• A POSTnote on bioenergy and carbon capture and storage will summarise the technology.
  • It will explore the magnitude of bioenergy carbon capture and storage needed to mitigate climate change and the land pressure and other challenges that arise.
  • Work on this POSTnote has been completed. You can read the full report online. Updated 6 March 2020.

A major finding of the IPCC’s landmark 1.5˚C report was that all the pathways for limiting climate change to 1.5˚C include the use of Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) technologies or ‘negative emissions’, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This technique involves growing crops, using them to produce energy, and then capturing the resulting CO2 emissions, before storing them in the ground or sea. If pursued at scale, most of these GGR techniques would require varying amounts of land – potentially reducing the land left for wildlife and food production. Depending on the amount of GGR required, this could involve growing trees or biofuel crops on a large scale (hundreds of millions of hectares) and doubts have been raised as to the feasibility of this and the trade-offs involved. The IPCC have highlighted in their special report on land use that if BECCS is pursued at the level “necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere at the scale of several billion tonnes of CO2 per year”, it could “increase pressure on land” and cause “land degradation”, reducing natural processes that store CO2, and may pose risks to food security. 

The IPCC report emphasises that if deployed on smaller scales and with “best practice”, BECCs could remove CO2 from the atmosphere, while providing “co-benefits” for people and wildlife. However, resultant land degradation and food security risks will depend on how BECCS is regulated, as much as the scale at which it is deployed. The IPCC report emphasises that pursuing an “integrated approach” – involving many different land-based GGR techniques – could deliver significant CO2 removal while minimising risks to people and wildlife. The Committee on Climate Change have also highlighted the need for good practice when producing sustainable biomass if BECCs is to contribute to emissions reductions. The speed at which carbon capture and storage can be developed and deployed is also is a major remaining uncertainty; operational plants are still only at pilot stages.

A POSTnote on this subject will summarise the technologies and processes involved in BECCs, the likely extent of BECCs required under different scenarios, and the challenges involved in the large-scale implementation of BECCs.