Supporting Drax’s Transition Towards Sustainability

ESG - now SOCOTEC - has supported Drax for the last seven years in its goal to reduce carbon emissions. In March 2015, ESG was awarded a five-year contract to continue fuel testing and analysis work at its power generating plant.

Significant Steps Towards Sustainability

As the UK prioritises a low carbon economy, Drax Group plc, responsible for generating approximately 7-8 per cent of the UK’s electricity, is undergoing a radical transition at its plant near Selby, North Yorkshire.

Drax power station, the single largest power plant in the country, is transforming itself into a predominantly biomass-fuelled electricity generator. Historically fuelled by coal, three of Drax’s six units are now producing energy from biomass.

By replacing coal with sustainable biomass, pellets made from low grade wood sourced from commercial forestry, timber processing operations and agricultural crops, Drax has carbon savings of more than 80 per cent compared to coal and has now saved its 20 millionth tonne of carbon, making it Europe’s single largest decarbonisation project.

Developing Sustainable Sources

The volatile nature of the global energy market required Drax to establish reliable sources of sustainable biomass to fire its generators. A changing regulatory and legislative landscape, also means that any operational transformation will need to be adaptable to remain compliant in the medium and long-term.

A supply of consistently high-quality fuel was necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the conversion from coal to biomass. Initially, locally grown willow was used as the primary source of fuel, but now the majority of this is imported from North America.

In the United States, the organisation is developing new fuel sources and has developed manufacturing capability and distribution channels. Through a US subsidiary, Drax manufactures biomass for self-supply in the form of wood pellets for export to generate renewable power in Britain.

While biomass benefits from being a renewable source of energy and reducing carbon emissions, it poses a unique set of issues for power generators. Biomass ash can contain significant amounts of inorganic constituents, including sulphur, chlorine and potassium, the burning of which create salts that have the potential to impair the performance of power generating capabilities. Differing sources of biomass contain different amounts of these materials, and ensuring all fuel is compliant with their specification is a key way that Drax control fuel related risks.

To diversify fuel sources, Drax now burns biomass made from residual agricultural products, including wheat straw and oat husks. Miscanthus, a fast-growing type of grass that thrives in poor conditions, is another alternative source of fuel. Fuel innovation reduces the reliance on any one source biomass, however it creates a challenge to ensure new fuels are compliant with industry standards.

Making Use of Technical Expertise

Seeking locally-based technical expertise and in-depth testing capability, Drax engaged ESG, the first laboratory in the UK to gain extensive accreditation for the analysis of solid biofuels. For the last seven years, ESG has played a crucial role in Drax’s decarbonisation effort, providing the organisation with longstanding technical support and expert guidance.

ESG provides Drax with consultancy and a wide range of fuel testing services for its road, rail and ship consignments. The company’s chief remit is to measure the quality of all fuels purchased so that Drax can ensure they fit within their specification, safeguarding the plant’s critical equipment.

The Drax project is led by ESG’s Energy & Waste Services business manager, George Bradley, who is the UK Principal Expert on the ISO Solid Biofuel Working Committee. This active involvement with developing new international solid biofuel sampling and analysis standards ensures ESG can provide the most up-to-date consultancy and guidance on forthcoming regulatory changes.

ESG engages with key energy industry stakeholder groups, such as Ofgem, to guarantee that Drax’s operations are continuously up-to-date and in line with regulations. ESG also supports Drax in its efforts to meet the UK’s Renewables Obligation, a commitment for power companies to generate more electricity from renewable sources.

To meet the challenges posed by diverse fuel sources, ESG carries out all sampling and analysis of all fuels used at Drax power plant, including coal and a range of solid biofuel pellets. ESG provides onsite fuel sampling and analysis, as well as portside services, sampling incoming fuel cargoes at strategic port locations. ESG is also providing guidance on mechanical sampling regimes and equipment at these ports. This certifies compliance for all fuel that Drax uses, while also making sure it meets the highest technical specification.

The services that ESG offers Drax include the use of a UKAS accredited testing laboratory No.0001. By utilising ESG’s state of the art mobile labs, technicians are able to check and process biomass and coal samples onsite on a rapid turnaround basis.

ESG’s work with Drax also sees the full implementation of an RFID (radio-frequency identification) scanning system for biofuel samples. The RFID scanner streamlines the process of tracking biofuel samples with the results being sent through to Drax’s internal systems automatically. This process reduces paperwork onsite and increases the transparency and efficiency of sample tracking.

Ongoing Support

ESG’s consultancy work, load sampling and fuel testing has resulted in Drax awarding the company a new five-year contract to continue work on the decarbonisation project. With the third biomass-fuelled unit now converted, ESG will partner with Drax to help secure the long-term future of renewable energy in the UK.

Jim Clay, operations director, Energy & Waste Services, ESG said: “Our innovative testing methods and state-of-the-art equipment means that we are able to help Drax achieve its long term fuel strategy. By continuing to support Drax’s sustainability initiatives through our broad portfolio of energy testing and consultancy services, we will help to ensure that the UK’s carbon emissions are significantly reduced.”

Andrew Koss, Drax’s Chief Executive commented: “At Drax, our aim is to lead from the front and provide low carbon and reliable renewable power for the UK market. ESG and Drax have enjoyed a positive relationship over the last seven years, having worked together on a number of key projects. We are both committed to low carbon energy and are confident that this contract is a further step towards the development of a cleaner UK energy sector.”

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