Thu 12 Apr 2018
As GCSEs loom for Y11s, students from Airedale Academy visited Drax power station, the UK's largest coal-powered station, to see how electricity is generated using biomass and coal. After being given security clearance, we were met by the very knowledgeable Leigh, who started off the tour by showing us a miniature version of Drax and quizzed students on their knowledge of the workings of the power station.
After a safety briefing and being fitted with very snazzy personal protective equipment of a hard hat, high-vis jacket and safety glasses, the factory tour started. We were taken to the biomass domes, which are made of the same material used in bouncy castles. Leigh asked us to hit them to see how bouncy they were, however they were rock solid! The domes house the wood pellets used for biomass-firing. We were also taken the gypsum storage house, in which the by-products of firing coal were kept to be shipped out to make gypsum plaster board. We also stopped off at the cooling towers to find out how they operate.
The group then donned ear defenders and entered the power station itself. Leigh commentated using a microphone, taking us firstly to the grinding mills in which the wood pellets are ground up into a fine powder. The grinding mills have to be kept on their own dampened foundations to stop them shaking the building to bits! The ground up pellets are blown into the boiler using a huge fan that was difficult to see in its entirety. The boiler is enormous and more impressively, it is suspended from the ceiling. The high pressure super steam made in the boiler is fed into the turbine, which we saw in the turbine hall. This is directly linked to the generators. They are both precision pieces of engineering and the fan blades are so finely balanced that it is possible to spin the many tonnes of metal with just one hand - the movement of the fans, turning at 50 times a second, were almost imperceptible.
Finally, we stopped off at the control centre which was akin to mission control at NASA, with huge screens controlling all of the generators. Drax has six generators and each one is controlled by just one person, which is a huge level of responsibility. The control centre was eerily quiet in comparison to the rest of the power plant, although bells and alarms could be heard going off.
It was a fantastic, albeit wet, day. Leigh gave a lively and interactive tour and the students were excellent ambassadors for the academy.