Drax trialled Mitsubishi's carbon capture technology last year and is now set to implement it at full scale. Photograph: Drax Group Drax trialled Mitsubishi's carbon capture technology last year and is now set to implement it at full scale. Photograph: Drax Group

‘Game-changing’: Drax to become world’s largest carbon capture plant

Drax Group has signed a deal for its giant power station in North Yorkshire to become ‘carbon negative’ by 2030.

The contract to use the Advanced KM CDR carbon capture process from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) was announced yesterday. As the power station will have long abandoned coal by the implementation deadline, in favour of reliance on vast quantities of biomass, in theory the plant would effectively remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

It would be the largest deployment of negative emissions technology anywhere in the world, the two firms said – though calculating emissions related to biomass production and consumption has long been subject of controversy. Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee has earmarked bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as a key technology to help the UK reach net zero by 2050.

The deal is the first to use Mitsubishi’s technology outside Asia, where it is used to recover CO2 for industrial uses, particularly urea production, at a far smaller scale. It would also be the first installation at fully industrial scale of carbon capture, usage and storage systems anywhere in the UK. A pilot using the University of Leeds’ C-Capture system was run a few years ago, with another testing Mitsubishi’s solvents following last year.

The announcement follows Drax abandoning earlier plans to convert its two remaining coal-fired boilers to gas and fully commit to biomass, as it confirmed in February. It came only days after it saw off a legal challenge. The firm began the process of obtaining a development consent order for the new project the following month.

The first BECCS unit could be up and running as soon as 2027, capturing at least 8m tonnes of CO2 each year, it says. It would be transported for storage under the North Sea via a pipeline set to be built by the Zero Carbon Humber Partnership, which secured £21m of government cash earlier this year.

As part of the agreement, the Japanese firm will develop a new centre of excellence for carbon capture, usage and storage in London, together with considering domestic production of the amine-based solvent used in the process. MHI will also locate its core team working on the technology at its European headquarters in London, “and explore additional employment opportunities in the UK in future”, according to a statement.

It would appear to back up the government’s claim earlier this year that the sector will prove to be a “great incubator of green jobs”, if the goal of capturing 10mt of CO2 across the UK is met by 2030. The Drax project should considerably exceed this target by itself.

“The world urgently needs to move from making climate pledges to taking climate action. This game-changing contract between Drax and MHI could contribute to a decade of global environmental leadership from the UK and provide further stimulus to a post-Covid economic recovery,” said Drax chief executive Will Gardiner.

“Carbon capture technologies like BECCS are going to be absolutely vital in the fight against the climate crisis. Subject to the right regulatory framework being in place, Drax stands ready to invest further in this essential negative emissions technology, which not only permanently removes CO2 from the atmosphere but also delivers the reliable, renewable electricity needed for clean, green economic growth,” he added.

His counterpart at MHI, Kenji Terasawa, said: “We are very proud to have been selected as Drax’s technology partner and we firmly believe that our carbon capture technology will make a significant contribution to the UK and wider global community achieving their net zero targets. We look forward to expanding our presence in the UK and developing a centre of excellence for the deployment of carbon capture technology across Europe, the Middle East and Africa region.”

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