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Dr Alan Knight

Chief Sustainability Officer, Drax

To decarbonise and achieve net zero, we need to drive change — at speed and scale. We must support the fight against climate change while preserving nature and supporting local communities.

Dr Alan Knight, Chief Sustainability Officer at Drax, says the company is looking at how it uses sustainable biomass to provide energy security for the UK while also helping to tackle the climate crisis. “This can only be done if biomass is sourced from healthy, managed forests. The majority of the fibre we use to make our biomass pellets comes from well-regulated forests in the US and Canada, and these are used to generate a valuable resource — renewable power.”

Committed to sustainability and becoming carbon negative

Dr Knight reveals plans to become carbon negative by 2030 in addition to producing renewable power. “We’ll do this through our bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology, which has a unique ability to generate renewable power while permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

“Sustainability is at the heart of our business model. We’re building for a sustainable future in how we source our biomass, generate energy, remove CO2 and function as a business. To meet our ambitions of scaling up, we need to do it in a way that delivers positive outcomes for the climate, nature and people around us — and by putting sustainability at the forefront of what we do, we can build a positive future.”

Mitigating the climate crisis globally

“The need to decarbonise is real, and we believe BECCS can do exactly that,” says Dr Knight. “We want to be a leader in BECCS, not just in the UK but across the globe. Through this, we can lead the rest of the world in carbon removals.”

Dr Knight reveals the company has plans underway to expand its carbon removal projects to the US, aiming to store millions of tonnes of carbon permanently underground. “We’ll be creating jobs, helping promote healthy forests, powering homes and businesses, all supporting efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Scaling up your business shouldn’t come at a cost to the planet — we believe sustainability and growth can go hand in hand. That’s why every step we take is considered.”

We want to be a leader in BECCS, not just in the UK but across the globe.

BECCS as a solution to tackling the climate crisis

Using biomass without carbon capture technology is already very low-carbon and renewable. However, with BECCS, the carbon is captured and stored underground — permanently taking it out of the carbon cycle. 

“With this in mind, it’s clear that BECCS will have an important role to play in helping us meet net zero by 2050. We have trialled BECCS at Drax Power Station in Yorkshire, and we believe that this technology can drive change in tackling the climate crisis. BECCS isn’t just for the UK, it’s for the world,” explains Dr Knight.

How can BECCS be done well? 

Scientific institutions like the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UK’s independent advisory panel, the Climate Change Committee, have voiced support for BECCS as a tool that can help us meet climate targets — but only when done under strict sustainability conditions.

“When it comes to BECCS, we must prioritise quality over quantity and ensure we are using BECCS for the good of the planet. We take this seriously and that’s why, in 2022, we invited Jonathan Porritt and the ‘Forum for the Future’ to prepare an independent assessment on how BECCS can be done well at scale. Listening to our stakeholders is important to us, and we plan to implement the report’s findings into how we operate, and how we’ll scale up our BECCS projects. 

“We’re positive about the future and we have reflected the role sustainability has at Drax with our new internal governance structure … so we can make sure that, as our business grows, we maintain the high standards and strict governance that make us who we are as a business,” concludes Dr Knight.

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