Students attend pop-up Drax virtual tour

By Drax Group | June 15, 2017

Schoolchildren at a North Yorkshire primary school recently  experienced a unique new “pop up” planetarium developed by Drax to support STEM learning—science, technology, engineering and math—in the curriculum.

The mobile cinema is housed inside an inflatable replica of the giant biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station, near Selby. A state-of-the-art internal projection displays a specially-produced 360-degree film onto the dome walls and ceiling to give the audience a planetarium-style virtual tour of the entire site and its operations with an accompanying informative voice-over.

The video shows how Drax has upgraded half the power station to run on sustainable biomass in place of coal to become the U.K.’s biggest single site renewable energy generator. Drax now produces 16 percent of the U.K.’s renewable electricity—enough to power 4 million U.K. households.

Drax has a long tradition of supporting education and helping children in their science and engineering studies with many schools taking part in tours of the power station to help inspire the next generation of engineers. The company recently launched “Project Reinvent”—a secondary schools’ challenge using STEM learning to develop an idea to improve their local community.

Drax Power Chief Executive Andy Koss said, “At Drax, we are helping to find and inspire the engineers of the future by encouraging greater interest in STEM subjects. As well as inviting schools to the power station to show pupils how energy is generated here, we are now bringing the power station to schools. This new, innovative dome means we can reach and inspire more children, giving them a unique, interactive insight into how we generate renewable electricity.”

A team from the visitor center at Drax transported the dome to the primary school, where it was inflated and set up within the school grounds.

The idea for the project came from Drax visitor center manager Rachael Baldwin who wanted an innovative new way to take the Drax experience further afield and reach even more school children. She explained, “Drax welcomes thousands of pupils from across our region to discover the sights and sounds of the power station for themselves. We believe this latest innovation in our visitor experience will become an equally engaging and exciting way to share what we do with those schools unable to come to us.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to create real ‘wow factor’ for the children,” she added. “We hope to reach 25,000 school pupils with the dome this year.”

Carlton-in-Snaith Primary School headteacher Jon Watson said, “The children were really looking forward to the visit by Drax and are excited to be the first school pupils to try out the new dome cinema. Our year five and six pupils are currently learning about electricity generation and the environment and the experience was invaluable in terms of bringing the subject to life.”

The 15 foot high and 23 foot wide (4.5 meter x 7 meter) dome can accommodate around 30 pupils at a time.

The immersive 360-degree video experience was designed and created by PEEL Interactive, based in Skipton. It uses a combination of animation, highly detailed and interactive 3D models and dramatic aerial footage to show how electricity is made using sustainable, compressed wood pellets, which have now completely replaced coal in half of Drax’s generating units to achieve carbon savings of over 80 percent.

The film shows how the pellets are formed from low-value material including thinnings—small trees that have been removed from working forests to maximize the growth of the remaining trees—tree tops, sawmill residues and other leftovers from the commercial management of timber supplies produced for other industries.

The Drax guides who will present the video to the schools also use fun props to encourage discussion around sustainable energy generation and use.

The tour is free to all primary and secondary schools and content from the video can be adapted to fit the curriculum and assist teachers in delivering an engaging learning experience.

“We’re sure pupils will love the whole cinema experience of learning,” said Rachael Baldwin. “Our guides really bring to life what happens at Drax, and for the children it’s just as if they too were here at the power station. We are looking forward to taking our virtual tour to schools across the north and even further afield.”

Any schools interested in booking a dome visit should contact tours@drax.com.