Potentially encouraging signs for Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) out of the UK

Biomass power generation with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) holds great CDR potential. If sustainable harvested, biomass used in power generation creates zero emission electricity (as CO2 emitted from the power genetation is offset by the CO2 sequestered from the biomass during its lifecycle. If carbon capture and sequestration is added to this system, this system effectively transfers CO2 from the atmosphere, into plants, and then deep underground in impermeable rock formations, where the CO2 can remain for thousands of years.

No commercial BECCS electricity plants exist (though a biofuels + CCS plant is currently operational in IL), but encouraging signs out of the UK on fossil CCS developments give hope that BECCS power isn’t too far away from commercial reality.  

Why is the UK funding a coal power plant exciting news for BECCS and CDR?

1) The technologies used for coal + CCS is quite similar to technologies used for biomass + CCS. Any experience gained from building coal + CCS power plants will help reduce the costs of future BECCS developments, making CDR more affordable. The other side of this coin is that coal + CCS projects will also be more affordable, potentially enabling prolonged extraction and burning of coal resources across the globe (which come with a number of adverse environmental and social consequences beyond those of climate change). But with increasing carbon prices and/or strong regulations in support of CDR can help mitigate this potential to increase fossil fuel consumption.

2) The Drax power plant currently co-fires some biomass in their existing coal units, meaning that they are ideally poised to pioneer BECCS projects down the road. Experience with biomass supply chains, the engineering behind biomass co-firing, and environmental permitting required for such projects will hopefully enable this CCS development to pioneer BECCS projects if regulators provide adequate incentives for this transition.

 

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