UK Moving Away From Coal, Burning Wood From The U.S.

The 12 cooling towers at the Drax Power Station have dominated the flat North Yorkshire countryside since the plant was built to burn coal from local mines in the ’60s. It’s the largest power plant in the UK, and for years it served as a visible reminder of how essential coal has been for the […]

The 12 cooling towers at the Drax Power Station have dominated the flat North Yorkshire countryside since the plant was built to burn coal from local mines in the ’60s. It’s the largest power plant in the UK, and for years it served as a visible reminder of how essential coal has been for the country. But five years ago, Drax started switching from burning coal to burning wood.

“We’ve converted three of our six generators to run on wood pellets,” says Andy Koss, Drax Power’s CEO, while standing in the shadow of four new cathedral-sized storage domes built to store those wood pellets on the sprawling Drax grounds. “This single site produces 15 percent of the UK’s renewable electricity,” Koss says.

Drax started transitioning its units off of coal and onto wood fuel because the UK government is putting tight restrictions on carbon emissions to help fight climate change. This year, the country announced its plan to cease burning coal for electricity entirely by 2025. And under EU law, biomass is classified as a source of carbon neutral energy.

The wood pellets, which are made from compressed sawdust and look like something you might feed a pony at a petting zoo, are burned, just like coal is. And just like coal, that emits carbon dioxide.

But Koss says there’s a key difference. Wood releases carbon when it’s burned, but trees also absorb carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. “So we have a carbon cycle which ends up as carbon neutral,” says Koss. This claim that burning biomass is carbon neutral is at the heart of an intense debate that’s pitting environmentalists and scientists against the biomass industry.

From Public Radio International: https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-20/uk-s-move-away-coal-means-they-re-burning-wood-us

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