By Almuth Ernsting
17 March 2015
(The Ecologist) – A new coal and biomass-fired power station could soon be built at Drax in Yorkshire, already the UK's biggest coal burner, writes Almuth Ernsting. It comes with a weak promise of possible 'carbon capture and storage' - an expensive, inefficient technology shunned elsewhere. As the Government's nuclear dream fades, could this be its equally flawed replacement?
Drax power station in Yorkshire burns more wood than any other plant in the world and more coal than any other the UK.
And soon it could break two new records. It could become the site of the UK's first new-build coal power station since 1974 (when Drax's existing plant opened) and the first larger power station in the EU to be subsidised as a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project.
Drax, together with Alstom and BOC, has submitted a planning application for a new 448 MW 'White Rose' power station which would burn coal with up to 15% wood pellets.
Although called the 'White Rose CCS Project', the planning application relates only to the new power station. National Grid is considering whether to invest in the infrastructure, including a 135 mile long pipeline, needed to transport the CO2 and pump it into a saline formation beneath the North Sea.
Such infrastructure would require an entirely separate planning proposal and by the time National Grid decides whether or not to invest into it, the Planning Inspectorate is likely to have already decided on the power station proposal.
Will the carbon ever be captured? That's anyone's guess
Even if the CO2 pipeline was built, there would be no guarantee of long-term carbon capture. The plant technology would allow coal to be burned with nearly pure oxygen rather than air, which is called oxyfuel combustion. This results in a gas which is high in CO2, allowing carbon to be captured quite efficiently.
Separating the oxygen from air however uses so much energy that Total and Vattenfall abandoned their oxyfuel test plants. Such a plant can also be run with air instead of almost pure oxygen. This would preclude carbon capture but allow Drax to generate more electricity from the same amount of coal. [more]