Working towards a sustainable environment

Energy giant Drax has unveiled plans to build a large-scale zero-carbon industrial cluster, featuring carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technology, during the mid-2020s.

An artist's impression of what the CCS and hydrogen infrastructure could look like

An artist’s impression of what the CCS and hydrogen infrastructure could look like

The project is being developed as part of a partnership between Drax, Equinor and National Grid Ventures – the National Grid Group’s commercial arm.

It will see the three companies work together to scale up the bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) system which was installed at Drax’s North Yorkshire Power Station last year, in what the firm dubbed a “world first”. The system first began capturing emissions in February and is now capable of sequestering a tonne of CO2 per day from one of the power plant’s four biomass units.

The three participating firms will also collaboratively explore the possibility of developing a large-scale hydrogen demonstrator facility at the Humber site, which could be installed as soon as the mid-2020s. If such a project is feasible, Drax claims it could “develop a cutting-edge hydrogen economy” for the North East.

According to Drax Group’s chief executive Will Gardiner, the company’s increased investment in CCS and hydrogen is aligned with the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice for creating a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. The Committee has previously claimed that the two technologies will need to be implemented at scale by 2030, if the UK is to play its part in limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5C.

“With Drax’s carbon negative power station, the Humber region could lead the world in new technologies that can deliver for the climate and the economy, helping to create a cleaner environment for future generations whilst creating new jobs and export opportunities for British businesses,” Gardiner said.

“We have seen rapid progress in decarbonising energy through established technologies such as wind power, solar and electricity interconnectors; CCUS and hydrogen create a new pathway to greater decarbonisation of the energy system and provide a platform for decarbonising other areas of our economy, which will be to the benefit of current and future generations,” National Grid Ventures’ chief operating officer for global transmission Jon Butterworth added.

Carbon-free clusters

Humber is one of five locations – along with Teesside, Merseyside, South Wales and North East Scotland – to have been identified as well suited to early CCUS deployment by the CCC. According to the Committee, building such facilities in these areas aligns to Energy Minister Claire Perry’s vision of a “just and fair” low-carbon transition across all areas of the UK.

Late last year, Perry’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) unveiled plans to “make CCUS technologies a reality”, including an aim to bring the nation’s first large-scale CCUS facility online by the mid-2020s.  The move followed on from the Clean Growth Strategy, which committed up to £20m for viable CCUS schemes as the UK forges ahead with its coal plant phase out by 2025.

However, prior action from policymakers on the issue of CCS have been heavily criticised by green economy experts. In 2017, a stark warning from the CCS taskforce was issued based on the need to move timeframes forward for CCUS. The taskforce criticised ministers for closing the £1bn competition fund for CCS in 2015, citing claims that the decision could cost the UK an additional £30bn if it is to meet its 2050 carbon targets.

Sarah George