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Drax ends half a century of coal-fired power generation

Drax ends half a century of coal-fired power generation
Drax Group plc has announced the official end of coal-fired generation at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, marking a historic milestone (photo courtesy Drax).

UK-headed renewable energy major Drax Group plc has announced the official end of coal-fired generation at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, marking a historic milestone in both the company and the UK’s transformation to a zero-carbon energy future.

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Following the discovery of the Selby coalfield, construction of the coal-fired Drax Power Station began nearby in 1967.

The power station started generating power out of its first unit in 1974 and in 1975, following the completion of two additional generators, the site officially opened.

At the time, this provided enough power for around two million homes and in 1986, power generation capacity was doubled to just under 4 GW.

Ending the use of coal at Drax is a landmark moment in our efforts to become a world-leading carbon-negative company. I’d like to thank the many hundreds of people, including our staff, suppliers, and local communities, for all the hard work it has taken to transform Drax Power Station into the UK’s biggest renewable power source by output, said Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax Group.

From coal to biomass in a decade

Once the largest coal-fired power station in Western Europe, the plant is now the single largest generator of renewable power in the UK.

Over the last decade, four of the power station’s six generating units have been converted to use sustainable biomass, providing the UK with clean, green, and secure renewable electricity.

By converting the plant to use sustainable biomass we have not only continued generating the secure power millions of homes and businesses rely on, but we have also played a significant role in enabling the UK’s power system to decarbonize faster than any other in the world, Will Gardiner said.

Begin coal infrastructure decommissioning

Following the end of the winter contingency agreement, Drax will now embark on a decommissioning process to remove coal-related infrastructure from the site which will start with the flue gas desulphurization plant that was built in the 1990s to remove 90 percent of the sulphur from the plant’s air emissions.

We’re now planning to go further by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, and we are engaged in discussions with the UK Government to move this GBP 2 billion (≈ EUR 2.3 billion) project forward, said Will Gardiner.

The UK Government aims to deploy 5 million tonnes of engineered carbon dioxide removals (CDR) per annum from BECCS and other removal technologies by 2030, rising to 23 million tonnes in 2035 and up to 81 million tonnes in 2050 to keep the UK on a pathway to meet its legislated climate targets.

By transforming the plant to use sustainable biomass instead of coal, Drax has reduced its Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by approximately 99 percent since 2012.

The global momentum for converting coal-fired power stations to biomass is growing as more countries work to reduce their emissions by moving away from fossil fuels to renewables while maintaining their energy security. In recent months, new projects have been announced in countries from Japan to Hungary. If BECCS were eventually added to each of these sites they would be able to remove carbon from the atmosphere while generating power, ended Will Gardiner.

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