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Drax Biomass Review

Drax Group has three principal activities; electricity production, electricity sales to business customers and processing sustainable biomass for use in electricity production.

Drax Power, Drax Biomass, Haven Power and White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage Project are all subsidiary companies of Drax group PLC.

Drax Power is the UK’s largest independent power generation company and provides approximately 7% of the country’s electrical needs. Committed to reducing their carbon footprint, Drax Power has recently transformed their Selby Power Station into a predominantly biomass-fuelled generator in a bid to provide low carbon, low cost and reliable renewable power.

The Selby station is powered by 4000MW and underwent an extensive renovation project in 2008 in order to reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions. The station also has impressive onsite technology which removes 90% of the plants sulphur emissions.

In an ongoing bid to protect the environment the plant operates the largest stream turbine modernisation project the UK. This programme increases energy efficiency and saves one million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

The Selby station has transformed itself into a predominantly biomass-fuelled generator through burning sustainable biomass in place of coal. Drax Power aim to convert three of their six generating units to burn biomass, and they saw good this promise in April 2013 when they converted their first unit in Selby. Drax’s commitment to burning sustainable biomass has seen their carbon footprint lower substantially over the past few years in comparison to fossil fuel-fired power stations.

In July 2012 Drax Power confirmed plans to transform itself into a predominantly biomass-fuelled generator. After the first plant in Selby was converted in 2013, the second and third plant will be converted to biomass-fuelled generators in 2015. Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire is already the largest, cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power station in the country. A spokesperson for Drax Power said:

“Our biomass plans will not only strengthen our environmental leadership position, but further enhance our reputation to stay at the forefront of developments to establish effective alternative fuel technologies for electricity generation in the UK.”

The further two plants which are to be transformed into biomass-fuelled generators will be delivered by Siemens Energy Service Fossil, based in Newcastle. A joint Drax-Siemens team have already delivered the first upgrade in Selby and will continue to work together to upgrade the other intermediate pressure turbines. Each intermediate pressure turbine weighs over 63 tonnes and has 26 rows of blades so the construction and installation of these systems are no small feat for the team.

Peter Emery, Production Director at Drax said:

“We have taken the decision to upgrade the intermediate pressure turbines of three generating units that are to be converted to burn sustainable biomass in place of coal. This will optimise the efficiency of those units by helping to offset any loss in efficiency experienced as a result of the change in fuel diet.”

The Drax team feels it is important to tackle climate change and so deliver measured responses to the issue, in a bid to move towards to a low carbon economy. A spokesperson for the firm said:

Drax Biomass Review
We fully understand the threat and support the move towards a low carbon economy. However, we are mindful that in order to make this transition, the country must have a stable and secure energy supply if growth and prosperity are to be sustained.

“In making the transition to a low carbon economy, the UK will require a stable and buoyant economy to fund the necessary changes, fundamental to which is a secure energy supply. We have an important part to play in managing this transition and we are keen to play our part in delivering a low carbon future.”

What is Biomass?

Biomass, which fuels the Selby based Drax Power Station, is an organic plant-based material and is the world’s fourth largest energy resource. The materials used to form biomass can be obtained from living or recently living plant matter, which is can then be processed into electricity, fuel and heat. 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.

 

Utilising biomass as a fuel is extremely beneficial as it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and, through the process of photosynthesis, stores it as energy. When biomass is burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Biomass, such as crops and trees, are then replanted and the whole process starts again. Carbon emissions from the biomass electricity life cycle (planting, harvesting, processing and transportation) are lower than burning conventional fossil fuels.

 

The Biomass process is as efficient and sustainable as the firm can manage. Drax Biomass operates facilities which are strategically located near both sustainably managed forests and deep-water ports. These locations ensure optimal transportation routing for fiber and pellets. Upon receiving biomass, the materials are sized and dried before being pelletised to create a more efficient fuel. All of the wood fibre that cannot be manufactured into pellets will be used for fuel in a drying process. Any fibre received at plants is always fully utilised in a conscientious manner to benefit the environment, community, and company—for example, residual ash will be used as a soil enhancer for forests and fields.

 

 Haven Power 

Haven Power provides business customers with business electricity contracts that are simple, flexible and designed to their specific requirements. The firm launched in 2006 specifically to serve the electricity needs of small to medium sized business customers, and provide an alternative to the large multinational power suppliers Haven has grown significantly.

Now employing over 350 staff and with a turnover in excess of £250million the business has gone from strength to strength. The knowledge and expertise of the senior management team has also played a massive role in the firm’s growth. With a very successful track record across all market sectors the team is led by CEO Peter Bennell, who has worked in senior positions at a number of energy companies.

In early 2009 Haven Power was acquired by Drax Group PLC, one of the UK’s largest generation groups. With the financial backing of Drax, Haven Power has grown its SME business and established a team who specifically serve the large I&C customer sector. Following this move the company’s customer base has expanded significantly and now includes some of the UK’s leading business names.

White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage Project

Drax have unveiled plans to develop an oxyfuel power, carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration project with partners Alstom and BOC. The project is currently seeking funding from the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration Programme being promoted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The team is also seeking European funding as well from the NER 300 programme.

The project hopes to secure these funding streams and also to successfully negotiate with the government to provide support to the project. If successful the programme will comprise a state-of-the-art coal-fired power plant that is equipped with full carbon capture and storage technology. The plant will also have the potential to co-fire biomass. The project aims to prove CCS technology is effective and show the industry it is a competitive form of low-carbon power generation, as well as an important technology in tackling climate change.

The standalone power plant will be located at the existing Drax Power Station site near Selby, North Yorkshire, generating electricity for export to the Electricity Transmission Network, as well as capturing approximately 2 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The CO2 will be transported through National Grid’s proposed pipeline for permanent undersea storage in the North Sea.

The power plant technology, known as oxyfuel combustion, burns fuel in a modified combustion environment with the resulting combustion gases being high in CO2 concentration. The CO2 produced is then captured without the need for additional chemical separation, before being piped for storage.

Drax Group PLC: A history

After the privatisation of the electricity industry of England and Wales in 1990, due to the Electricity Act 1989, three generating companies and 12 regional electricity companies were created. As a result of privatisation, Drax Power Station came under the ownership of National Power, one of the newly formed generating companies.

In the following years the industry changed dramatically; one significant change was the emergence of vertically integrated companies, combining generation, distribution and supply interests. In certain cases, it became necessary for generation assets to be divested, and so in 1999 Drax Power Station was acquired by the US-based AES Corporation for £1.87 billion.

Drax was refinanced in 2000, with £400 million of senior bonds being issued by AES Drax Holdings, and £267 million of subordinated debt issued by AES Drax Energy.

The market hit an all time low in 2002 thanks to increased competition, over-capacity and new trading. Many companies experienced financial problems, and Drax Power Station’s major customer went into administration, triggering financial difficulties for Drax. Following a series of standstill agreements with its creditors, the AES Corporation and Drax parted company in August 2003.

During Drax’s restructuring, a number of bids were received from companies wishing to take a stake in the ownership of Drax, but creditors voted overwhelmingly to retain their interest in Drax. In December 2003, the restructuring was completed and Drax came under the ownership of a number of financial institutions. Almost exactly two years later, on 15 December 2005, Drax underwent a re-financing and shares in Drax Group plc were listed on the London Stock Exchange for the first time.

Upstream in the supply chain, the Company has a presence in the US focused on developing wood pellet plants for the self-supply of sustainable biomass. Drax Biomass International is currently developing two wood pellet plants, one in Louisiana and one in Mississippi, and a port facility in Louisiana to facilitate the export of wood pellets.

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