Many nations, including the UK and the US, are moving away from coal. In light of other energies getting cheaper and with stringent environmental regulations, the story seems to be the same worldwide.
It has been reported that the UK plans to end coal-fired electricity by 2025. So, the quick question is what would happen to the colossal plants that are left behind? In this context, one facility is pioneering a unique idea of converting to green energy.
The facility named Drax is the largest power plant in Western Europe. And, the owners of the facility have reportedly planned to stop burning coal entirely by 2023. The plant is expected to consume only natural gas and biomass (wood pellets crushed into powder). The decision of the facility’s closure is quite aligned with the European Union’s (EU) key targets for reducing pollution in the coming decades. The targets are inclusive of coal power plants being earmarked for closure to meet the objectives. In the world’s energy market, the facilities have been huge players. And, some experts believe that simply closing down the plants that have expensive connections to national grids may not be a smart move.
Meanwhile, since the start of 2018, the decline in coal usage has been observed. And, the transition from coal to biomass hasn’t been easy as biomass needs to be kept dry at all times, quite unlike coal. And, it is also known to slowly oxidise, which can lead it to burst into flames. Meanwhile, Drax spent £700m to ensure that the new biomass could be handled gently and kept on rain-safe pathways through the plant. And, in terms of biomass operations, it would be the largest in the world. The facility also plans to build large batteries on site to store electricity for times when the grid needs it the most.
There are plenty of coal-to-biomass projects including a coal plant in Copenhagen, which could turn into a 100% biomass facility. In fact, Google plans to turn one of its old facilities based in Alabama into a data centre. So, not all coal plant conversions may be energy-producing ventures.
Meanwhile, Drax is also hoping to mitigate its emissions with a pilot of bio-energy carbon capture storage (BECCS) technology. So, gases from burning biomass at the plant would be passed through a solvent that is known to react with emitted CO2, thus capturing it before it enters the atmosphere. The CO2 is expected to be retrieved such that the solvent can be used to capture repeatedly.
In conclusion, the future of the old plants can be turned into meaningful results by being savvy and green-minded.