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New $15m rail link helps Drax to reduce emissions and costs

Installing the scales in January 2019 to weigh the pellets loaded onto each railcar. Credit: Rafael Moreno
Installing the scales in January 2019 to weigh the pellets loaded onto each railcar. Credit: Rafael Moreno
A new $15 million (€13.6 million) rail link in the US has helped Drax to reduce its supply chain emissions and biomass costs.

In its first year of operation, the five-mile rail link has increased the flow of biomass from one of Drax’s US pellet plants to its UK power station, helping to reduce emissions and costs while boosting the resilience of the company’s supply chain.

The rail link connects Drax’s LaSalle plant in northern Louisiana, which the company acquired in 2017, to the regional rail network, enabling freight trains to deliver pellets to the company’s dedicated export facility at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge. From there, the pellets are shipped to Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, which supplies around 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity.

“The new rail spur has been a great success,” said Drax Biomass senior vice-president, Matt White. “Since it was commissioned last May it has significantly increased the amount of sustainable biomass we can deliver. It’s also taken thousands of trucks off local roads, unlocking carbon savings and costs in our supply chain as we build a long-term future for the sustainable biomass that provides millions of UK homes and businesses with renewable power.”

The new rail link allows Drax to deliver approximately 7,000 tonnes of biomass to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge in each train, compared to just 27 tonnes that could be transported by each truck previously. According to White, biomass electricity will be an important part of the global climate change solution. He commented: “It supports healthy forest growth and biodiversity, while providing reliable, flexible, renewable power, and could enable bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, known as BECCS – a vital negative emissions technology that will be crucial to meeting net-zero targets.”

The rail spur at LaSalle forms part of Drax’s wider efforts to cut biomass costs by around a third by 2027. The rail link and other initiatives, including the co-location of a sawmill at the LaSalle site in 2019, has already contributed a 3% reduction in biomass production costs to $161 (€146.77) per tonne in 2019 compared with $166 (€151.32) per tonne in 2018.

A team of up to 40 contractors worked through two of Louisiana’s wettest winters in decades to clear the site, according to Drax. The work also included installing conveyors to get the pellets to the new rail loading point. Rafael Moreno, Drax Biomass associate director of engineering, said: “It was a huge amount of work and the wet winters certainly created some challenges.

“It’s hard to excavate when everything turns into mud. But the team pulled together and worked through the night to get the track laid and completed so the spur could be commissioned in May last year.”
Installing the scales in January 2019 to weigh the pellets loaded onto each railcar. Credit: Rafael Moreno