Drax’s second unit to convert to biomass is now operational, but only on a co-firing basis with coal due to a shortage in the supply of wood pellets, the plant operator has confirmed.
Drax confirmed in an interim management statement on Friday that, as scheduled, the unit came online at the start of May, burning at least 85% biomass. It is now beginning a “phased commissioning process”, said the statement.
According to Drax production manager Peter Emery, the 645MW coal-fired unit was taken offline on March 22nd and scheduled to return to operation as a co-fired unit on May 1st. It is the second unit at Drax to convert to biomass, the first of which began operating in April last year solely on biomass, and is currently operating at a capacity of 630MW.
There is a shortage of fuel in the supply chain
Drax production manager Peter Emery
Emery, speaking exclusively to Process Engineering for an interview in the latest issue of the magazine, said the unit was co-firing rather than being a full biomass conversion due to limits on the level of feedstock available.
“One of the reasons (the second conversion) is not full biomass to start with is because there is a shortage of fuel in the supply chain,” he said.
“We won’t be able to fill it right to capacity, that’s why we’re leaving some coal in there, so that during the winter the unit can operate at full load.”
Drax’s biomass supplies are mainly made up from wood pellets from North America. The plant operator is in the process of trying to address the shortage of suitable fuel through a number of port facility and pellet plant construction contracts.
In Friday’s management statement Drax confirmed that its first pellet plant and port facility in the US remained on track to begin commercial operations in the first quarter of 2015, with commercial operations at a second pellet plant following on in the second quarter.
Drax is currently in legal dispute with the government over its decision to exclude the co-firing unit from its Contract for Difference (CfD) price support scheme.
Speaking to Process Engineering ahead of the government’s ruling, Emery described the long-term Investment Contracts handed out by the government under the CfD scheme as “critical” for the development of the biomass fuel supply chain.
Friday’s management statement echoed these sentiments.
“The Government’s decision has caused some uncertainty, which will lead to delay in biomass supply and logistics development,” said the Drax statement.
“We do, however, remain fully committed to our strategy of transforming Drax into a predominantly biomass-fuelled generator, initially through the conversion of three of our six generating units, with a fourth unit conversion under evaluation.”