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UK’s Drax Coal Plant Eyes Biomass For Greener Future

Posted by Lindy on March 7, 2011


Date: 07-Mar-11

http://planetark.org/wen/61406

Britain’s biggest coal-burning power station, Drax in North Yorkshire, generates 7 percent of the UK’s electricity — a sizeable chunk of that from biomass.

“Twelve percent of the fuel that we can burn today is biomass so that means 12 percent of the electricity comes from biomass which is a renewable fuel,” said Peter Emery, production director at Drax.

Drax has the world’s biggest coal and biomass co-burning facility, able to use 1.4 million tones a year of plant material to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity.

“We tend to burn material that is already produced but is not being put to good use,” said Emery. “That is how you industrialize this process and how you keep it cost effective.”

The power station is burning four main types of biomass, forestry waste, agricultural waste, some wood waste and energy crops. It sources these from the UK and overseas. Around 100 local farmers have entered into contracts with the power station to supply one kind of energy crop, Miscanthus, or Asian elephant grass. Chris Bradley owns Whinney Moor Farm in East Yorkshire, and says Miscanthus grows 3 meters tall and thrives on poor soils.I think putting this on grade one or two land is probably not an option and possibly not even morally right …But certainly on the lower grade soils like I’ve done — it is a good option.”

Energy crops are often blamed for pushing up world food prices. Drax said it would not contract farmers planning to convert from cereals such as wheat and added that Miscanthus was unlikely to be economic on high-grade land, given currently high grain prices. Miscanthus is being promoted alongside willow, sawdust and straw as biomass for producing heat and power when burned, without causing net emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

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