Stories from across the energy transition

Biomass vs Coal

This post was originally written back in 2015. The world has definitely moved on since then. Drax is still generating but the view of biomass has moved on.

Let’s talk about Drax, the UK’s largest power station that supplies a whopping 8% of the nation’s energy. This behemoth of a station has a capacity of 4GW, but what’s truly remarkable is its transformation journey.

In 2012, Drax made a bold decision – to pivot from fossil fuels and become a predominantly biomass-fueled power generator. A groundbreaking move, considering its history and size.

Constructed in two stages by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), Drax first roared to life in 1974 with its initial three units. Twelve years later, in 1986, the final three units were added, solidifying its place as the UK’s last coal-fired power station to be built.

Did you know each unit of Drax has a capacity of 660MW when burning coal? And in 1988, it became the first power station in the UK to retrofit flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) equipment, making it the cleanest of its coal-fired counterparts.

But let’s get back to that revolutionary change. Since its 2012 announcement, Drax has successfully converted two of its six boilers to biomass and plans to complete the third by 2016. Even the fourth unit is on the table for potential conversion.

That said, the road to transformation has its speed bumps. In 2014, the government scaled back support for biomass conversion, casting some doubt over the future of the project. But Drax is pushing forward, investing heavily in the upstream part of the biomass value chain.

The stakes are high, the risks are real, and the eyes of the energy world are on Drax. Will this ambitious transition prove to be a wise investment? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain – the story of Drax is a fascinating chapter in the book of our energy history.

What is your opinion of biomass?

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