About Drax

What is Drax?

Drax is a wood biomass power station located near Selby, in Yorkshire. It is a former coal-power station that converted to biomass, and now entirely burns wood biomass. Drax is the UKs single largest carbon emitter and world’s biggest tree burner. Their actions have been repeatedly linked to driving environmental racism and causing huge amounts of harm to communities, forests and biodiversity


Drax sources its wood pellets predominantly from North America (particularly Southeastern US and British Columbia), the Baltic States and Brazil. Drax owns their own pellet production sites in the US and Canada (including Pinnacle Pellets) and is also supplied by Enviva, the world’s biggest pellet producer.

Drax has been found to be sourcing their wood pellets from primary forests in British Columbia, from protected forests in Estonia, and biodiverse forests in the Southern US. They also source from monoculture pine plantations in the US, and from waste wood or residuals from the timber industry. Their stats suggest that at least half of their pellets come from whole trees. Last year (2022) Drax burned 8.2 million tonnes of wood pellets – about 16 million tonnes of trees.


Climate impact

Alongside being the cause of huge amounts of clear felling, Drax emits huge amounts of carbon. Per unit of energy generated, wood biomass emits more carbon than coal. The carbon payback period (regrowth and reabsorption of carbon by trees) is estimated to be between 44-104 years. Wood biomass is counted as carbon neutral under international carbon accounting rules, thereby allowing Drax and other tree burners to count this energy as carbon neutral. 


Due to the classification of wood biomass as carbon neutral and a renewable form of fuel, this allows biomass power stations to receive huge amounts of renewable energy subsidies. Drax receives two types of subsidies – Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) and Contracts for Difference (CfDs). Last year, whilst making record profits, Drax received £617m in subsidies – £1.7m per day. This came on the back of Drax making record profits (£731m – up from £398m in 2021). In 2021 Drax received £893m in subsidies – the reason for the decrease in 2022 is the sharp rise in energy prices.

Environmental justice and green colonialism 

The wood biomass industry has been repeatedly linked to driving environmental racism in the Southeastern US; Drax and their subsidiaries are logging on unceded indigenous land in Canada home to over 600 indigenous communities. 

Wood pellet production emits huge amounts of VOCs and hazardous air pollutants (the worst quantified level in the US); including PM10 and PM2.5. These are all linked to respiratory and pulmonary issues, and many of them are carcinogenic. Wood pellet production sites are twice as likely to be located in environmental justice communities (using the definition of at least 25% POC and an above average level of poverty). The dust emitted from this production leaves many people in these communities unable to go outside or engage in outdoor activities. Many members of these communities cannot breathe, or are relying on medication and machinery to survive. The loss of forests has also causes an increase in flooding, and in turn mould issues, causing further harm to these communities

Drax has been fined multiple times for violating air pollution regulation – receiving the biggest known fines for air pollution from biomass plants. Drax fines: 

  • Mississippi – one fine of $2.5m
  • Louisiana – two settlements of $1.6m each

Drax has also been fined for not monitoring air pollution in Canada. 

These wood pellet mills only exist due to demand in the UK for wood biomass. The UK is actively exporting emissions and harm to these countries and communities.


Drax’s current subsidies are due to run out in 2027 and the government has previously stated they will not subsidise unabated wood biomass burning after 2027.

Drax are now lobbying for subsidies, and have put in a planning application for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). Due to the way wood biomass emissions are counted, Drax (and the Government) believe this will be able to deliver ‘negative emissions’ allowing them to offset other areas (fossil fuels, hard to decarbonise sectors etc). BECCS features very heavily in UK and international climate pathways as a key mode of balancing out emissions.

BECCS for wood biomass does not exist anywhere in the world, the few trials that have been done have been extremely small and there is no evidence that BECCS can work at scale. 

The Government is currently deciding on funding mechanisms for BECCS, with the proposed one being dual CfDs – giving one subsidy for energy production and one for capturing carbon. This creates the very real possibility that Drax (and Lynemouth) could receive subsidies for business as usual without needing to capture any carbon. We expect a final decision on BECCS subsidies to be in 2027. Currently Drax is in discussions with the Government about bridging subsidies to tide them over until the BECCS subsidies are agreed – there could be a decision on this in the very near future but it’s currently unclear. 

Drax’s planning application for two BECCS units has gone through the planning inspectorate and there will be a decision on it by the Secretary of State by 17/01/24. Drax also put in an application for an up to seven year delay in beginning construction (having previously stated one unit would be up and running by 2027 and one by 2029 with promises to be ‘carbon negative’ by 2030). Whether BECCS works or not it will do nothing to alleviate the severe harm being done to communities and forests by the biomass industry.