Research and innovation needs for biomass to energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)

Thornley, P.; Taylor, D.

Biomass to energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a critically important technology for global decarbonisation. Over 100 of the 116 scenarios that limit average temperature rises to 2°C depend on BECCS [1], and 3 of the 4 pathways in the IPCC special report on 1.5°C involve BECCS removing 151-1,191 Gt CO2 pa [2]. Arguably it is even more significant for the UK, where it is envisaged that BECCS could deliver 20 to 70 Mt CO2 pa negative emissions [3], reducing the cost of meeting our 2050 emissions target by up to 1% of GDP [4]. In 2019, five BECCS facilities were operating globally (4 in the U.S., 1 in Canada) all linked to corn to ethanol production; with three in progress in Japan, Norway and the UK pilot facility at Drax [5]. So, there is a significant gap between the commercial experience to date and the scale of ambition; in terms of rate of implementation, scale of facility required and breadth of technologies that might be considered.

While the potential of BECCS to date has been extensively discussed and evaluated from the perspective of econometric, partial equilibrium and other energy-economic modelling approaches, there has been relatively little focus on the engineering and scientific challenges associated with implementation of BECCS. Achieving a greenhouse gas removal (GGR) of 20 Mt CO2 pa (15% of the UK’s overall emissions target for 2050 and a significant contribution from a single technology) would require around 80 BECCS facilities around the UK (not dissimilar to the current number of waste incinerators). In particular modular BECCS installations of 80 x 50MWe and 0.25 Mt CO2 pa would offer local biomass supply chain and CO2 utilisation flexibility for a range of feedstocks and CO2 products.

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