Energy supplier touts tie-up with engineering services company Worley as evidence plan to build UK’s largest carbon capture project in Yorkshire is moving ahead

Drax has announced it has contracted engineering services company Worley to produce a front-end engineering and design (FEED) study for its plan to install carbon capture and storage at its biomass plant in Yorkshire so as to deliver ‘negative emissions’ from the site.

The energy supplier said the contract was part of a £40m capital investment programme it had earmarked for advancing the proposed bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS) project in 2022.

The funding programme will also cover the costs of decommissioning the last coal infrastructure at the Drax Power Station, which has gradually been converted from the fossil fuel to run on biomass over the last 10 years, as well as site preparation works for the planned BECCS technology, Drax said.

Under the terms of its new contract with Drax, Worley will begin the FEED work at the start of next year and may also work with the company on the subsequent design and build phases of the BECCS project.

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the deal underscored Drax’s commitment to deliver a “vital technology” which he said was “urgently needed” to address the climate crisis. “It’s no longer enough to reduce emissions – the world has got to start removing carbon from the atmosphere if we are to avert this climate crisis,” he said.

However, Drax’s plans remain highly controversial, with environmental campaigners continuing to question both the sustainability credentials of biomass energy remains fiercely debated and the ability of carbon capture technologies to deliver promised emissions reductions. Critics argue the emissions impact of harvesting wood at scale to meet growing demand from the energy sector will outpace the ability of new saplings to suck carbon out of the air, undermining claims that BECCS can deliver negative emissions.

As such green groups have repeatedly urged governments around the world to strip biomass of subsidies and its ‘renewable’ status, amid investigations that have linked biomass wood pellets to protected forests in Europe and unsustainable forestry practices in North America.

However, Drax has repeatedly maintained that all the biomass it burns is derived from sustainable sources and argues the BECCS project can play a critical role in helping the UK meet its legally binding net zero by 2050 target, by permanently removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.

Drax kickstarted the planning process for the BECCS project in March and is hoping to get construction work underway by 2024 for a 2027 launch. In order to move ahead, the energy giant must clinch a development consent order from central government.

The carbon capture project, which is expected to be the largest in the UK if constructed, is one of the main projects in the East Coast Cluster, the industrial decarbonisation scheme that brings together a host of low carbon industrial and energy projects across the Humber and Teesside. In October, the Cluster was selected by the UK government as a priority project for public industrial decarbonisation funding.

Drax’s Gardiner said Ministers’ decision to select the East Coast Cluster as one of the UK’s first two carbon capture and storage hubs “further demonstrate[d] the vital role this negative emissions technology at Drax can play in helping the UK reach its net zero targets, as well as creating and protecting thousands of jobs and kickstarting a new green economy”.

Worley CEO Chris Ashton also welcomed the company’s new tie-up with Drax. “Our partnership with Drax is one of the ways we’re helping our customers adapt existing assets and decarbonise industrial clusters, whilst also supporting Worley’s strategic focus on sustainability and delivering a more sustainable world,” he said.

In related news, a consortium led by French engineering firm Technip Energy has been selected by oil giant BP to deliver a FEED study for the Net Zero Teesside project – a major carbon capture scheme that brings together a number of industry players in England’s North East – as well as for carbon compression infrastructure that will enable plants in the region to shuttle their emissions to storage sites in the North Sea.

The consortium, which also includes US technology firm GE Gas Power, will produce a study for the oil major which covers design and technical solutions development for a 860MW power station and carbon capture facility planned by Net Zero Teesside coalition, according to the update.

Net Zero Teesside feeds in to the East Coast Cluster, alongside the Zero Carbon Humber project of which Drax is a member.

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