Bio-CCS, the road to negative CO2 emissions?

Joanna Ciesielska

Publish date: October 30, 2011

The last day of the 2nd Intl. Bio-CCS Workshop in Cardiff was taking place at the Gas Turbine Research Centre in Port Talbot, Wales on Wednesday 26th October. The event was co-organised by Cardiff University and Bellona Europa, and sponsored by IEAGHG and Alstom.

Following the fruitful discussions held during Tuesday’s sessions, the 2nd day’s focus was entirely on policy matters: how to incentivise and develop a market for carbon-negative solutions. The stage was set by an inspiring keynote from Tim Dixon of the IEA GHG.

In brief, bioenergy with CCS (Bio-CCS; sometimes also abbreviated BECCS) is an emerging technology option which is beginning to attract attention as a necessity to counter disastrous climate change. Given that the biomass involved is sustainably produced and processed, and considering that CO2-emissions resulting from biomass conversion are part of a “natural” cycle and thus neutral, Bio-CCS can contribute to a net removal of atmospheric CO2 – i.e. lead to so-called ‘negative CO2 emissions’. As French Geogreen’s Pierre Le Thiez underlined in his presentation, policy makers should follow some vital recommendations to enable such negative CO2 emissions: Launching regional scale initiatives for storage resource; ensuring the acknowledgement of CCS under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM); promoting biogenic CO2-EOR where applicable and helping developing early opportunities and among them Bio-CCS were presented among those recommendations. Various options for public funding to strengthen Bio-CCS industry growth were discussed. Interestingly, Audrey Laude from Laboratoire d’Economie d’Orléans in France showed in her presentation that “the policy uncertainty decreases investment probability, but does not lead to a lag of investment, as generally assumed in real option literature.”

The recent UNIDO/IEA Roadmap for CCS in the industrial sectors was broadly quoted during the morning sessions. The roadmap envisages a growth from ca. 5 Bio-CCS projects by 2020 (2 OECD – 3 Non-OECD) to 544 projects in 2050 storing more than 1,500 million tonnes CO2 per year. This is a significant increase, amounting to approx. 26% growth within the OECD and 74% in developing countries, and that does not include the use of biomass in electricity production (e.g. co-firing with coal in power plants).

The workshop gives a clear message that the expectations for Bio-CCS are high, although several stakeholders underlined that caution is needed when dealing with biomass sustainability and supply. The need for developing new, highly scalable sources of sustainable biomass feedstock which do not compete for land with food production for a growing world population is certainly crucial. Even though challenges facing CCS are similar for Bio-CCS, the technology could offer early opportunities and moreover dissociate CCS with “clean coal” as its sole purpose.

During the final panel debate, Bellona Europa’s Jonas Helseth challenged panellists from the IEA GHG, Alstom, Cardiff University and ECN as well as the audience on two main topics: what are the low-hanging fruits of Bio-CCS; and how can we avoid so-called ‘perverse incentives’ which could lead to a reduction of innovation on biomass feedstock sustainability and conversion efficiency as funding is channelled to CCS deployment only.

For the first question, ECN’s Michiel Carbo and others were pointing to bioethanol production as one possibility. While there is little trace of such projects on a large scale in Europe, the US is currently funding an ADM project in Illinois purposing to store 2.5 million tonnes of biogenic CO2 from bioethanol production over the next three years, and that at a price of less than €50/tonne of captured, transported and stored CO2.

Regarding incentives, it was agreed that there are many complex and unanswered questions, and that any incentive options must be thoroughly impact assessed. Notwithstanding, the small but growing Bio-CCS community has set itself an aim to bring negative CO2 emissions high on the agenda of policy makers in Europe and beyond. The EBTP/ZEP Joint Taskforce on Bio-CCS – co-chaired by VTT, Alstom and Bellona (for which Bellona Europa provides the secretariat) is clearly one of the vanguard arenas for this effort.

As a final bonus, after the first day at the stately Glamorgan building followed by an opportunity to indulge in Welsh mutton at Cardiff Castle, the participants were able to get a comprehensive tour of the Gas Turbine Research Centre (GTRC) in Port Talbot and be introduced to its H2 IGCC EU 7th Research Framework Programme project.