How Bioenergy With Carbon Capture And Storage Works?

What is bioenergy?

How bioenergy with carbon capture and storage works?

Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy derived from recently living organic materials known as biomass. Biomass contains stored energy from the sun. Plants absorb energy through photosynthesis and store it in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. When biomass is burned, the chemical energy is released as heat and can be used to generate electricity or fuel (1).

The key types of bioenergy feedstocks are:

  • Forestry materials such as wood chips, pellets, and bark (2)
  • Agricultural crops and waste materials such as corn, sugarcane, wheat, straw, and manure (1)
  • Food, yard, and municipal waste streams (3)
  • Algae and other microbial biomass (1)

There are a variety of technologies that can be used to generate energy from biomass feedstocks through direct combustion, thermal conversion, chemical conversion, and biochemical conversion processes (2). The energy can be used to generate electricity, produce transportation fuels, or provide heat for homes, businesses, and industry.




What is carbon capture and storage?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a process that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from sources like power plants and industries before they are released into the atmosphere. The CO2 is then transported via pipeline or ship and ultimately stored deep underground in geological formations1.

The goal of CCS is to prevent large quantities of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. By capturing CO2 emissions at the source and storing them, CCS can reduce the carbon footprint of fossil fuel power generation and heavy industries like cement and steel production2.

There are three main stages in the CCS process2:

  • Capture – CO2 is separated and extracted from emissions at the source, such as a power station or industrial plant.
  • Transport – The captured CO2 is compressed and transported via pipeline or ship to a suitable storage site.
  • Storage – CO2 is injected deep underground into porous rock formations that trap and store the CO2 for long periods of time.

A range of technologies are used in CCS, including chemical solvents, membranes, adsorption materials, and other separation techniques to capture the CO21. Compression, pipelines, ships, and injection technologies help transport and store the CO2 safely underground.

How BECCS works

BECCS involves three main steps:

  1. Biomass is grown via photosynthesis which absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere.
  2. The biomass is then converted into electricity, heat or fuel through combustion, fermentation or other conversion processes.
  3. The CO2 emissions from the conversion process are captured before being released into the atmosphere and stored underground through geological sequestration.

Key technologies involved in BECCS include:

  • Biomass production through sustainable forestry, agriculture or algae cultivation.
  • Conversion technologies like combustion, gasification, pyrolysis or fermentation.
  • CO2 capture using chemical absorption, adsorption or membrane technologies.
  • Transportation of CO2 via pipelines or ships.
  • Underground injection and geological storage of CO2.

Some current BECCS projects include the Illinois Industrial CCS project in the US, the Drax BECCS pilot in the UK and the biomethane project by Aker Carbon Capture in Norway.

Benefits of BECCS

BECCS offers several key benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions, generating energy, and improving sustainability:

Reducing carbon emissions: The primary benefit of BECCS is its ability to permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere. By capturing emissions from biomass energy and securely storing them underground, BECCS results in net negative emissions, actively reducing greenhouse gases. Models show BECCS could remove 5-10 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050.

Generating energy: BECCS facilities produce energy from biomass feedstocks, providing carbon-neutral power, heat, and potentially fuels. This displaces fossil fuels, while any emissions produced are captured. Therefore, BECCS allows continued energy generation while achieving negative emissions.

Improving sustainability: By utilizing waste biomass or energy crops grown sustainably, BECCS aims to avoid competition with food production or land use changes. Studies show certain biomass sources like agricultural residues offer carbon removal potential with low land and water impacts. Overall, BECCS seeks to provide renewable energy and carbon removal in a sustainable manner.

Sources: IEA Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, American University BECCS Fact Sheet

Challenges of BECCS

While BECCS has the potential to significantly reduce atmospheric CO2, there are several challenges that need to be addressed for large-scale deployment. Three major challenges are the high costs, land use constraints, and limited deployment to date.

First, the costs of implementing BECCS are currently very high. The carbon capture, transport, and storage components require major infrastructure investments. According to Babin et al. (2021), cost estimates for BECCS range from $100-200 per ton of CO2 avoided. Reducing these costs through continued technology development and economies of scale will be critical for feasibility.

Second, BECCS requires large areas of land to grow the biomass feedstocks. Estimates suggest 0.4-2.6 billion hectares of land would be needed globally depending on the scale of BECCS deployment. Competition for land with food production and conservation is a major concern, as outlined in a report by Fern (2022). Sustainable land use policies and practices are needed.

Third, deployment of BECCS to date has been very limited. As of 2019, there were only 19 BECCS projects operating worldwide according to Buck (2019). Scaling up BECCS represents an enormous engineering and infrastructure challenge.

BECCS policies and incentives

Several governments around the world have implemented policies and incentives to support the development of BECCS technology and projects. Some key examples include:

In the United States, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021 provides funding and tax credits for carbon capture projects including BECCS. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 also significantly boosted tax credits for carbon sequestration.

The UK government has implemented contracts for difference as a financial incentive for BECCS electricity generation. This guarantees BECCS projects a minimum price per megawatt hour to support investment. The UK also provides capital funding for FEED studies and infrastructure to enable BECCS.

The 45Q tax credit in the US provides up to $50 per ton of captured and stored CO2 from industrial facilities including BECCS. The EU Emissions Trading System generates a price on carbon that can help support BECCS projects.

Several US states such as California, Washington, and Oregon have enacted low carbon fuel standards and cap-and-trade programs that recognize the net carbon reduction benefits of BECCS.

BECCS carbon accounting

An important consideration for BECCS is how its net emissions are calculated. Since BECCS involves both emitting CO2 from biomass combustion and then capturing and storing that CO2, its overall impact on atmospheric CO2 levels depends on the accounting methodology.

One approach is to consider the CO2 absorbed during plant growth as “negative emissions” that offset the positive emissions from combusting the biomass. Under this view, BECCS could be considered carbon neutral or even carbon negative if more CO2 is captured than released initially.

However, some argue that the carbon neutrality claim is problematic. The concern is that it incentivizes harvesting growing forests for BECCS since the emissions are viewed as already “paid for” by the prior carbon absorption. Critics argue that leaving forests intact is preferable to BECCS for atmospheric CO2 reduction.

There are also debates around the timescales relevant for emissions accounting. Since the CO2 absorbed by plants is rapidly released again during combustion, the net impact on atmospheric CO2 could be minimal in the near-term. Proper carbon accounting methodologies for BECCS are still being developed.

BECCS Sustainability

Evaluating the environmental impacts of BECCS is critical to ensuring its sustainability. Life cycle assessments should be conducted to quantify the net greenhouse gas emissions from BECCS projects and ensure they result in an overall reduction of CO2 from the atmosphere ( Sustainable biomass feedstocks that do not compete with food production or cause deforestation are essential. Best practices include using waste residues like forest or agricultural byproducts and growing dedicated energy crops on marginal lands unsuitable for food production.

Evaluating indirect land use changes is also important, as increased biomass demand could displace other agriculture and inadvertently cause deforestation. Strict sustainability criteria and certification schemes for biomass sources should be implemented ( Project developers must conduct comprehensive environmental impact assessments and engage local communities to understand and mitigate any adverse effects.

Overall, responsible BECCS requires holistic analysis of sustainability tradeoffs and implementing biomass resources and carbon capture systems in a way that maximizes climate benefits while minimizing environmental and social risks.

The future of BECCS

BECCS is seen as having significant potential to help mitigate climate change in the coming decades. According to the IEA, carbon removal via BECCS could reach just under 50 Mt CO2/yr by 2030 based on projects currently in development (1). However, current projections still fall well short of what is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2).

For BECCS to reach its full scalability potential, substantial policy support and investment will be required. Key factors determining the future scalability and climate impact of BECCS include (3):

  • Incentives for low-carbon bioenergy production
  • Carbon pricing and other policies to support CCS deployment
  • Sustainable biomass availability and supply chains
  • CCS storage capacity assessments and development
  • Infrastructure for transport and storage of captured CO2
  • Public acceptance and community engagement

With concerted efforts in these areas, some models project BECCS could contribute 100-400 MtCO2/year of emissions reductions by 2030, rising to thousands or even billions of tonnes by 2050 (4). However, BECCS development faces many uncertainties and constraints. Strong sustainability safeguards will be essential for BECCS to deliver meaningful climate mitigation benefits.


(4) Citations from research


In summary, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is an emerging carbon removal technology that has significant potential to help combat climate change. BECCS involves growing biomass, generating energy from it, capturing the resulting CO2 emissions, and storing them underground. This results in net negative emissions, as the biomass absorbs CO2 as it grows.

Some key points about BECCS include:

  • It can produce carbon-negative renewable energy from sustainable biomass feedstocks like perennial grasses or forestry residues.
  • The CO2 captured can be stored securely and permanently in geological formations deep underground.
  • BECCS projects face challenges around storing massive amounts of captured CO2, securing biomass supplies, and costs.
  • Strong policies and incentives can help support further BECCS deployment and cost reductions over time.
  • BECCS will play a crucial role in climate change mitigation efforts, with most models showing it is necessary to reach net zero emissions globally.

Overall, BECCS represents an important emergent climate solution that bears continued investment, research, and scaled deployment. Developing BECCS thoughtfully and responsibly will be vital for achieving global climate goals and creating a sustainable, carbon-neutral future.

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