In its first year of operation, a new $15 million rail link has increased the flow of sustainable biomass from one of Drax Group’s US pellet plants to its UK power station, reducing emissions and costs while increasing the resilience of the energy company’s supply chain.
The first train arrives at at the LaSalle plant in May 2019. By Rafael Moreno
“The new rail spur has been a great success. Since it was commissioned last May it has significantly increased the amount of sustainable biomass we can deliver. It’s also taken thousands of trucks off local roads, unlocking carbon savings and costs in our supply chain as we build a long-term future for the sustainable biomass that provides millions of UK homes and businesses with renewable power,” said Drax Biomass Senior Vice President, Matt White.
The five miles of rail track connect Drax’s LaSalle pellet plant in northern Louisiana to the regional rail network, enabling freight trains to deliver the pellets to the company’s dedicated export facility at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge.
From there, the pellets are shipped to Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, which supplies around 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity.
The new rail link allows Drax to deliver around 7,000 tons of sustainable biomass to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge in each train, compared to just 27 tons that could be transported by each truck previously.
A team of up to 40 contractors worked through two of the wettest Louisiana winters in decades to clear the site, excavating around 180,000 cubic yards of dirt to level off the ground and stabilize it before three sets of rail tracks could be laid. The work also included installing conveyors to get the pellets to the new rail loading point.
Rafael Moreno, Drax Biomass associate director of engineering, said, “It was a huge amount of work and the wet winters certainly created some challenges. It’s hard to excavate when everything turns into mud. But the team pulled together and worked through the night to get the track laid and completed so the spur could be commissioned in May last year.”
The rail spur at LaSalle is part of Drax’s wider efforts to cut the costs of its biomass by around a third by 2027. The rail link and other initiatives, including the co-location of a sawmill at the LaSalle site last year, has already contributed to a 3% reduction in biomass production costs to $161/ton in 2019 compared with $166/ton in 2018.
Drax acquired the LaSalle BioEnergy plant in Urania in northern Louisiana in 2017. LaSalle BioEnergy is one of three US pellet plants owned by Drax. The three plants produce a total of 1.5 million tons of sustainable biomass pellets a year.