According to global climate and economic models, removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere will be necessary to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. Among Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) techniques, these models assume that Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) could play a prominent role. This POSTnote summarises why BECCS has been included in the models, outlines the challenges and trade-offs of deploying at scale, and considers policy options for supporting its development.

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Key points 

  • Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is a system of technologies. It combines biomass (plant matter or organic waste) for energy generation, with the capture and permanent storage of the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. 
  • BECCS is one of the ‘negative emissions’ technologies projected to play a major role in global climate mitigation. It will be needed if the Paris Agreement goals are to be met. 
  • The scale of BECCS projected in some models has raised concerns around the sustainability of bioenergy and overall carbon footprint of BECCS required to deliver negative emissions. 
  • Its development requires robust and transparent policy and sustainability frameworks; with environmental, economic and social dimensions; as well as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) infrastructures that do not yet exist. 

Evidence from global models of the climate, economy, energy and land use systems – Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) – suggest that some level of Greenhouse Gas Removal is needed to achieve this Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming to well below 2˚C.  

Estimates of the mitigation potential of BECCS within IAMs vary considerably. There are a number of potential challenges associated with the widespread use of BECCS, primarily around scale and land availability. Robust governance frameworks, which ensure transparency and sustainability, would be required. In addition, there are risks relying on the technology for future mitigation future when significant uncertainties currently exist around its cost and its potential to achieve negative emissions. 

Estimates by the Committee on Climate Change suggest that the UK mitigation potential of BECCS ranges from 20 to 51 MtCO2 (equivalent to 5-14% of UK CO2 emissions at 2018 levels). Suggested UK policy approaches to supporting BECCS’ development could include integrating BECCS into carbon markets such as the EU ETS, supporting pilot and demonstration schemes, and investing in CCS infrastructures. 

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders, and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

  • Prof Patricia ThornleyAston University* 
  • Keith Whiriskey, Bellona Foundation 
  • Theo MitchellBellona Foundation 
  • Mark Preston AragonèsBellona Foundation* 
  • Chris GentCarbon Capture & Storage Association* 
  • Mike HemsleyCommittee for Climate Change* 
  • Prof Gideon HendersonDepartment for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs* 
  • Peter ColemanDepartment for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy* 
  • Sherry SiobhanDepartment for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy* 
  • Stephen FordenDepartment for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy* 
  • Luke JonesDepartment for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy* 
  • Nicholas DohertyDepartment for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 
  • Richard GowDrax* 
  • Dr Jo HowesE4tech* 
  • Dr Mike NortonEuropean Academies’ Science Advisory Council* 
  • Kelsey Perlman, Fern* 
  • Prof Paul FennellImperial College London 
  • Dr Niall MacDowellImperial College London 
  • Prof James SkeaImperial College London 
  • Dr Sara BudinisInternational Energy Agency* 
  • Dr Jonathan Scurlock, National Farmers’ Union
  • Dr Mary BoothPartnership for Policy Integrity* 
  • Samuel StevensonRenewable Energy Association* 
  • Michelle MortonShell* 
  • Joanna ColemanShell 
  • Prof Pete SmithUniversity of Aberdeen* 
  • Dr Jo HouseUniversity of Bristol 
  • Dr David ReinerUniversity of Cambridge* 
  • Dr Mathilde FarjardyUniversity of Cambridge* 
  • Dr Andrew WelfleUniversity of Manchester* 
  • Dr Robert BellamyUniversity of Manchester* 
  • Dr Clair GoughUniversity of Manchester, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research* 
  • Dr Alison MohrUniversity of Nottingham 

(* indicates contributors who reviewed the note) 

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