Comment: Why BECCS will be critical to deliver an affordable energy system transition in the UK
A renewed focus for the decarbonising potential of bioenergy has taken root, following the recent release of two linked reports from the Committee for Climate Change (CCC). Geraint Evans, bioenergy programme manager for the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) discuss why this push from the Government’s climate change watchdog highlights the importance of creating the right environment to advance bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as a core component of a low and ultimately net zero carbon UK.
‘Focus on locking away CO2’ says the CCC about the future of biomass in its report published earlier this month. Bioenergy’s value is unique and greatest when combined with CCS to deliver negative emissions (net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere) alongside the production of power or hydrogen. And so, the ETI welcomes the recommendations made in the CCC report to prioritise the most effective use of biomass and uses that enable long-term carbon storage.
For more than a decade, the ETI has been consistent in its message that bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage could be a ‘game changer’ in the UK’s transition to a low carbon energy system. In our latest bioenergy report, ‘The Role for Bioenergy in Decarbonising the UK Energy System’, the ETI calls on this ten years of research to provide key recommendations that could help the UK capitalise on opportunities to develop the bioenergy sector, such as the inclusion of BECCS in any strategies to develop carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) as a technology.
Our research demonstrates that BECCS can deliver negative emissions by using biomass to generate energy, capturing the CO2 emissions from combustion and permanently sequestering them in geological storage. Although modelling has shown that BECCS technologies are not the cheapest means of producing bioenergy nor the cheapest for producing renewable energy, their value comes from offsetting the need for more expensive decarbonisation measures elsewhere in the energy system.
For example, our analysis suggests using biomass to deliver negative emissions to enable some emissions to continue in the transport sector is a cheaper means of meeting 2050 targets than using the same biomass to decarbonise transport through liquid fuel production. Beyond 2050, BECCS becomes increasingly important as the world works towards becoming net-zero. As we stride towards net zero, there will be CO2 emissions emitted into the atmosphere that we simply cannot stop (e.g. from cows), therefore negative emissions are critical to balance off these positive emissions in order to achieve a net zero contribution. Because BECCS becomes really important beyond 2050, our research has also provided insight into clean syngas production to provide flexibility to the bioenergy sector.
The CCC says bioenergy should only be developed with CCUS. Gasification provides us with an efficient route to delivering efficient BECCS. We should continue to support investments in gasification and make the development of CCUS a priority.
Earlier this year we also published an update to two plausible energy system scenarios, modelled by our Energy Systems Modelling Environment (ESME), an internationally peer reviewed national energy system planning capability. Both the scenarios demonstrated that clear strategies for BECCS will be critical to delivering an affordable energy system transition in the UK. By 2050, we estimate that annual carbon abatement costs would be roughly 50% higher without bioenergy, or 100% higher without CCUS. We need to understand that as we move towards our future low-carbon energy system, the most effective use of biomass may change. This does not mean bioenergy plays only a ‘transitional’ role in meeting our targets; rather that we will see the most valuable role for bioenergy reallocated, as the wider energy system decarbonises.
This article was written by Geraint Evans, Programme Manager at Energy Technologies Institute (ETI)