Project Management Institute

The Positive of Negative

Cost Is Key for Building One of the First Carbon-Negative Power Plants

With climate catastrophe possibly looming, doing no environmental harm might no longer be enough. In an effort to drastically cut down on its carbon footprint, the Drax Group launched a £400,000 pilot project in November in North Yorkshire, England to create one of the first carbon-negative power stations in the world. Carbon negative goes one step further than carbon neutral, meaning an activity removes more carbon from the atmosphere than what's created during the process.

Drax Power Station, a part-coal, part-biomass-burning plant, uses 7 million metric tons of wood pellets annually to fuel generators that create 6 percent of the country's electricity. The generators, naturally, emit carbon dioxide. The aim of the six-month pilot—which Drax is partnering on with C-Capture, a commercial offshoot of the University of Leeds—is to capture 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide a day using a solvent that absorbs carbon dioxide. The team successfully captured its first carbon dioxide in February.

This is not Drax Group's first stab at carbon-capture technology. The company launched a similar effort in 2013 but scrapped it two years later due to steep costs. “Every aspect has been improved on,” C-Capture director Chris Rayner told Chemistry World. The C-Capture project team helped reduce costs on multiple fronts: It lowered the amount of energy typically required to capture carbon while also using less corrosive chemicals to do so. Better chemicals allow teams to use cheaper materials during construction.


Biomass domes at Drax Power Station near Selby, England

If the pilot proves successful, Drax could scale up its technology to capture as much as 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2050. Future work will also explore the other half of the carbon-negative equation: storing captured carbon in a place where it won't re-enter the atmosphere.

In the interim, energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said that the technology on display from the pilot “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 U.K.” —Michael Wasney

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