Pöyry: Biomass co-firing and carbon capture “must” for resolving coal conundrum

Biomass co-firing is a “must” for resolving the global dependency on coal, a new report by the international consulting company Pöyry says.

The latest Pöyry Point of View highlights that, despite growing climate change concerns, global demand for coal has almost doubled since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The report argues that the future role of coal in the global energy mix must include co-firing with biomass and a renewed focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The report includes four options for resolving the coal conundrum – replacing coal with alternatives, improving plant efficiencies, switching to lower carbon fuel including biomass, and CCS – but states that all four will be needed.

Pöyry analysis has developed a retirement profile for existing global coal capacity, revealing that without radical change, it is likely that the majority of coal-fired generation capacity will be with us for the foreseeable future, with the projection indicating around 1,300GW still in operation by 2040.

Significantly, the Pöyry projection does not factor the several hundred GW of new coal, which is under construction around the world and the many more that are still in planning.

‘Sleep walking’ into disaster

Matt Brown, VP at Pöyry Management Consulting, says the company’s research has revealed a situation where “we risk sleep walking” into the mid-century having not addressed the challenges posed by coal to the environment.

“As world leaders gathered at COP21, there was an implied commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Without significant change, that commitment may be difficult to meet with the retirement portfolio we are projecting for coal,” Brown said.

“Sadly on CCS, we are in need of urgent practical progress when it comes to the appraisal and development of CO2 storage sites and the economic model that makes costly CCS plants competitive with their carbon-emitting counterparts.”

The cost of power and industrial products created at CCS-enabled sites will be significantly greater than at sites that simply emit the carbon, a situation which Pöyry sees as remaining as long as the direct or indirect cost of emitting carbon stays low.

Such a situation is exemplified in the US, where the CCS is an established industry, but only in areas where CO2 has value.

Increasing the speed of CCS development is, according to the report, therefore necessary, as burning biomass in the existing coal fleet is only part of the answer.

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