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New carbon capture technology could help industry and agriculture decarbonise

In the United Kingdom (UK), energy utility major Drax plc is working with biotech start-up Deep Branch Biotechnology to explore the feasibility of using the Selby power station’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to make proteins for sustainable animal feed products.

A view of the wood pellet storage silos at Drax Power.

A view of the wood pellet storage silos at Drax Power.

Deep Branch Biotechnology, a leading tech start-up based at Nottingham University, will place a pilot plant within Drax’s BioEnergy Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (BECCUS) Incubation Area at its power station in North Yorkshire. It will extract flue gases from the power station’s renewable electricity generation to feed to microbes, which can make single cell proteins for use in fish food and other sustainable animal feeds.

By giving partners like Deep Branch Biotechnology access to our CCUS Incubation Area we can test emerging technologies and explore their potential in delivering for both the climate and the economy. We want to create a cleaner environment for future generations whilst generating new jobs and export opportunities for British businesses. Technologies like this could enable some of our more difficult to decarbonise sectors, like agriculture, to make positive changes to address the climate crisis, said Drax Group CEO, Will Gardiner.

A BECCUS project

Drax Power Station is the biggest renewable electricity generator in the UK and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe having converted two-thirds of the plant to use sustainable biomass instead of coal. It is exploring the feasibility of using BECCUS technologies to help further reduce its emissions and contribute towards the UK meeting its climate targets.

This is Drax’s first incubation project exploring a market for carbon dioxide (CO2). The power station has also held discussions with the British Beer and Pub association about the possibility of captured CO2 being used to carbonate drinks.

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner (second right) accompanied Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry in a visit to the Drax Power Station BECCS pilot project in November 2018. Download graphic in high-res
A dedicated Incubation Area has been created at the power station to give other technology companies the opportunity to test their processes on its carbon dioxide.

Carbon capture, usage, and storage technologies are not only putting fizz in our drinks but feeding fish too. As we move towards net-zero emissions and end our contribution to global warming, innovative projects like this will help reduce agricultural emissions and meet the increasing demand for animal feed, demonstrating the enormous global potential CCUS has to tackle climate change, commented Chris Skidmore, Minister for Energy and Clean Growth.

An edible protein produced from CO2 eating microbe

Peter Rowe, Deep Branch Biotechnology CEO, explained that the method they have developed for producing proteins from CO2 relies on an edible microbe that consumes CO2. When fed CO2, the microbes grow and reproduce, enabling them to be continually harvested for protein whilst maintaining a growing culture. Under optimal conditions, up to 70 percent of the material produced is protein.

The benefit of this process over other carbon capture technologies is that the CO2 does not need to be separated from the power station’s flue gases before being fed to the microbes.

Meat production is set to double by 2050 as global populations increase, but using existing methods of producing animal feeds to meet this growing demand is completely unsustainable. The technology we’ve developed is an exciting solution. We can convert up to 60-70 percent of CO2 into protein, helping to both minimise the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere during power generation and other industrial processes, whilst producing protein for animal feeds which will help reduce the impact of agricultural sectors on the environment as well, explained Peter Rowe.

The United States (US) is the world’s biggest soy producer, producing one-third of global supply, and uses 97 percent to produce animal feed. Over 60 percent of cereals grown globally are being used in animal feeds along with 20 million tonnes of ocean-caught fish. However, concerns about overfishing have seen the aquaculture industry boom, yet this industry uses more than 15 percent of ocean-caught fish for feed, in the form of fishmeal.

When fed CO2, the microbes grow and reproduce, enabling them to be continually harvested for protein whilst maintaining a growing culture. Under optimal conditions, up to 70 percent of the material produced is protein (graphic courtesy Drax).

When fed CO2, the microbes grow and reproduce, enabling them to be continually harvested for protein whilst maintaining a growing culture. Under optimal conditions, up to 70 percent of the material produced is protein (graphic courtesy Drax).

The new proteins created using the Deep Branch biotechnology could help reduce the quantities of fish removed from the oceans. This not only minimises the impact on ecosystems but decreases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, mitigating the harmful effects of climate change.

The Deep Branch pilot will get underway in the autumn, when a demonstration plant will be installed within the Drax CCUS Incubation Area. It aims to capture enough CO2 to produce 100kg of protein to be used to create feedstocks for fish and livestock. The protein generated from the project will be used in a trial project with a major feed producer.

If successful, Deep Branch Biotechnology plans to build a larger production facility by 2020 so it can produce several tonnes of protein per year.

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