The Future is Carbon Negative

Jonas Helseth/Bellona

Publish date: December 7, 2011

DURBAN, South Africa – Bellona organized an event here at the Durban climate summit on a highly strategic topic: Carbon Negative, or finding ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale.

The recognition is spreading that this kind of solution will become necessary to combat global warming in the decades to come, with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) all inclining toward the same conclusion.

Bellona President Frederic Hauge explained at the December 5th event, how Bellona has been systematically working toward realizing these kinds of solutions, with the combination of CCS and sustainably produced biomass (Bio-CCS) as likely to provide the greatest potential eliminating carbon from emissions.

 “Storing large amounts of renewable biogenic CO2 permanently is a a way for the developed world to ‘pay back’ emitted CO2 with interest, allowing developing countries to increase their standards of living and provide energy for their populations,” he said. Nonetheless, Hauge pointed to other Carbon Negative options such as biochar as highly interesting.

One of the major challenges in implementing Carbon Negative Bio-CCS on a large scale globally is the supply of sustainable biomass, which most experts agree is currently not enough to cover the rapidly increasing demand in a number of sectors, with biomass conversion for energy (fuels, electricity/heat) as major drivers – exactly there, where the Carbon Negative potential is projected to be highest.

Hauge showed how Bellona has initiated several projects to ensure future supply of biomass that does not compete with other sectors like agriculture, and not least with other uses of fresh water. Marine biomass (Blue Carbon) could be one of the many sorely needed answers to this key issue.

Another is the concept of restorative growth – for example in arid areas such as deserts – exemplified by the Sahara Forest Project, currently being scaled up in Qatar and Jordan.

 “Evaporating salt water by use of concentrated solar heat in desert areas, while adding CO2 and nutrients not only can produce fresh water and biomass; the resulting humid air will even vegetate surrounding areas” said Hauge.

He furthermore showed to the IEA GHG/Ecofys report assessment of the global Bio-CCS CO2 abatement potential, exceeding 10 Gigtatons a year  – nearly 1/3 of current global energy-related emissions – if sufficient supply of sustainable biomass could be provided.

The international acknowledgement of the need for Carbon Negative solutions was underlined by the presence of, among others, Jonathan Lynn, Head of Communications and Media Relations at the IPCC, who confirmed that the IPCC is working on this as part of its upcoming 5th assessment report, expected by 2013.

The IEA GHG’s Tim Dixon, who was scheduled to talk about this report and other related issues at the event, has been the EU’s lead negotiator on the important work to include of CCS in the CDM, and having to report to any number of ministries and decision makers. Dixon was forced to cancel on short notice.

Director of Bellona Europa, Jonas Helseth Photo: Foto: Bellona

Jonas Helseth, senior advisor at the Bellona Foundation’s EU Policy office Bellona Europa in Brussels, explained how Bellona is working systematically on Bio-CCS through and with the EU Technology Platforms for biofuels (EBTP) and CCS (ZEP).

These platforms, initiated by the EU Commission, bring together researchers, industry and civil society to give recommendations on EU policy and R&D funding, a working method close to Bellona’s own philosophy.

Last year, they agreed on Bellona’s initiative to set up a joint taskforce (JTF) on Bio-CCS. Bellona has moreover since 2010 been co-organising yearly scientific workshops on the topic; this October the workshop took place at the University of Cardiff. The 2nd day was entirely dedicated to incentivising Bio-CCS, and Tim Dixon gave a keynote speech on possible negative CO2 credits, which will become reality under the CDM once CCS is included.

In the EU ETS, such credits are not straightforward, and extensive work yet needs to be done to deploy Carbon Negative solutions. Helseth ended his presentation with an open invitation to all stakeholders to help moving this forward in the right direction:

“It is not given that negative credits are the right answer – we need to avoid putting perverse incentives in place”, he said. “Perhaps we must also consider the question of where the available biomass is best utilised, until we have solutions in place that can cover all needs”.

That Bio-CCS is not only an opportunity in Europe was vividly shown by Florian Kraxner of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), who explained how Japan could begin sustainably using its high amount of nearly unutilised forest to produce energy and heat, rather than importing coal or other fossil fuels.

Kraxner showed how the IIASA model combined forest resources with possible CO2 storage sites, and while the Bio-CCS potential could seem moderate (12-13 Mtons/year), the model considered use of only 0.05 percent of the forest stock. In other words, for Japan, bio-based energy and heat with CCS could be one of the answers to the energy security issue the country is struggling with in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. And it could be a great contribution to fighting climate change.