US’ BECCS potential revealed in new study

A comprehensive new study is aiming to offer unprecedented detail on the potential for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology in the US.

BECCS involves taking the CO2 produced from burning biomass for electricity, and permanently storing it underground. With the feedstock plants grown to produce the biomass absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere in their lifecycle, BECCS is often portrayed as a means of producing electricity while reducing CO2.

According to the authors of the new study, which has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimates on the BECCS potential in various countries have generally been based on the available biomass (e.g. from agricultural waste, forest management or the capacity to grow plants for energy production). They haven’t, however, taken into consideration whether the biomass growing areas are close to sites suitable for underground storage.

The new study, led by scientists from Stanford University, claims to be the first to analyse in detail biomass growing sites, CO2 storage sites, co-location and transportation to come to an estimate on US BECCS potential. It concludes that in the near term and if deployed rapidly, BECCS could remove approximately 1.5% of total US emissions.

"BECCS can certainly help provide a source of negative emissions, but other approaches will also be needed to achieve the negative emissions that models suggest will be required to limit warming to 2o C," said co-author, Sally Benson, a professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University, in a statement.


Promising locations, potential challenges

“In addition to assessing the BECCS potential, we also identify the most promising, low-cost locations to begin to deploy BECCS," said the study's lead author, Ejeong Baik.

"The US areas that would be the most effective for near-term deployment are in Illinois, western North Dakota, and some Gulf states, if the Gulf states were to begin growing a significant amount of energy crops.”

However, the study also notes a number of potential obstacles. These include identifying storage locations that have sufficient capacity to handle the expected rate of injection.

“In the US, only 30% of the biomass is co-located with suitable sequestration sites, limiting the short-term deployment potential,” said Baik.

Another issue is deciding whether to opt for small scale, local BECCS sites, or creating a transport infrastructure for larger, centralised facilities. The former would save transport costs but be limited to very small scale projects which would potentially lack the economies of scale needed to contain costs. The latter would need the creation of a pipeline infrastructure which could be expensive, time-consuming and run into local resistance, the authors state.

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