Report: Leading Approach to BECCS Worsens Climate Change


A new Parliamentary inquiry will probe inflated claims about the role that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) can play in the UK’s climate plan. This inquiry couldn’t be timelier, as the UK Government appears to be doubling down on the unproven technology despite mounting controversy about the environmental impacts of largescale biomass-burning for energy. Adding to serious scientific concerns about the impacts of BECCS on public health, water and wildlife new research indicates that the UK’s current approach to BECCS won’t deliver promised climate benefits, and, perversely, will make climate change worse. The ground-breaking findings suggest this approach should be treated as extremely high-risk for people and planet.

What is BECCS?

The basic premise of BECCS is that adding carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to a biopower plant will create a ‘carbon negative’ power station (i.e., resulting in a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere). ‘Carbon negative’ power generation would help to offset emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors and deliver the Government’s commitment to zeroing out net economy-wide emissions by midcentury.

The claim that BECCS is inherently carbon negative is based on the erroneous notion that bioenergy on its own is ‘carbon neutral.’ Scientists are clear that this simplistic picture of bioenergy and BECCS is flawed. In particular, biopower generated from forest biomass without carbon capture is rarely carbon neutral.

What the New Analysis on BECCS Says

The process of burning wood to generate electricity at large scale starts long before the smokestack. Producing the fuel requires cutting down trees, transporting them, drying the wood, turning it into pellets, and transporting the pellets. Only then can it be burned in a power plant. In addition, because old trees store more carbon than young growth, harvesting wood leads to “forgone sequestration,” the carbon storage that would have occurred over time in the uncut forest but never materializes, even when accounting for regrowth of the new forest. None of these emissions can be captured with CCS.

Now, a new analysis by NRDC disaggregates and quantifies all sources of lifecycle emissions in a BECCS scenario representative of the most common supply chain for UK biomass electricity: pellets made of wood from pine plantations in the southeastern U.S. The results reveal that a large fraction of the lifecycle CO2 emissions occur offsite — away from the biomass power station — and are thus uncapturable by the addition of CCS at the smokestack. These offsite and uncapturable emissions equal approximately 60% of the stack emissions at the plant. Far from being carbon negative, the analysis indicates that employing BECCS at a power station like Drax, while relying on the biomass supply chains…

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