The concept of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (Bio-CCS) has been put forward as a way of producing carbon negative power by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using biomass conversion technologies and underground storage. Biomass absorbs carbon from the atmosphere as it grows but when this biomass is converted into energy the carbon is released again as CO2. However, if this CO2 is captured and transported to a permanent underground storage site, this results in the net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.
The Fifth Assessment Report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change1 notes that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions, of which about 30% has been absorbed by the ocean, causing acidification. The report stresses that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and other changes in all components of the climate system. Bio-CCS has the capacity to contribute to the substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions required to mitigate these climatic impacts. The potential role CCS can play in tackling climate change has been recognized by the European Parliament, which passed a resolution earlier this year in support of CCS in Europe by a resounding 524 to 141 votes.2 .
According to the report ‘Biomass with CO2 Capture and Storage – The Way Forward for Europe,’ produced jointly by the European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBTP) and the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), Bio-CCS is the only large-scale technology capable of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Several technological pathways exist to convert biomass into final energy products or bio-chemicals in combination with CSS, and these can be divided into three groups: biochemical production of biofuels, thermo-chemical production of biofuels and biomass combustion for the production of heat and electricity. These technology routes differ in that a significant share of the carbon contained in the feedstock generally ends up in the biofuels or bio-chemicals produced, resulting in smaller CO2 streams compared to electricity generation.
A report from the International Energy Agency3 suggests that Bio-CCS could remove 10 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year by 2050 using available sustainable biomass. In most regions in the EU, this technical potential for Bio-CCS is mainly limited by the available supply of sustainable biomass, as there is likely to be sufficient CO2 storage capacity. In the biofuels routes, a relatively small fraction of the CO2 is captured, so a correspondingly small storage capacity is required. The EBTP-ZEP report notes that in the 100% biomass-fired routes for power generation, less storage capacity is required compared to co-firing routes in order to realize the full carbon-negative impact. In Europe alone, Bio-CCS could remove 800 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year by 2050 using available sustainable biomass – which is the equivalent of more than half of all current EU energy-related emissions. Bio-CCS technologies can also be deployed in energy-intensive industries or in industrial clusters where CCS infrastructure can be shared. This has the potential to deliver industrial sectors with overall emissions of below zero, which can then offset emissions from other sectors where reductions are more difficult to achieve.
Although there are no current fully-integrated, commercial-scale CCS power projects in operation, the technologies that underpin the process have been around for a long time: CO2 capture is already practiced on a small scale based on technology that has been used in the chemical and refining industries; transportation of CO2 is well understood and storage projects have been successfully operating for over a decade. While these individual components in the chain have already proven themselves, further R&D into next-generation technologies is required to enable widespread deployment.
The costs of large-scale deployment of Bio-CCS have not been comprehensively assessed; nevertheless, the EBTP-ZEP report makes a number of observations regarding the economics of the technology. Several biofuel production routes have an almost pure CO2 stream, allowing for CCS deployment options at a very low additional cost once units reach a certain scale. Studies into the costs of CO2 capture, transport and storage show that the current suite of technologies will be cost competitive. As regards the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), Bio-CCS is generally more expensive than fossil CCS due to the relatively higher cost of biomass. Given that the price of feedstock will only increase as demand grows, novel feedstock sources will have to be up-scaled to meet this demand and keep prices stable.
To ensure that this happens, the report stresses the need for urgent policy action at EU and Member State level to support CCS demonstration projects, as market forces alone will not be sufficient. These actions include establishing economic incentives to enable the large-scale deployment of Bio-CCS, specifically by rewarding negative emissions under the EU Emission Trading Scheme and establishing non-ETS measures to enable CCS demonstration projects to take final investment decisions (FID) and provide security for long-term investment. It will also be necessary to identify and incentivise the clustering of small-scale biogenic emission sources with other emission sources in order to achieve economies of scale for CO2 transport and storage, and to undertake R&D to determine the costs of various Bio-CCS routes. Furthermore, dedicated funding is required to finance research and development and to fund pilot projects, in order to further develop and prove advanced technologies.
The IEA sees CCS as having enormous deployment potential, spanning manufacturing, power generation and hydrocarbon extraction worldwide – creating the single biggest lever for reducing CO2 emissions and providing almost 20% of the global cuts required by 2050. This potential is recognised by the European Commission also. In its Energy Roadmap 20504, the Commission calls for CCS to be used in the decarbonisation of the power sector from 2030 onwards and recognises that, combined with biomass, CCS could deliver “carbon-negative values.” This recognition, coupled with the technology’s incontrovertible carbon mitigation credentials, will guarantee its role in post-2020 EU energy and climate action.
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