Drax To Face Court Over Wood Dust Pollution



By Paul Homewood

h/t Ian Magness

A very interesting story in the Telegraph today:


Note that no action is being taken against the coal power units, and I suspect it is an awful long time since one was, if ever. This may suggest that Drax have been negligent when they converted the bio units, or maybe wood dust cannot be contained as easily as coal dust.

Either way, I have long argued that burning biomass is intrinsically more polluting than coal, for the simple reason that you have to burn more of the stuff than coal to get the same amount of power.

It is of course deeply ironic that the green lobby has consistently attacked coal power because of pollution, and not just carbon dioxide emissions.

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Al Miller
September 4, 2021 10:06 am

As the saying goes…we’re all dumber for even hearing about how burning could be better for the environment.
But where would the green movement be without dreadful (unintended?) consequences.
Then there is the stunning hypocrisy and the monstrous lies.

Bill Powers
Reply to  Al Miller
September 4, 2021 10:29 am

Good observation Al. The guaranteed outcome of secular religious movements is sociopolitical double standards that create more harm than good while placing the very few in authoritarian control to gaslight the masses and silence dissent

B Clarke
September 4, 2021 10:06 am

Wood dust, is that from conversion or combustion?


Newspaper clip was not showing when I made a comment.

Last edited 9 months ago by B Clarke
Leo Smith
Reply to  B Clarke
September 4, 2021 10:28 am

Best way to burn wood – and coal – is to create a fine dust and blow it with air into a furnace.
Drax creates sawdust essentially – its a lot easier to control combustions and move it around

B Clarke
Reply to  Leo Smith
September 4, 2021 10:31 am

And long may they continue to do so.

Reply to  Leo Smith
September 4, 2021 10:53 am

Does anyone know the wood species being burned?

Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 4, 2021 11:37 am

They get it from southern US forests, probably assorted softwoods of different species.

Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 4, 2021 1:42 pm

Yellow pine, which is a common name applied to several Southern pine species is a somewhat harder pine often used for flooring.

longleaf southern yellow pine is 870, both shortleaf and loblolly southern yellow pine are 690, white pine is 420, and eastern white pine ranks in at 380 to give a few specific numbers.”

B Clarke
Reply to  ATheoK
September 4, 2021 2:14 pm

In the mill towns of the North of England, the Mills used imported yellow pine for roof trusses a frames ect,

This timber was massive at least 12×12″ 20,30 foot lengths,

Roll forward a hundred years , I had hundreds of these timbers dropped off at my wood yard, we tried to rip it into 1″ planks every other one would shatter in the blade. Yellow pine in my opinion is only good in massive section.

Reply to  B Clarke
September 6, 2021 2:59 am

You are correct, in part.
My understanding is that yellow pine is band sawn into usable lumber. I have two 2″ X 12″ yellow pine boards I bought to replace windowsills and other exterior boards.

The lumberyard I bought the yellow pine from, used an overhead rip saw to crosscut the boards into lengths that fit my truck.

Band saws are terrific for accurately cutting problem woods.

Circular saws cut along an arc, not a vertical line where the blade always cuts wood into a solid table surface. Yellow pine can be quartersawn by circular saws, but not easily sliced into smaller lumber before quartersawing. Kickback is a significant danger.

Even then, one rarely sees yellow pine with finished surface. I believe it is because yellow pine exudes resin during warm to hot weather. A continuous process that tends to destroy nice finishes.

12″ X 12″ yellow pine tends to be around the harvest size of Virginia pine trees. At that size it can be made into a number of products starting with utility poles and chip board.

Which brings up yellow pine is a tall thin tree. Yellow pines, (Virginia pine) in my woodlot are 14″ to 16″ maximum base size but are as tall as oak trees with over 24″ (diameter) bases.

Meaning that unless harvested from inside a stand, the yellow pine trees have a lot of compression/stressed wood on various sides.
Shatter? Yes, I believe shattered.
Some of the pine trees that have fallen in my woodlot, shattered where they broke. One of the pines struck by lightning was a mass of standing splinters.

Nor have I cut any of them into anything but firestarter wood. Too resinous as woodstove fuel, but great at starting the fire.

September 4, 2021 12:04 pm

Do you pine to know?

Reply to  Scissor
September 4, 2021 2:37 pm

Do you desire to be poplar?

B Clarke
Reply to  MarkW
September 4, 2021 3:01 pm

He’s just branching out

Reply to  MarkW
September 4, 2021 3:02 pm

Oaky Dokey

John in Oz
Reply to  Scissor
September 4, 2021 5:09 pm

Yew should all leaf off rooting around for treemendous jokes

B Clarke
Reply to  John in Oz
September 4, 2021 5:15 pm

I think you twigged it.

September 5, 2021 12:28 am

The original idea was that it would be wood waste from logging and furniture manufacture, turned into pellets.
However when subsidies crept in, it became economic to cut down forests of trees that were of no commercial use and use them to the detriment of the environment.
SE USA mainly.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Leo Smith
September 4, 2021 2:26 pm

Drax creates sawdust essentially – its a lot easier to control combustions and move it around

If I recall correctly, sawdust is almost as dangerous an explosive as wheat dust. It can ignite with the smallest of sparks when in the right density and granularity.

Richard Page
Reply to  B Clarke
September 4, 2021 1:39 pm

The HSE are taking them to court in Leeds after they discovered that employees health may be at risk in the power plant – so handling the wood just prior to burning, I would guess. They are also facing charges of not submitting adequate risk assessments for the process in a seperate case.

Last edited 9 months ago by Richard Page
B Clarke
Reply to  Richard Page
September 4, 2021 1:59 pm

Thanks Richard, with dealings with HSE they don’t just take action in a case like this,

The company Drax would be given the opportunity to correct any failings HSE flagged

The article is light on detail.

As for not submitting adequate risk assessments for the process ( in another case) thats something that could easily be remedied without going to court ,so we are left guessing 1 are drax being deliberately obtuse ,which i doubt or are the HSE going in for the kill,which would not be normal unless all other avenues are exhausted,

As I say the article is light on detail ,

The implications if a court found drax guilty would effect all wood processing plants.

Richard Page
Reply to  B Clarke
September 4, 2021 2:26 pm

Or 3 – there’s something that isn’t covered by HSE directives but is in a previous court ruling that could get Drax off the hook (I’m guessing here). Wait and see time I think.

Reply to  B Clarke
September 5, 2021 7:18 am

Regarding the missing news clip: It took me three refreshes before it showed up.

B Clarke
Reply to  Rod
September 5, 2021 7:51 am

I’ve seen it once ,its not reappeared for me.

September 4, 2021 10:55 am

Ah, so it’s the Health and Safety Executive. Oh dear.

This could be rather expensive.

Bruce Cobb
September 4, 2021 11:13 am

As I understand, what they use are wood pellets so, unless dust gets shipped along with the pellets, I don’t get where the dust comes from.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
September 4, 2021 12:19 pm

I think they are talking about ash, but in any case, pellets are comprised of compressed sawdust, which has a size distribution. A couple of relevant links are below.

A bag house is used somewhere in big systems to catch fugitive sawdust fines and they are designed to handle conflagrations. Spontaneous combustion is also a hazard.

In either case, both ash and raw sawdust are irritating. Fine sawdust can be sensitizing so that exposure causes greater irritation over time.



Reply to  Scissor
September 4, 2021 2:05 pm

Another possibility is pine resin.
Yellow pines are well known for resinous sap and the woods are prone to resin exudation during periods of hot weather or storage in hot containers.

Sticky when hot, the resins become hard when cooled.

Powdered resin, or rosin if you prefer, can be dangerously irritating to some folks when aerosolized.

As a side note, split pieces of resin saturated yellow pine are often marketed under the term “fatwood” for starting fires.

Reply to  ATheoK
September 4, 2021 5:04 pm

Many years ago when my grandfather took me hunting in the mountains (I was probably about age 10 or 11) he would pick up the first pine knot or two and carry them in his pocket to start a fire should we get stranded. We grand kids nicknamed him ‘lighter knot’. lol But he could start a fire in the rain with a single match!

Patrick healy
Reply to  eyesonu
September 6, 2021 12:09 am

Well rosin my bow!

Reply to  eyesonu
September 6, 2021 3:26 am

Yellow pines are great at keeping parts of their branches. Finding an old enough broken/fallen yellow pine tree, one can usually wiggle the branch until the knot comes away with the branch. An original long burning torch (for a wood torch that is).

I also keep knots for starting fires. A pen knife is sufficient to whittle enough shavings or expose enough fresh resinous wood to start a fire anywhere. I have a bucket exposed to sunlight but kept dry where I keep knots and resinous sticks.
Your Grandfather was a smart experienced woodsman.

Reputedly fatwood originally came from the stumps of harvested yellow pines. After the tree is cut down, the stump continues to exude resin and often the entire exposed cut surface is covered. Cutting the stump down further and splitting the wood block results in resin laden sticks.

A single match easily ignites the resin. And 2-3 pieces burn long enough to start a pile of split seasoned oak burning.

The resinous heart, roots and knots of yellow pine are slow to rot and remain where pines fell for years. Kicking at the rotted piles of pine wood often frees up several knots.

Back when I was a Boy Scout, we camped in places during rain/snow storms that challenged anyone starting a fire. Where available I prefer dead rhododendron branches, but happily use old pine knots, split pine branches or cedar bark shavings to start fires.

Good memories.

Dr. Bob
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
September 4, 2021 12:28 pm

look at the Phyllis2 database for composition of many biomass feedstocks.
Phyllis2 – ECN Phyllis classification
Thre is ash, sulfur, chloride and many other trace components in wood. Not a lot, but they are there and need to be scrubbed from flue gases.

Richard Page
Reply to  Dr. Bob
September 4, 2021 1:48 pm

The case isn’t about the emissions from the burning, but rather the risk to Drax employees handling the wood before burning – the fine wood dust in the fuel. Breathing in fine wood dust can be very hazardous and result in severe long term health issues.

Mike Lowe
Reply to  Richard Page
September 4, 2021 1:56 pm

There will inevitably be some breakdown of pellets into dust at every stage of handling. With so many such steps, it is not surprising that there will be large volumes of dust present during handling within the Drax plant. The, the plant is designed to handle pellets, so that the advantages of firing finely-atomised wood as dust are not available.

Reply to  Richard Page
September 4, 2021 4:10 pm

I guess they will just have to wait until someone invents some kind of a mask? sarc

September 4, 2021 11:18 am

Unintended consequences strike the Green movement again …. and again … and again. Just about everything they do ends up that way. If their way were better we’d already be doing it.

Laws of Nature
Reply to  markl
September 4, 2021 11:57 am

Actually, Moore´s movie “planet of humans” 2nd half is about that.. free on youtube, this is really scary stuff! The amount of nature they are destroying for money is mindblowing! (there is abig difference between burning green wood and coal.. one is part of our ecosystem!

Reply to  markl
September 5, 2021 2:33 am

Riiight… because that never happens with fossil fuel (leaded petrol?)

Jeff L
September 4, 2021 12:00 pm

“Burning the pellets does produce carbon emissions at the smoke stack, but these are counted as carbon neutral in the UK under international carbon accounting rules”

Perhaps the dumbest thing quote from the Telegraph story. As is if sequestration in a tree (not burning it) is somehow different than sequestration by not burning coal. Somehow the “accounting rules” are supposed to now supersede the rules of nature? I do wonder if this accounting considers the energy density of fuel sources and full cycle emissions (ie importing trees from the US)

Dr. Bob
Reply to  Jeff L
September 4, 2021 12:33 pm

Wholesale harvesting of trees for wood pellets is allowed for energy crops including Southern Yellow Pine and other trees. But for renewable fuels under the EISA 2007, only forest residues and wastes can be used for fuel production. This waste would otherwise rot or become fuel for a fire if not used. It is because environmentalists blocked harvesting of forests in the West that they now have serious accumulation of underbrush and debris that contributes to their current fire situation. Sustainable Forest Management is just that. Managing the forests to improve health for all species that inhabit the forest lands, not just the trees or the tree huggers.

Richard Page
Reply to  Jeff L
September 4, 2021 1:50 pm

The case isn’t about the burning of the fuel, it’s about handling the fuel before the burning stage.

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
September 4, 2021 12:28 pm

In the coming Green Reich the courts in the U.K. will have to be reformed so that only members of the new order who are loyal to the Head Gardener can be judges and thus ensure the correct judgements are made.
Orwell and Junger would recognise the way things are going straight away.

M Courtney
September 4, 2021 12:31 pm

I’m all for regulation and putting health head of profit.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the shareholders.

But can we please prove actual harm and not just theoretical harm before taking action?

The last thing we need is a model that assumes harm continues all the way down to homeopathic levels.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  M Courtney
September 4, 2021 1:13 pm

It didn’t stop the US EPA, why should it stop your lot?

Reply to  M Courtney
September 4, 2021 1:32 pm

homeopathic levels”

Step forward Charles ‘the Halfwit’ Windsor.

Reply to  fretslider
September 4, 2021 1:47 pm

1/2 wit is generous. 1/4 wit IMHO.

Mike Lowe
Reply to  fretslider
September 4, 2021 1:59 pm

He still talks to his trees. I wonder how things will go when he inherits the top spot?

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Mike Lowe
September 4, 2021 2:31 pm

I wonder how things will go when he inherits the top spot?

He’ll shut up. That’s the job of the monarch. What people often don’t understand, is that his current position does not require him to shut up, and in fact it requires him to be actively annoying.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
September 4, 2021 5:05 pm

requires him to be actively annoying.

Fortuitously the one skill he possesses.

Chris Wright
Reply to  Mike Lowe
September 5, 2021 5:41 am

Maybe he should listen to his trees for a change. If the trees could talk they would say they want more CO2, not less.

September 4, 2021 1:29 pm

“Drax has received many hundreds of millions of pounds in direct government subsidies for generating renewable electricity, totalling £790m in 2019 and £832m in 2020, according to analysis by clean energy think tank Ember.”


That seems a lot of money for one single power plant. Annually.

Back in the heady days of the 1980s 
“Labelled as the largest, cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power station in the UK, the 4,000MW Drax plant supplies 7% of the country’s electricity needs.”


And now
“Over the last decade Drax has converted four of the power station’s six generating units to use sustainable biomass instead of coal. This has transformed Drax, which supplies 5% of the country’s electricity, into the country’s largest renewable power generator and the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe.”


From 7% to 5% plus a whole load of transatlantic logistics (and, er, emissions).

And this really is the best they could come up with.

September 4, 2021 1:35 pm

I think cutting down trees, burning them to generate electricity, is as stupid as growing corn to make ethanol.

Reply to  Joe
September 5, 2021 7:51 am

Absolutely agree.

Corn to methanol though is American pork barrel politics

Robert of Texas
September 4, 2021 1:54 pm

I come up with about 880 square miles of trees at 40 tons per acre to run Drax for one year. If you assume 50 years to fully grow a tree, that comes to about 44,000 square miles of clear cutting trees to operate Drax with a “neutral” carbon foot print – minus any CO2 used in cutting trees, transport, making sawdust and then pellets – so roughly 210 miles by 210 miles of forest to fuel one power plant. If more trees are grown then 40 tons per acre, the figures come down. I assumed 3 tons of raw material to make 1 ton of pellets.

This provides 6% of UK’s power, so providing 100% of UK’s power would require (44,000 sq miles / 6 * 100 = ) 733,000 square miles or a 850 miles x 850 miles of forest. The U.S. has about 17,000,000 square miles of forest total. We have just provided power to less than 1% of the world’s population.

This is called sustainable?

Last edited 9 months ago by Robert of Texas
Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Robert of Texas
September 4, 2021 2:34 pm

Drax only uses waste wood, ie wood that would otherwise not be usable, at least in theory.

Imo, wood chips used to cover your flowerbeds are the best form of carbon sequestration for wood. It really annoys greenies to point that out.

Gerald Machnee
September 4, 2021 2:04 pm

Have we heard from the two experts yet?

Richard Page
Reply to  Gerald Machnee
September 4, 2021 2:29 pm

Shh. If you build it up, they will come.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Gerald Machnee
September 4, 2021 2:35 pm

There’s more than two. Simon, griff and loydo at the very least. Others are on casual shifts right now.

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
September 5, 2021 7:51 am

Yeah, its murder getting the comintern to pay up for weekend shifts…

Bill Powers
Reply to  griff
September 7, 2021 10:26 am

God made an idiot for practice and then he created the committee organized by the comintern.

Peta of Newark
September 4, 2021 2:53 pm

Wood dust is hideous stuff on so many counts.
The now disappeared renewable energy forum I followed described it as ‘gnarly’

  • It is ‘living’ stuff – it has DNA in it and will trigger our immune system and irritate existing skin conditions
  • It is fibrous – here’s yet another ‘asbestos’ on top of all that insulation fluff being foisted into draught-proofed houses
  • Those fibres are easily broken and being lightweight (wood) are picked up, float in and remain in the air for ages once airborne
  • Breathe those fibres and you’ve PM something or the others going really deep into your lungs
  • It the stuff is really dry, that makes it so much worse
  • You can keep the dust down by using damp (ish) wood (pellets) but then they go mouldy and fill the places with even more biologically active shyte. = The exact sort of stuff that comes out of old & mouldy hay and triggers ‘Farmers Lung’ = Cancer basically
  • OK, coal dust is horrible but it settles out of the air fairly quickly and is, by comparison, is biologically inert in itself and, doesn’t double its whammy by going mouldy

If they can ‘handle’ the stuff in a ‘sealed’ or negative pressure indoors environment maybe not so bad (is this what the fail is here ##) but if Drax is creating wood-dust out-of-doors, that stuff will blow for miles & miles & miles, get into innocent people, and Drax will find themselves in A Lot Of Trouble a few years hence.
Again, think ‘asbestos’ and what a ‘wonder’ it was initially. Also diesel

## Drax have probably not supplied enough/sufficient/quality PPE for the workers

edit to add:
The word ‘pollution‘ in the headline suggests that this stuff is escaping the site/premises.
Can’t think what the word is for ‘poor working conditions’

Again again if the HSE are only involved, then it is an internal thing,
If it was ‘escaping pollution’, myriad other agencies would be after them as well

Last edited 9 months ago by Peta of Newark
September 4, 2021 3:37 pm

This even while British farmers are subsidized to grow invasive grasses to fuel as-yet unbuilt biomass generators, and ancient regulations require Welsh forestry industries burn their waste to charcoal to remain in the forests, and unrecycled British paper and wood construction waste overflows landfills. What would a British version of the Gilets Jaunes look like?

Reply to  dk_
September 5, 2021 7:50 am

The biomass generators exist in the UK – though most are fuelled from food processing waste, brewery waste or distillery waste and they don’t grow maize with no purpose..

We should be using waste wood and we do recycle paper… and we can certainly expand that.

I don’t see what your point is?

Reply to  griff
September 6, 2021 1:37 am

This would be Griff’s example of the clever and advanced UK economy. Clearly they need to add a few more 1950’s HVDC power lines to make it really advanced.

September 4, 2021 4:51 pm

No one could be sorry to see this long-overdue action starting. How can burning wood transported from America be good for the environment? Is the Name Drax derived from Dracula?

Paul Johnson
September 4, 2021 6:38 pm

Health problems from fine dusts are well-known, like Black Lung (coal), Brown Lung (cotton) and Grain Fever. Handling of wood pellets seems to generate similar issues.

September 5, 2021 1:18 am

Don’t know how the green idiots could possibly think that wood pellets shipped in from across the Atlantic in diesel powered ships could ever be more environmentally friendly than using the coal that’s practically below the power plant itself boggles the mind! The fact that miners and voters didn’t revolt against this huge waste of money also leaves me shaking my head.

September 5, 2021 2:32 am

and about time too…

This is neither green nor renewable – as every green organisation in the UK has been saying and actively campaigning about for years.

September 5, 2021 5:01 am

now thats FUNNY

September 5, 2021 7:25 am

So burning wood pellets does produce CO2 at the smokestack, but it’s counted as carbon neutral by authorities.

Presumably this is because the trees when grown, absorbed an equal or greater amount of CO2 over their lifetimes. However, if they’re harvested early because of the fuel demand, shouldn’t that be a factor also?

And, regarding coal, did not the creation of coal also absorb a great deal of CO2 in its making? So why isn’t coal carbon neutral also? And oil, etc. It all came from organic sources that absorbed CO2 initially. We’re just taking too short a view with these subsidies. Spend the same amount subsidizing coal and oil burners and let’s see who’s left standing.

My guess it won’t be the wood burners.

Reply to  Rod
September 5, 2021 7:48 am

Because the coal won’t rapidly regrow.

Burning wood could be CO2 neutral if fuelled from wood waste, or rapid growth like willow, from local coppice…

but not when wood chip is the only use for trees logged in major forests and it is shipped across the Atlantic

Reply to  griff
September 6, 2021 1:39 am

Come on when they cut down the Amazon rain forest and sold it on the black market to ship to the UK, then you can be really happy with the green status of the UK.

September 5, 2021 7:48 am

Typical green idiocy.
They would rather cut down and burn living trees than burn trees which died 200 million years ago!
When I was young it was all about “save the trees”, now it’s “burn the trees”. The left has been flipped on its back but hasn’t quite noticed yet.

Last edited 9 months ago by Greg
September 5, 2021 7:10 pm

But we’ve got to burn the forests to save the environment.

Reply to  RoHa
September 6, 2021 3:05 am

Timber is renewable energy.

The Greens.

In Australia AKA Watermelons – green outside, red inside.

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