Coal-Switch - Verde

Captain Qahn's picture

Switching from coal fired powerstations to biomass -  organic matter derived from living, or recently living organisms.  Sounds dodgy?

Following the Spinx & AEG story in Ukraine & Canada we only have to look a little closer to home to see that Drax have been doing 'biomass' for quite some time, 'processed into electricity, fuel and heat. Biomass has been used for thousands of years and there are many forms available. The materials that Drax use include sustainable forestry and forestry residues, residual agricultural products, such as straw, sunflower seed husks and peanut husks, and purpose grown energy crops' though they appear to be adding more materials to burn on a weekly basis.   Drax claims to only burn sustainable materials, 'of a far lower carbon footprint than that of fossil fuel-fired power stations.'

"We measure the full carbon life cycle of generating electricity from biomass, which means we measure the carbon emissions at each step of the supply chain, including harvesting, processing and transportation. The average carbon dioxide saving, over the full life cycle, resulting from burning biomass in place of coal is above 80%."  Sounds .. too good to be true?

Perhaps they should have included the costs of conversions 'The first unit was converted in the second quarter of 2013. From May 2014, a second ran as an enhanced co-firing unit, burning at least 85% biomass, until it was fully converted in the fourth quarter of 2014. The third unit is expected to be converted in 2015/16.   We are also evaluating the option to convert a fourth unit.'

Drax named after its closest village (no nimby's)  was originally a Govt. owned electricity generating station built in 1957 operated by Central Electric with a capacity of 3960 megawatts and was privatised in the 1990's hissing Sid era. Drax's present owners are Drax Group Plc.  Plc. Its huge size is equal to its huge emissions of Co2.  

Fast forward to Paris COp - "The leaders of six countries and the World Bank have called on economies across the globe to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming. The heads of France, Germany, Chile, Mexico, Ethiopia and Canada all called for some kind of mechanism that essentially charges a price for each ton of carbon dioxide spewed by industry. It could be a simple tax or a more complex carbon credit trading system, they said.

"We simply cannot afford to continue polluting the planet at the current pace," World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. "Carbon pricing is critical for reducing emissions." ...  "Cheap and dirty energy is not cheap for the planet or the health of our people,"

Drax intends to burn 7.5 million tonnes of biomass imported from the United States and Canada.   Peanuts?  Costco Peanut Dump New Mexico & Food Banks.  Renewable energy?  So why would they need to invest in the CCS:

'At September 2015 Drax announced it would not be making any further investments into the CCS scheme after completion of the feasibility study because negative changes to government support for renewable energy had made the project too financially risky, plus drops in the company's share price due to the same uncertainty had reduced Drax's ability to raise funds.' Really?  'Drax's share price climbed this morning after the energy giant abandoned a £1bn carbon capture project because of the government's policy u-turn on renewable energy'  

At November 2015 Osborne dropped a CO2 bomb as he announced over £1bil of funding to support the renewable energy sector had been, dropped. 

"Britain will enter the Paris climate change talks this week with its credentials as a responsible, low-emission power generator in tatters."  ... "Several companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and South of Scotland Electricity, had invested more than £100m developing technology for use at two carbon-storage projects in Scotland and Yorkshire. Carbon dioxide was going to be extracted from power station emissions, liquefied and pumped into underground chambers – until the government halted funding for the project."

So why would any sustainable energy commitment require a charitable handout from the Govts purse?  Wiser heads: “Among the lessons from this disastrous reputation failure, and time-wasting and money-wasting failure, must be that energy policy and infrastructure delivery is too important to be left to short-term politicians,” said Haszeldine, a geologist and an expert on carbon storage." Prof. Sounds very cross.  (But most agreeable)    

Ah yes, crossed wires "Peace is a process not an event"  said Bilbo Bob on bombing Syria yesterday.

With the politcal stage for energy policy looking evermore likely as a binary bet - all out (Osbornonomics - capitalist structures & privatisation with no Govt. handouts) or all in (Corbynonomics - state owned 'freestyle' freeloading) the middleground is shakily shrinking.  Earth Song. Gnomes.

So?  You can kill a man but not an idea.   You can kill a policy but not an idea.  All each and equally responsible. Lost in translation, not quite: 

HS2? via the Yorkshire Post ...

“Together we can source, install and service boilers and importantly provide a Yorkshire-based supplier of fuel,” said Mr Humphrey. “We’ll be competing with national players whose trucks travel the entire country, but we will be local to our market making us a more reliable and knowledgeable option".  

A poet? "... pellets are sourced from forests where three trees are planted together at a time. The middle tree relies on the outer two trees to enable it to great straight and tall and this middle tree is then typically used for furniture.​ The first tree is the weedy tree. It is sacrificed and used for biomass..." the third dimension?  ..."It’s a virtuous circle and through our expertise and local supply network we are making the sector more resilient and sustainable.”

One step up ;-)

Green?  Experienced, Alan Johnson goes All Out for the EU: -)






Mortal Mindy's picture

Drax - Limits

Peel Ports £100mil investment in delivering imported pellets from across the pond:

"The first shipments from a £100m biomass handling facility on the Port of Liverpool have started.

Almost 50 jobs have been created at the Seaforth Container Terminal site which Peel Ports operates for the huge Drax power station in Yorkshire.

The port will handle up to 3m tonnes of wood pellets a year imported from North America which will be taken by train every day to power the plant.

The pellets are a by-product of the commercial forestry and saw-milling industry and will provide the Selby-based facility with a new, sustainable low carbon fuel source. ...  a further 300 jobs have been created as part of the supply chain process.

The biomass terminal includes a rail loading facility and a 100,000 tonnes storage capacity.

Yesterday the first freight train with 25 specially-designed wagons carrying 1,600 tonnes of pellets left the dock site for the 99-mile journey to the power station, which last year provided more than 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity."

(btw a local orchestra is looking for an organist) 

Costs of conversion:

"Drax has spent about £700million converting two of its six boilers to burn wood rather than coal and the conversion of a third is almost complete." say the Mail:

"Coal units are likely to shut in 2025 at the latest, with biomass units to shut when return on capital subsidies expire in 2027. Drax needs to take a £650million impairment charge against coal assets to reduce their book value from £900million to £300million."

EU Coasting ;- )



Captain Qahn's picture

Drax - Independent Detail

How one plant chips away at the UK's carbon economy:

"Two of the six Drax units are fully converted to biomass. A third will be burning 100 per cent wood pellets later this year at a total cost of some £700m ...

"The electricity generated by Drax accounts for about 7 or 8 per cent of the total power of the National Grid, some 27 terawatt hours of electricity – enough to power about six million homes. The two, 100-per-cent biomass-burning units at Drax alone account for some 12 per cent of the UK’s total renewable-electricity generation, according to the company...

"The idea behind biomass is simple enough. Wood fuel is in theory a renewable carbon source, because you burn the carbon that has been recently absorbed from the atmosphere by living vegetation, not the carbon of fossil fuel that has been locked underground for millions of years. 

If you burn wood pellets from the waste cuttings of the timber industry in a converted coal-fired power station, it should be possible to produce electricity that is largely carbon-neutral, provided the carbon of wood fuel is replaced by the carbon of growing trees – which Drax insists is the case...

"Of course, there is fossil fuel carbon that is used – for instance in the conversion of wood waste into dry pellets, and the oil used in the shipping and transport from America to Yorkshire. Even so, Drax estimates the carbon savings compared to coal are still above 80 per cent...

"But not everyone is convinced ..."

Nope, not convinced.

"But the big question for 2016 is whether the Government will continue to invest in Britain’s biggest decarbonisation project in its next round of renewable-energy subsidies. Drax needs these renewable subsidies to continue converting its three remaining coal-fired units – although it can operate if it has to on just the three existing biomass units.

The signs so far are not looking good. Although the Government says it is committed to cutting carbon emissions and phasing out all coal-fired power stations by 2015, it has cancelled its flagship carbon-capture and storage project, to the deep disappointment of companies still in the fossil-fuel business – including Drax..."

Top Notch.

Keeping the lights on:

Mortal Mindy's picture

Biomass - Duel Fuel

"The growth of the UK biomass industry is being driven by the global shift to low-carbon fuel sources, as demonstrated by the Paris climate agreement last year.

Of all the of the low-carbon technologies identified as being able to secure that transition, including wind and solar, biomass is the one which stirs the greatest controversy

While it differs from most other renewables in providing reliable baseload capacity, Friends of the Earth (FoE) have come out strongly against schemes such as the Drax and Lynemouth, as they involve shipping wood pellets across the Atlantic from North America.

FoE says it supports ‘the use of locally sourced biomass where this results in significant net reductions in carbon dioxide, while not impacting negatively on biodiversity, air, water and soil quality’.

It says biomass developments ‘should be restricted to the amount that can be grown sustainably in the UK’.

However MGT argues biomass is ‘fundamentally carbon neutral in nature since re-growth replaces harvest creating a closed loop of carbon, with the small amount of emissions coming from the harvest, processing and transportation of the biomass’.

Mr Court described opponents as ‘enemies of the good’. He said: “While imported biomass is not 100% low carbon most independent analysts says it achieves carbon savings of at least 80% across the whole life cycle.”

Anti-biomass campaign group Biofuelwatch has expressed concerns over the quantities of imported wood. It says the largest biomass plant in UK at Drax imports the equivalent of over one-third of UK annual production.

These issues surfaced again last week when the EC announced an investigation into Drax’s plans to convert a further boiler to biomass.

It says the subsidies offered by the UK Government are too generous and the amount of wood scheduled for import may distort the global wood pellet market."

Mortal Mindy's picture

Biomass & Coal Switch

Interestingly, SSE don't say what they inend do with the coal plant...

Quick, someone call Prince Charles he talks to plants .. the PC brigade when is a coal plant not a coal plant? When its a plant plant. Tree plant. Trans plants. Plank Plant. Stick Plant.  Green Plant .... Chokes. Barking Plant.

Oh OK, Biomass Plant; not a duel fuel.,1&_dad=port...

Doh a dear  ...  unsustainable.


Capt. 'Bob''s picture

AEG: Biomass & Coal-switch

"The University has reported that CoalSwitch's technical and commercial viability for use a standalone fuel - or co-fired in high concentrations with coal in traditional coal-fired power plants - provides significant environmental and commercial advantages to industrial power generators.

The burn testing, conducted at the University's Clean and Secure Energy Institute, evaluated the performance of AEG CoalSwitch fuel in its 100kW pulverised coal combustor, which closely replicates the full-scale facilities utilised in industrial coal-fired power plants around the world.

The testing process compared CoalSwitch burn test performance to that of Illinois Number 6 coal (a typical feedstock used for industrial power generation in the United States), and a CoalSwitch/Illinois coal mix under the same test conditions.

Key findings include:

.      CoalSwitch fuel burned at near-identical temperatures to coal

·     CoalSwitch fuel burned more efficiently than coal, and produced far less ash

·     CoalSwitch fuel burned cleaner than coal, and when co-fired with coal generated less Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) than the coal alone

·    Along with reducing the amount of ultrafine particles in the blended fuel, the mineral matter (ash) particle size distribution of CoalSwitch fuel was nearly the same as that for coal

·    CoalSwitch fuel was essentially free of both Potassium (K) and Sodium (Na), so combustion did not cause the fouling issues (deposits) that are commonly a barrier to the use of Biomass fuels in coal-fired power plants

·    The CoalSwitch/coal blend had a lower Loss on Ignition than the pure coal, leaving far less unburned carbon in the ash, demonstrating far better combustion of coal when CoalSwitch is present

Richard Spinks, CEO of Active Energy Group Plc, commented: "The results of the CoalSwitch testing prove that the Group's faith in the technology and our investment in it over the past twelve months were fully justified; and demonstrate that, for the first time to our knowledge, the glass wall between coal and Biomass usage within existing power generation plants has been shattered."

"They confirm that CoalSwitch fuel represents a game-changer for the power generation industry, and delivers significant financial and environmental benefits over current Biomass fuel solutions. "

 "We are currently preparing a more detailed RNS Reach announcement, which is expected to be available later today."


Capt. 'Bob''s picture

Drax - Biomass

To Explore:

"The fact is that wood pellet biomass produces more CO2 per kWh generated than coal does. The claim of renewability of the Drax operation is a lie. Just common sense tells us that. It takes 20 to 25 years for one tree to grow big enough to burn at Drax. That one tree will be consumed in one of their furnaces in seconds. Sustainablity is when the trees are burnt at the same rate as they grow. This is impossible whether it be at Drax, or in one of the wood burners that people are installing in their houses. As for the sawdust and twigs claim, that is a lie too. There is no way the sawmills in those USA forests produce the millions of tons that Drax burns in sawdust."

Hmmm ...

Honeysuckles & retreats...  

Benefitz Betty's picture

RC : Wood for the Trees

"In large parts of Yorkshire, chances are that the electricity you use was generated using wood from Virginia, Georgia and other southern states of the USA.

This is because Drax power station, the largest in the country, has switched from coal to wood for two (soon three) of its six furnaces. This is both for economic and environmental reasons, hoping to reduce net carbon emissions. Wood grows again, absorbing CO2, whereas coal doesn’t.

But questions have emerged as to whether it really does have a beneficial effect and whether net CO2 emissions are really reduced.
This is a calculation that depends in no small part on how sustainably the forests that the wood comes from are managed and how the wood is harvested and processed into the wood pellets used for the furnaces. So I went to see for myself.

Before leaving, I had already met Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) critical of the process, visited Drax, seen the new port facilities in Hull where the wood pellets are unloaded, and read a number research papers, both critical and supportive. Over there, I visited forest owners, lumber companies, a sawmill, a pellet mill that supplies Drax, and a tree nursery. I met federal and state forestry authorities, certification bodies, sustainability officers and researchers.

One crucial calculation is about how fast trees grow again after they are harvested (and indeed that they are re-grown rather than the land being switched to other uses). It was therefore good to learn that forests are growing in the South-eastern USA 60% faster than the total loss of wood to harvesting, fire, insects, disease and urban growth combined. One factor is that if the value of forests goes up because of increased demand for wood that provides an incentive to replant (rather than switch to another use) and even to extend forests...."