UK Biomass Strategy: BECCS
The UK Government has published its Biomass Strategy, outlining their view on the role biomass will play in supporting the UK’s transition to net zero and how this will be achieved.
We worked closely with teams from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and other government departments to provide scientific evidence, context and insight to inform the strategy.
The information below provides context to the Biomass Strategy along with comment from lead academics in the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)
During growth, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When they are converted for energy, this carbon dioxide is set free again. Integrating carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies into that process prevents the carbon dioxide from re-entering the atmosphere. This process makes bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) a carbon dioxide removal technology that represents an opportunity for net-negative emissions. BECCS is an essential part of many of the modelled climate change scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5◦C. The UK’s Biomass Strategy emphasises that carbon dioxide removal technologies, such as BECCS, will be needed alongside significant emissions reductions across all areas of the economy and society if we are to meet our climate targets.
We welcome the commitment to BECCS in the UK and the strategy’s ambition to fully embrace its potential for electricity, heat, fuels and other applications. This demonstrates the UK’s willingness to lead on innovation in carbon dioxide removal technologies. Beyond the negative emissions potential of BECCS, it can also offer a path to reduce emissions of hard-to-decarbonise sectors, for example, through integration with production of hydrogen or biofuels for transport.
We welcome the principles laid out within the strategy indicating that government will only support BECCS systems where assessment of the lifecycle emissions shows it delivers negative emissions. To validate the negative emissions potential of BECCS systems, all lifecycle emissions, including those related to any processes and activities along the value chain from biomass production to carbon dioxide storage, must be accounted for. For the overall balance of emissions to be negative, the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted must be less than the amount that is sequestered from the atmosphere and stored. Delivering negative emissions therefore requires robust monitoring and reporting frameworks and an accounting and allocation approach based on the mass of carbon dioxide. This must account for and monitor all emissions embedded and related to all materials, fuels, processes and operational decisions, and move away from the assumption that biomass is carbon neutral.
These principles are reflected in the findings of the report led by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Chief Scientific Adviser on the Ability of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to generate negative emissions, which was published alongside the Biomass Strategy. The Supergen Bioenergy Hub Director Patricia Thornley was a member of the task and finish group that produced this report. The report highlights the potential for BECCS to deliver negative emissions if emissions across the supply chain are minimised and the whole system is regulated and independently verified. Our engagement with public stakeholders has shown trust and confidence in large-scale infrastructure development and investment is won more easily when trade-offs are independently evaluated and shared transparently.
Whilst we are pleased with the strategy’s commitment to deliver BECCS, we must not underestimate the challenges of moving towards such a radically different system at scale. There will inevitably be technical, financial and liability challenges as we make the ambitious move to BECCS. Different BECCS systems will deliver different levels of carbon dioxide removal, at different cost and with different sustainability trade-offs. The complexity of bioenergy means that harmonised frameworks are required that ensure consistent sustainability standards that deliver not just net zero but offer wider economic and societal benefits. There is also still large uncertainty about the liability and incentivisation of long-term carbon storage.
Relying on future BECCS deployment alone to counterbalance the current excess of greenhouse gas emissions would not enable the full potential and benefits of BECCS. BECCS should be deployed alongside measures to transition away from the use of fossil fuels, not instead of them.
Lead Author: Mirjam Röder, Associate Professorial Research Fellow at Aston University and Lead on Systems Topic Group at the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.
Joanna Sparks, Biomass Policy Fellow, Supergen Bioenergy Hub, Aston University
Patricia Thornley, Director of the Supergen Bioenergy Hub and Energy Bioproducts Research Institute, Aston University