While currently limited, the bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) industry has great potential and could play a key role in significant emissions reductions across the economy, according to a new report from the Energy Futures Initiative.
The report, Surveying the BECCS Landscape, analyzes the scientific and research literature on BECCS and its potential to remove greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the atmosphere.
BECCS projects can run the gamut from a biomass-fueled power plant to a project that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) and injects it into wells for enhanced oil recovery. The authors of the report, however, say BECCS systems share common features such as a biomass feedstock, biomass-to-energy conversion, carbon capture, and carbon storage or utilization. They noted, however, there is little consensus on precisely which biomass feedstocks, conversion techniques, and carbon capture approaches should be labeled as BECCS and whether a project must be carbon-neutral or carbon-negative to qualify as BECCS.
Definitions aside, the report argues that BECCS has the potential to help with emissions reductions in numerous sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, forestry, electricity, waste, and industry and particularly sectors that are hard to decarbonize, such as heavy industry, aviation, and agriculture.
Nonetheless, there are only a handful of BECCS projects deployed globally, and they are mostly pilot- or demonstration-scale projects that capture less than 400 kilotons (kt) of CO2 a year for enhanced oil recovery or other uses, the report noted.
Without BECCS it will be difficult or even impossible to reach net negative GHG emissions, the report says, noting that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes BECCS in its GHG reduction scenarios.
Among the report’s key findings, the authors noted that modeling studies project the need for massive global BECCS deployment, up to 8 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2050. That potential could be hard to achieve, however, because of limited feedstock availability, access to CO2 infrastructure and disposition options, and socioeconomic or environmental limitations, they said.
And while the BECCS industry is currently limited in the United States to only five operating projects, the country has “several characteristics that make it suitable for BECCS deployment including well-established relevant industries (e.g., biofuels, biopower, forestry, agriculture, wood pellet production, and pulp and paper), significant natural resources (e.g., biomass and geologic storage), and growing policy support (e.g., the newly extended 45Q tax credit and the Energy Act of 2020),” the report said.
To reach that potential, expanded biomass supply chains and CO2 infrastructure are needed to support a national BECCS industry, the report said.
And while BECCS pathways face opposition because of environmental justice concerns or because the technologies are often seen as “false solutions” to addressing climate change, the report noted that BECCS pathways can present rural economic development opportunities.
BECCS is beginning to appear more often in legislation, public policies, and federal programs, the report said, but “these efforts are not commensurate with a scale-up to a gigaton-scale industry.”
“Growing the BECCS industry enough to have a meaningful impact on U.S. emissions will require support and expertise from multiple agencies, making federal interagency collaboration paramount,” the report’s authors said.