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article imageUK's Drax Power Station begins carbon capture project

By Karen Graham     Feb 10, 2019 in Technology
For the first time, carbon dioxide is being captured at a biomass power plant in the UK. Britain's Drax announced that its pilot bioenergy carbon capture and storage project is expected to capture a ton of CO2 a day.
In a press release on February 7, Britain's energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said, "This innovative technology has the potential to make huge strides in our efforts to tackle climate change while kick-starting an entirely new cutting-edge industry in the UK."
The giant Drax power station near Selby in North Yorkshire burns seven million tons of wood chips annually to generate electricity. The company has invested £400,000 in a pilot project that will capture one ton of carbon dioxide a day during the pilot.
If everything goes according to plan, the technology could be scaled up to capture 50 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050 - nearly half the country's target says the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. Drax has already become the largest decarbonization project in Europe after it upgraded two-thirds of its generating units from coal to use biomass.
DRAX Power Station in Drax  North Yorkshire.
DRAX Power Station in Drax, North Yorkshire.
Paul Glazzard
C-Capture technology
Carbon dioxide is captured at the Drax plant using Leeds-based C-Capture's innovative technology. The company was formed in 2009 as a spin-out from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leeds. The technology is called Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).
C-Capture approaches carbon capture and storage (CCS) a little differently than what is being done now. Current practices basically use amines to capture the CO2, holding it in an aqueous solution. The solution is then heated up to 120 degrees Centigrade where the CO2 is returned to its gaseous state, allowing it to be stored.
C-Capture uses an amine-free solvent to capture CO2. Once the CO2 has been ‘captured’ it can then be released as a pure stream and transported for safe, long-term storage or used in other manufacturing processes. This innovative technology can also be used for other applications including the capture of CO2 from other large point source emitters, such as cement plants and steel plants.
The Peterhead Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project in  Aberdeenshire   UK.
The Peterhead Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project in Aberdeenshire, UK.
Penn Energy
The pros and cons of CCS
The BBC outlines very nicely how Carbon Capture and Storage works: When a forest grows, the trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to make their wood.
If you burn that wood, the process doesn't emit any extra CO2 into the atmosphere—because the trees removed it from the air in the first place. It's called carbon neutral.
If you go one step further by capturing the CO2 from wood burning, you're actually reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere overall.
Proponents of CCS argue that we need to do something to get the CO2 out of the atmosphere in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The CO2 can be stored and later used for other purposes. Many scientists are onboard the technology because they say the politicians are not doing enough to limit the effects of a warming planet.
Kemper CCS power plant in Kemper County Mississippi.
Kemper CCS power plant in Kemper County Mississippi.
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The arguments against CCS are also reasonable. Critics argue the technology is too expensive to implement on a large scale for it to be commercially viable. "One way to reduce coal's impact is to capture, compress and bury its emissions—but it's much simpler, cheaper and safer to simply leave the coal in the ground," Simon Holmes à Court, a senior adviser to the Energy Transition Hub at Melbourne University, wrote in the Guardian.
Looking specifically at the Drax project, critics point out the company burns about 7 million metric tons of wood chips - mostly from the southern U.S. to generate six percent of the UK's electricity. While technically, trees are a renewable resource, a large amount of land is needed to renew this resource and harvesting trees also disrupts wildlife that depends on forests.
"We must be cautious of technologies that aim to remediate the carbon problem while greatly expanding our impact on the land," Harvard University professor David Keith warned to the BBC.
More about Carbon capture, Drax, BECCS, negative emissions, CCapture
 
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