Drax, the UK’s largest power station is situated in North Yorkshire, dwarfing the neighbouring village it is named after. It is situated on the River Ouse between Selby and Goole and has a generating capacity of 3,960 megawatts (MW). Drax was the third power station in the area to be commissioned by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) following the discovery of the Selby Coalfield, the first being an expansion of Ferrybridge (2,000MW Ferrybridge ‘C’) and the second was a new 2,000MW station at Eggborough. The power station was built in two phases – the first phase comprised three units and began operation in 1973. The second phase of construction was completed in 1986, making Drax the last major coal-fired power station to be built in the UK.
Drax was initially conceived as the largest power station in the UK, at 3,000MW. The capacity was expanded further when the CEGB saw this as a good opportunity to install their first 660MW turbogenerator sets and the plans were revised to almost 4 gigawatts.
The turbine hall is around a quarter of a mile long (400m) and the chimney is the tallest industrial chimney in the UK at 259 metres high. The twelve natural draught cooling towers are 114 metres high and arranged in two groups of six to the north and south of the station.
Buildings and Plant Detail
Drax has 6 x 660MW turbines manufactured by Parsons
Drax has 6 boilers, four of which have been converted to fire biomass
Drax has an expansive fuel handling network spanning half way around the world
Decarbonisation – Conversion to Biomass
Drax began testing the firing of biomass in 2004, when it converted one boiler to co-fire biomass along with coal. In 2012 Drax announced plans to convert three of its six units to full-firing with biomass. Following this conversion the first unit came online in June 2013, the second in 2014 and the third unit in 2016. One further unit was converted to fire biomass in 2018. Drax now supplies up to 12 percent of the UK’s renewable energy through its four biomass-only boilers.
Construction and Infrastructure
A conversion to biomass on such a large scale is a huge undertaking, and is in fact the largest decarbonisation project in Europe. One of the biggest challenges is the logistics behind sourcing the fuel. The biomass is acquired from sustainable forests in North America, where waste products are collected up and processed to create pellets suitable for feeding into the power station. The pellets are then transported by road and rail to Louisiana where they are transferred to 50,000 tonne barges to be brought to the UK. The final leg of the journey takes place by rail after which the wood pellets arrive at Drax and are housed in huge biomass storage domes. Unlike coal, which can be stored outside and open to the elements, biomass needs to be kept dry. The four purpose built domes can each hold 75,000 tonnes of biomass in a controlled atmosphere.
The overall aim of converting to full-firing of biomass is to reduce the carbon emissions. Drax is the UK’s sole largest emitter of carbon, and although carbon is still released from burning wood chips, it is carbon that has recently been absorbed while the wood was growing in the forest. As the forest is replanted, further carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere to, in theory, create a carbon-neutral process. However, the sustainability of this process has been questioned. The biggest issue, opponents claim, is that the carbon released into the atmosphere will not be fully reabsorbed by new-growth trees. Transportation of the biomass across the Atlantic only further adds to the carbon emissions, along with the deforestation caused by many biomass projects. Drax claim their carbon emissions have been cut by 80%, but independent estimates indicate those emissions may have even increased as a result of the biomass conversion.
The move away from coal isn’t stopping at the conversion of four units to biomass. Drax aims to become free of coal by 2025 and has laid out plans to convert its remaining two coal-fired units to run on gas. The project will see the construction of two combined cycle gas turbine generators, the waste heat from which will be used to generate steam for two of the existing steam turbines. The gas turbines and two converted steam turbines will generate more electricity than the current total station output, while also lowering emissions.
Drax Image Gallery
Visit the plant detail pages above to view more images from each area of the power plant
7 thoughts on “Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire”
Hi the Drax energy complex family!
I am impressed when I read news that you are aiming to produce energy without emitting CO2 or carbon oxides to atmosphere. That was also interest to produce energy from biomass by controlling emission. I understood that COx can be minimized by 95-99% from escaping gases. so I can share my tittle understanding of this minimization method for you, if you are interested.
Thanks for the comment, however this website is an independently run resource, and we are not actually associated with Drax Power. You will be bale to contact Drax Power directly through their own website here: http://www.drax.com/contact-us/
Nice to see the Gas Turbones listed, but they were only for black start capability. I was always told when I worked there that Drax was the only station that could bring the grid back from a country wide black out due to the GT’s. Not sure how true that was, but I know the GT’s gave the station the ability to back feed all its boards, thus allowing the staion to come back on line should it be required.
Several stations had black start capabilities using their own local Gas Turbines.
Normally, a single Gas Turbine could generate 17MW-35MW , which was enough to get a single Coal unit backup and running.
The most common engines used were Rolls-Royce Avon jet engines.
I’m interested in the steam turbines because I’m trying to persuade the science museum in Exhibition Rd, London to display
a full size steam turbine to make it clear that the UK was the first to light a town ie Elswick Port fully a decade before Tesla/Westinghouse lit up Buffalo, USA. I’d appreciate your support.
I have just found your site, so have read only a little (very interesting) so far. I am the project engineer who was responsible for the manufacture of Drax 2 fans, at Davidson & Co. Ltd. (Sirocco Works) Belfast. As it happens, a history of Davidson & Col is being written (by another) at this moment.
The fact is that the new generation of kids today will never know the true meaning of what a coal fired power station will ever look like, as people assume that the steam coming from the cooling towers is smokes, as that gave the true experience of different patterns of steam cloud from the power station as far as the eye can see. Still think that coal can be made cleaner as too many want things to be easy with less work. As can see more black outs in time when this so called clean energy starts to have it’s downside, but a power station of the 70s 80s 90s, was great to look at. What do you see now, nothing worth looking at of what life was like.