years, the company has grown to become Europe’s largest decarbonisation project, converting two-thirds of its coal-fired station to use biomass. Drax aims to close its remaining two coal generating units at its Yorkshire power station by 2025.

“The UK Government is working on a policy and investment framework to encourage negative emissions technologies, which will enable the UK to be home to the world’s first carbon-negative company. This is not just critical to beating the climate crisis, but also to enabling a just transition, protecting jobs and creating new opportunities for clean growth – delivering for the economy as well as for the environment.”

Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said: “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.

“This ambition should be welcomed as not only evidence of the UK’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.”

Benedict McAleenan, senior adviser to Biomass UK, added: “This announcement shows the important role that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology will play in our future energy system.

“Drax is currently leading the way on UK 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 UK towards its climate targets, accounting for 31.6% 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.”