Drax: The UK’s ‘Carbon Neutral’ Biomass Power Plant

About the Drax: The UK’s ‘Carbon Neutral’ Biomass Power Plant Series

Britain’s biggest power plant, Drax in North Yorkshire, produces around 6% of the UK’s electricity through burning biomass.

Drax claims to be Europe’s largest decarbonisation project, after pivoting from coal to biomass in the 2010s. In 2021 Drax officially ended its commercial coal generation, but remains the single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the UK, producing 13.2 million tonnes from burning wood pellets in 2020.

The energy produced by Drax is classified as renewable under UK and EU law, under the premise that it uses trees which can be replanted to recapture carbon and is therefore considered carbon neutral – though the sustainability of Drax’s wood pellets is disputed by some scientists and campaigners.

In 2020 Drax received over £830 million in direct subsidy from the UK government. The company has said it is relying on further government support for its bioenergy, carbon capture with storage (BECCS) plant, which it says will create “carbon negative” energy from 2027.

Image: Drax power station in North Yorkshire. Credit: Jono Brennan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In This Series

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Graham Stuart MP has championed the UK’s highly polluting wood-pellet burning power station, which is located close to his Yorkshire constituency.

Graham Stuart MP has championed the UK’s highly polluting wood-pellet burning power station, which is located close to his Yorkshire constituency.
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The company is currently seeking an estimated £31.7 billion worth of subsidies from the UK government for a similar project.

The company is currently seeking an estimated £31.7 billion worth of subsidies from the UK government for a similar project.
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Critics say the North Yorkshire power station is likely to continue burning wood pellets for electricity, and that the amounts granted to new projects are too low to result in any significant technological breakthroughs.

Critics say the North Yorkshire power station is likely to continue burning wood pellets for electricity, and that the amounts granted to new projects are too low to result in any significant technological breakthroughs.
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The ‘sustainability principles’ outlined in the document could in fact contribute to increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere, a policy analyst has claimed.

The ‘sustainability principles’ outlined in the document could in fact contribute to increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere, a policy analyst has claimed.
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Responding to the analysis, Phil MacDonald, chief operating officer of Ember, said this was “exactly the kind of research that the UK government should be doing before it makes a decision on funding BECCS”. 

Responding to the analysis, Phil MacDonald, chief operating officer of Ember, said this was “exactly the kind of research that the UK government should be doing before it makes a decision on funding BECCS”. 
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The Green Party accused Labour of helping the biomass energy producer engage in "green spin of the worst kind".

The Green Party accused Labour of helping the biomass energy producer engage in "green spin of the worst kind".
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Geoffrey Supran, a climate researcher at Harvard University, said the UK government had its priorities “completely backwards” if the meetings could be seen as a proxy for where ministers were focusing attention.

Geoffrey Supran, a climate researcher at Harvard University, said the UK government had its priorities “completely backwards” if the meetings could be seen as a proxy for where ministers were focusing attention.
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Environmentalists raise concern that a senior policy manager for the biomass producer may have had input on UK climate policy.

Environmentalists raise concern that a senior policy manager for the biomass producer may have had input on UK climate policy.
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Critics argued that representatives of Drax, which received £832 million from the government last year, should not have a role advising the government on tackling climate change.

Critics argued that representatives of Drax, which received £832 million from the government last year, should not have a role advising the government on tackling climate change.
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The authors of a report argue that the intensification of Baltic logging is reinforced by biomass demand from foreign bioenergy companies such as Orsted, RWE and Drax.

The authors of a report argue that the intensification of Baltic logging is reinforced by biomass demand from foreign bioenergy companies such as Orsted, RWE and Drax.
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By Almuth Ernsting, bioenergy campaigner with Biofuelwatch If there were a prize for the most bizarre climate mitigation idea, power company Drax Plc’s latest “green innovation” project would be...
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By Jo Alexander, a chartered geologist and researcher for campaign group ShareAction Drax has been stepping up its greenwashing over the past few days, by appearing on BBC Radio and in the Finan...