ECR Winter School 2016 Day 3: Visit to Drax Power Station

Written by Mohammed Dahiru Aminu (Cranfield University) and Matthias Schnellmann (University of Cambridge) who attended the ECR Winter School 2016 in Sheffield, 15-18 February 2016 with funding from the UKCCSRC ECR Meeting Fund

The UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre (UKCCSRC) 2016 Winter School, which was co-organised with the ‘EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in CCS and Cleaner Fossil Energy’ was declared open at 12:00 pm on Monday 15 February 2016 at Halifax Hall, The University of Sheffield. The school lasted until Thursday18 February 2016, and in between these days various activities were carried out to help Early Career Researchers (ECRs) build on their knowledge and understanding of CCS, and to also demonstrate critical thinking and multi-disciplinary engagement aimed at finding novel solutions to real world problems in conventional power, fossil energy and carbon capture.

Rainy arrival at DraxOn the third day of the Winter School, that is, Wednesday 17 February, a field trip to Drax Power Station was undertaken by the ECRs under the guidance of Dr. Anup Patel of the University of Nottingham. We left for Drax at 1 pm by coach from Inox Dine, one of the venues where the Winter School was hosted. The trip would last for five hours.

In Drax Power Station, we were welcomed by cheerful staff who introduced us to the history of the power station, took us through the necessary health and safety measures and the overall process of electricity generation.

Drax Power Station is located in North Yorkshire, England. It was the last coal-fired power station to be built in the UK and is situated on the River Ouse, between Selby and Goole.  The station has a generating capacity of 3960 megawatts, which makes it the largest single supplier of electricity in the United Kingdom. It was commissioned in two stages; three units were completed in 1974 and 12 years later 3 further units were added. More recently Drax has converted 3 of its units to burn biomass instead of coal, much of which is imported from the USA. In addition new biomass receipt, storage and distribution systems have been completed.

Information display showing what goes on at Drax

Electricity is generated through a series of steps. Coal or biomass is first fed to one of 60 pulverisers, each of which is capable of crushing 36 tonnes of material every hour. The powdered fuel is then blasted into the boilers, burning completely in under two seconds. In each boiler, the heat from the combustion is used to convert highly purified water to high pressure steam. This is fed to a series of turbines, which causes a rotor in a generator to spin and produce electricity. Once the steam has been used, it is condensed back to water by passing it through heat exchangers which contain thousands of tubes full of cold water from the River Ouse. The condensed steam is then fed back to the boilers. The warm river water is sent to the cooling towers and is then returned back to the river.  It was also interesting to hear that many of the by-products, such as the ash, are sold on to other companies to make building materials or other products.

Model of Drax power station

Model of Drax's steam turbine

The Winter School came to a close at 12:15 pm on Thursday 18 February following a lunch at Halifax Hall. Overall, it was a valuable opportunity to learn more about the technical and social issues surrounding energy with a particular focus on combustion and CCS. The four days also provided plenty of time to meet and discuss with other ECRs in this area. We would like to thank the UKCCSRC for co-organising the Winter School and for their generous funding which allowed us both to attend.