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Drax announces world’s largest carbon removal deal at NY Climate Week

© Shutterstock / Clare Louise JacksonPost Thumbnail

Drax Group and impact-driven carbon finance business Respira International have announced a pioneering agreement that they say will stimulate the development of global voluntary carbon markets and the decarbonization of new sectors of the economy.

  • The two partners have announced an MoU that will see Respira secure up to 2m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide removals certificates from Drax.
  • Drax wants to deliver 12 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide removals per year using BECCS by 2030, from its North American facilities.
  • The announcement comes amid growing concern about the permanency and transparency of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and the arguments look set to continue as the deal covers potential future credits.

Power generator Drax Group and impact-driven carbon finance business Respira International have announced a pioneering agreement that is intended to stimulate the development of global voluntary carbon markets and the decarbonisation of new sectors of the economy.

The deal could see the largest volume of carbon dioxide removals (CDRs) traded so far, globally. The deal between Respira and Drax is the biggest for carbon removals announced so far. The next biggest was for 100kt a year (400kt total) of DAC between Airbus and 1PointFive, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, which was announced in March 2022.

Respira, which is an impact-driven carbon finance business, will be able to purchase up to 2 million metric tonnes of CDRs from Drax over a five year period, under the terms of the MoU.

The creation of the CDRs would be linked to the future deployment of BECCS by Drax in North America. This would enable buyers, such as corporations and financial institutions, to achieve their own carbon emissions reduction targets.

Why does Drax consider itself a renewable energy leader?

Drax describes itself as a renewable energy leader and it owns and operates a portfolio of renewable electricity generation assets in England and Scotland. The assets include the UK’s largest power station, based at Selby, North Yorkshire, which supplies five percent of the country’s electricity needs.

The difficulty comes with definitions. Having converted Drax Power Station to use sustainable biomass instead of coal it has become the UK’s biggest renewable power generator and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe. This is also where Drax is piloting its negative emissions technology BECCS within its CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage) Incubation Area.

Drax has already announced its intention to invest over £2 billion in its UK BECCS project and its global supply chain by 2030, to remove 8 million metric tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

In addition to this it is developing investment plans for BECCS projects outside the UK, including in North America, which could remove a further 4 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.

The difficulty comes with the use of woody biomass, and research from Ember Climate already says that biomass energy emits more CO2 than coal in the UK. The EU has just been hit with legal action for the inclusion of woody biomass in its Sustainable Taxonomy and its not clear what role biomass will able to play in renewable/sustainable energy generation over the medium term.

What is BECCS and why does it matter?

BECCS is currently considered a critical technology globally, because it is the only one available which can provide reliable, renewable power, supporting energy security, whilst permanently removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It plays a significant role in the IPCC’s view of how to achieve net zero.

 

Source: Drax

There are a number of issues that need to be resolved regarding the use of BECCS however, including fundamental uncertainties related to technical, socio-political, and ecological aspects of the technology and its implementation. Negative emissions technologies, as carbon removal technologies are sometimes called, are fundamental to the achievement of global emissions goals and BECCS is probably the most advanced to date.  Some reports suggest that, at scale, it could remove up to one third of the world’s global emissions.

The underlying idea is that as biomass is grown for energy generation, it draws in  CO2. If the CO2 released in its use in energy generation or fuel is then captured, and stored or used in another material, then it could become a long term negative emissions technology.

Why is BECCS so controversial?

The challenges however remain with unanswered questions about the potential impact on food security, biodiversity and land use. There could be emissions around harvesting, transporting and processes that will differ from place to place, and the permanency of storage is still open to question.

There is also concern that an over-reliance on its potential could prevent policymakers taking earlier, more decisive action on emissions. Imperial College published a briefing paper, BECCS deployment: a reality check in 2019 discussing the various issues that need to be resolve.

Drax however is convinced that BECCS will play a major role in emissions management. Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO said: “This agreement with Respira will play a pivotal role in the development of voluntary carbon markets globally and the deployment of BECCS.” In the UK, Drax is already working with British Steel on an MoU basis to further develop CCS projects in northern England if the policy environment is right.

Gardiner continued: “The clear demand that we are seeing for engineered carbon removals, alongside the policies being developed by progressive governments in the US and UK to support BECCS, will enable the investment needed to kickstart a vital new sector of the economy, creating tens of thousands of jobs, often in communities which need them the most. ”

It is also understood that the UK government is still considering a further£31.7 billion subsidy for biomass with carbon capture and storage at Drax in pursuit of the UK’s net zero emissions goals.

Carbon credits investor Respira is also fully committed. Ana Haurie, Respira International CEO and co-founder said “Rising global temperatures underline that it is absolutely vital for corporates to augment existing carbon emissions strategies with further solutions to address the climate emergency. This partnership with Drax marks a new and exciting development for Respira as it is our first engineered carbon removals project.

Current policy support is strong for BECCs

In the US the $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which marked the largest investment in climate action in the country’s history, includes an enhanced level of support for carbon removal technologies.

A recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) underlined the importance of BECCS in delivering the US’s target of 100% clean electricity by 2035, and the need for BECCS to achieve this. Supportive regulatory frameworks for CDRs in the US, including BECCS, are being developed at state level including in California, Louisiana and Texas.

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