UK Launches Carbon Capture Project
The UK launched a carbon capture project last week, the first project of its kind in Europe. Drax, a British energy company, started capturing and storing carbon in its wood burning plant in North Yorkshire, to curb global emissions and mitigate the progress of climate change.
Drax’s plan to capture carbon from power production is being piloted at its North Yorkshire Powerplant, which burns seven million tons of wood chips per year to generate 6% of Britain’s electricity. Wood burning is said to be carbon neutral, since the carbon produced is equal to the amount of carbon the tree has absorbed over its lifetime. With this project, Drax is going one step further in capturing carbon from the wood burning process, so it isn’t re-released into the atmosphere.
Drax says that it expects to capture one ton of CO2 per day. In comparison, the UK produced 381 million tons of CO2 in 2016. Although the carbon capture project doesn’t make a huge impact on current carbon production in the UK, it serves as a symbolic supplement to the UK’s efforts to become carbon neutral. The UK has already seen dramatic decreases in carbon production, and the 2016 carbon emissions were lower than its carbon emissions in 1894.
In a press conference on February 7, Britain's energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry announced, "This innovative technology has the potential to make huge strides in our efforts to tackle climate change while kick-starting an entirely new cutting-edge industry in the UK."
Drax plans to scale this technology to make a significant impact on UK’s carbon emissions. The company says that if everything goes according to plan, the program can capture 50 million tons of CO2 per year by 2050, half of the nation’s target.
The carbon capture project has come under fire from critics however, which include environmental activists. A major drawback of the program is the amount of trees needed to capture a significant amount of carbon. Currently, the North Yorkshire plant burns more wood than is harvested throughout Britain -- most of the wood is imported from the US.
Critics say that expanding the program to burn more wood would endanger species and plants inhabiting the large swaths of land the trees are cut from. Estimates suggest that in order to capture enough CO2 for the world to become carbon neutral, three times the area of India would be needed to grow trees.
Harvard professor David Keith told BBC, “We must be cautious of technologies that aim to remediate the carbon problem while greatly expanding our impact on the land.” It seems like Drax’s carbon capture project is not ready for wide scale adoption any time soon.