With increasing concern and awareness of climate change, there has been a growth in the renewable energy sector through government subsidies and private investment, allowing for the replacement of current sources of energy with less carbon-intensive fuels. However, renewable energy technologies are yet to topple the traditional fossil fuel-powered electricity market. With the increasing trajectory of global emissions, climate research has been exploring other methods of climate mitigation, for instance, through the use of large-scale geoengineering technologies.
Of particular focus are the carbon dioxide removal techniques, namely Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) that have been prominently featured in emission scenarios of climate models, particularly for their direct influence in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions from industries and storing them under geological reservoirs either on shore or offshore. You can read more about this technology on a previous EcoMENA article.
What is Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage
One of the main concerns about CCS is the use of fossil fuels for its operations. In the pursuit for greener climate mitigation technologies, Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) has emerged as a climate saviour, featuring in prominent emissions scenarios and climate models to achieve the 1.5-degree target.
In the place of fossil fuels, biomass is instead used as the primary fuel source for BECCS as seen in the picture below. The two-step absorption of carbon dioxide, first during the growth of the biomass, and second through capturing of the biomass emissions, makes BECCS, in theory, a net negative emissions technique.
Source: Can we deploy enough BECCS to achieve climate targets? AVOID 2
Of the 116 climate scenarios suggested by the IPCC, BECCS was seen to have a significant role in 101 of the scenarios to help prevent global temperature rise above the 1.5-degree target. In fact, UK electricity generator Drax, has chosen to invest in the BECCS technology and started its first trial earlier this year, making it the first of its kind in Europe.
Risks associated with BECCS
While the combination of bioenergy and CCS provides an ideal carbon negative mitigation strategy, it also combines the existing risks associated with both technologies. In addition to lack of investment and long-term economic policies for CCS, large scale deployment of BECCS is hindered by uncertainties such as land, water and resource availability. Studies have shown concerns regarding the carbon intensity and the scale of land and resources required to sustain the bioenergy component required for BECCS.
While the net negative aspect of BECCS may work in theory, studies have revealed significant proportions of emissions associated with indirect land use change for biomass production for BECCS. In addition to technical challenges, one of the key constraints for the deployment of such climate technologies is social acceptance, where sections of the general public, or specific stakeholders, remain unconvinced with certain aspects of the technology due to ethical or political reasons.
As such, while CCS and BECCS may offer the ideal climate saviour solution to reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions, the technologies are still overcast with various technical and social challenges that limit their commercial usage for climate mitigation.