More Greenwashing from Drax

Carbon Capture and Storage Pilot Program is a Pricey and Risky Gamble the Planet Can’t Afford

On February 7, 2019, Drax Power Station in the UK announced it captured its “first carbon dioxide” using “C-Capture technology” in their bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot. It sounds great in theory, but in the end it’s nothing more than greenwashing from the world’s largest forest burning utility company.

This pilot project perfectly shows how BECCS projects are ineffective, costly, detract from real solutions, and allow dirty polluters to continuously harm communities without actually alleviating the climate crisis. The bottom line: Drax’s pilot program shows us that BECCS projects, like the one they began running a week ago, do nothing to address the root cause of climate change and can’t stand up to the carbon-sequestering power of protecting natural forests.

Photo of harvested trees
Wood pellet biomass is oftentimes sourced from clearcut bottomland hardwood forests, like this one, in the Southern U.S.

At the Drax Power Station, 4 of its 6 generators are powered by wood pellet biomass mostly coming from the Southern United States. The carbon-rich bottomland hardwood forests that the company sources from are clearcut to be manufactured into wood pellets and shipped across the ocean to be burned at this power station, all in the name of green energy and claimed as the world’s largest decarbonization project.

All of this greenwashing is a false solution to climate change, and it’s essentially paid for by the British government and its taxpayers, which hands out approximately 2 million pounds (over $2.5 million US dollars) a day to Drax in “renewable energy subsidies.” According to a study by the UK Government in 2014:

Increased logging of forests for wood pellet biomass results in carbon emissions that are up to 3x as high as those from coal.

Working with a company called C-Capture, Drax is using a chemical to capture the C02 from its biomass flue gasses. It’s in the trial stage at the power station, and Drax spent 400,000 British pounds ($516,800) in order to capture a meager 1 tonne of C02 a day this year. If the trial proves 100% successful, they will capture 365 tonnes a year. Meanwhile, Drax’s CO2 stack emissions from biomass burning were 11.77 million tonnes in 2017.

While some of the scenarios that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) use for the basis of their Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius assume the use of such negative emissions technology projects, such as Drax’s, they expressly caution over-reliance on BECCS as a mitigation or carbon removal strategy.

The carbon capture storage addition that Drax is piloting does nothing to mitigate their climate impacts of using wood pellets from clearcut forests that would otherwise be growing and storing carbon.

As Drax’s pilot is showing right now, there will be no livable planet as these projects are ineffective at scale, cost inordinate amounts of money that need to be used elsewhere, and serve to only provide a lifeline to a declining coal industry while delaying the energy transition needed.

Natural forests provide critical habitat to species like the black bear. Forests must be protected, restored, and allowed to expand in the U.S.

The best way to store this carbon, while protecting biodiversity and communities, would be to leave the forests in the ground.

Drax’s BECCS project proves what the environmental justice community has been saying for years now – false solutions and techno-fixes are not we need to keep our communities safe, our air clean, or improve our local economies and quality of life. To maximize carbon storage, we must prioritize the protection of our forests, as noted by the over 200 elected officials, conservation and justice organizations who signed the Stand4Forests platform in 2018.

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