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Drax fires up fourth biomass power unit

In the UK, Drax Power Ltd, a subsidiary of UK power utility major Drax Group plc has switched on its fourth biomass generating unit – taking the 3.9 GW power station in North Yorkshire a step closer to achieving its coal-free ambitions. Having previously upgraded three of its coal units to use biomass, Drax is already the largest decarbonisation project in Europe. The conversion of a fourth unit out of six means it is on course to be off coal before the government’s 2025 deadline.

An aerial view of the Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire that now operates four out of six units on wood pellets instead of coal (photo courtesy Drax Group).

A trial last year confirmed that by modifying the old co-firing fuel transportation system, compressed wood pellets can be delivered in the quantities required to fully convert the fourth generating unit. Work got underway on the conversion as part of a planned maintenance programme in June 2018, with Drax’s team of engineers completing the work required, on schedule, in just over two months.

This is another major milestone in the transformation of the power station. It will extend the life of the plant, protecting jobs, whilst delivering cleaner, reliable power for millions of homes and businesses. It is a testament to the engineering expertise, skill, and ingenuity we have at Drax. The team has developed some very innovative solutions for this upgrade, using all the knowledge we’ve gained throughout the work we have done so far to transform the business using sustainable biomass, said Andy Koss, CEO of Drax Power.

The cost of conversion of the fourth generating unit is significantly below the level of previous conversions, at around GBP 30 million (≈ EUR 33.4 million). Drax has already invested around GBP 700 million (≈ EUR 780 million) in upgrading the first three units and associated supply chain infrastructure to use sustainable biomass instead of coal.

“I’m delighted to see Unit 4 in operation as a biomass unit, continuing the good work Drax is doing with its Beyond Coal strategy, protecting jobs and ensuring it continues to play a vital role in the Northern Powerhouse economy,” said Nigel Adams MP for Selby, here seen addressing delegates at the 2017 USIPA Exporting Pellets conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fourth unit will help the power station, at Selby in North Yorkshire, to deliver vital reliable and flexible power needed by the grid to maintain secure supplies as more renewables come online and the sector continues to decarbonise.

CCGT and BECCS next

Drax will now continue its work to replace its remaining two coal units, with gas-fired power generating units. The Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) it is looking to develop could deliver up to 3.6 GW of capacity, as well as up to 200 MW of battery storage.

Drax’s plans for its gas Repower project were submitted to the Planning Inspectorate, which accepted the application for examination in June 2018. The proposals will now be examined by the Planning Inspectorate and then considered by the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with a decision expected in 2019.

In addition, Drax announced in May 2018 that it is to pilot the first bioenergy carbon capture storage (BECCS) project of its kind in Europe together with Leeds-based C-Capture. If successful, the project could make the renewable electricity produced at its North Yorkshire power station carbon negative.

Drax began biomass co-firing trials back in 2003 with the first unit fully converted in 2013, the second unit converted in 2014, a third unit converted in 2016 and finally a fourth fully converted unit in August 2018 (graphic courtesy Drax Group).

In the UK there has been an 84 percent reduction in coal-fired power generation in the last five years as low carbon generation has increased.

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