London: As the coronavirus pandemic undermines the production of cleaner renewable fuels, the United Kingdom’s biggest electricity plant is close to using only biomass following a bumpy transition away from coal.
Situated in Yorkshire, northern England, the Drax Group power plant will complete its switch next year after embarking on a journey almost a decade ago to use organic matter alongside the fossil fuel to slash carbon emissions.
But the company’s method of capturing CO2 continues to raise concerns even as biomass has become Britain’s second largest renewable energy behind wind power, with only a handful of coal-run plants remaining in the UK.
The Drax operation, providing four million households with electricity, sees CO2 emitted from burnt wood captured by newly planted trees.
Four of the plant’s six reactors use wood pellets and a carbon-capture system, while Drax intends on becoming carbon negative by 2030, by removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits.
Drax adds that the switch, in line with UK government policy to ban the use of coal by 2025, allows it to keep the plant running and maintain 900 jobs.
“More than 10 years ago, Drax was looking at its future and the UK, at the same time, was looking about how it could deliver its climate-change objectives, ” recalled Drax chief executive Will Gardiner.
“And those two things came together in a very auspicious way so that there was a good recognition in the UK that biomass was a very good alternative... to increase renewable power, ” he told AFP in an interview.
But the use of biomass to generate electricity is not without controversy.
In 2018, a total of 800 scientists wrote to the European Parliament calling for such biomass to be limited to wood residues, including cut-branches, to limit deforestation.
But even with such a move, gains to the environment can be trimmed by sourcing wood from afar.
“Once you move from local usage... to extracting trees from distant countries and shipping them to a factory, you are adding quite a significant amount of additional CO2 to the atmosphere, ” noted Michael Norton, environment programme director at European Academies Science Advisory Council.
Norton added that it “takes anything from several decades to centuries to recover through the growth” of new trees. — AFP
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