Drax to be ‘carbon negative within 10 years’

Drax power station has announced its ambition to become carbon negative by 2030, two months after it received approval for four new gas turbines which some fear risk a carbon budget blowout.

Drax produces 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity. Photograph: Warwick Sweeney/Getty Images

The plant says it can achieve carbon negativity by 2030, citing its successful bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot in North Yorkshire where the station captures a tonne of carbon dioxide every day. Drax’s chief executive Will Gardiner will formally announce the decision today at the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid, claiming to be the “first company in the world” to set such an ambition. 

An entity can consider itself carbon negative when it removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it produces. Drax says its goal is contingent on a solid government investment framework and       effective negative emissions policy.

Will Gardiner said: “Drax’s ambition is to be carbon negative by 2030. Having pioneered the use of sustainable biomass, Drax now produces 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity. With the right negative emissions policy, we can do much more, removing millions of tonnes of emissions from the atmosphere each year.”

Despite becoming Europe’s largest decarbonisation project in recent years, Drax has been criticised for its methods.

In October, the plant’s plan to replace its two remaining coal-fired units with four gas turbines was approved despite warnings from the Planning Inspectorate. The renovation would make it the largest gas-fired facility in the UK, and greenhouse gas emissions could increase by around 90%.

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “While it's great that companies are starting to think about their impact, there are substantial question marks over the environmental consequences and integrity of large scale use of biomass for energy, given very poor performance by governments and businesses so far - there is a nature emergency as well as a climate emergency.

“Decades of inaction by heavy polluters, such as Drax, has left us in a state where more drastic action is needed to tackle these crises. Carbon capture with biomass remains speculative and cannot be used as an excuse to carry on with business as usual. Any action to remove carbon from the atmosphere needs to be done in addition to reducing emissions in transport and homes.”