6 Scaling up BECCS

In order to meet the mitigation scenarios proposed by the IEA, we would need to achieve 2.4 billion tonnes of negative emissions of CO2 from BECCS operations in 2050 (see Figure 8).59 The same report also suggests that a total BECCS capacity worldwide of 35 million tonnes will be needed in 2020, if we are to be able to realise a hundredfold up-scaling to the projected 2050 numbers, se Figure 24.

BECCS facilities have a typical capacity ranging from 100 000 to 1 000 000 tonnes annually, while some are limited to 50 000 tonnes. Based on the anticipated long duration of deployment, this implies that we need 50-100 BECCS projects to be initiated within the next 2 years, and several hundreds more shortly thereafter. This estimate takes into account the fact that many planned projects never reach operational status.

Figure 24 The considerable scale-up of BECCS shown in two steps from 2010 to 2020 and from 2020 to 2050, in millions of tonnes CO2

The IEA proposes that the CO2 required for the 35 million tonnes BECCS potential in 2020 will be provided by plants producing syn-fuels and hydrogen from biomass. As these technologies have not yet reached commercial scale, it may be difficult for them to support the targeted need for BECCS by 2020. Instead, we propose that the BECCS potential in the pulp and ethanol industries is utilized, as these industries are operating at scale already.

The chemical pulp production industry emitted more than 300 million tonnes of biogenic CO2 2009.60 The average chemical pulp facility is large compared to other biomass plants, so this industry alone could deliver significant amounts of CO2 towards the 2020 as well as the 2050 targets. As seen in the Swedish case study, BECCS applied to the pulp industry could become a major part of a mitigation portfolio in countries with large pulp industries such as Sweden, Finland and Canada. This could also be a viable option for countries such as India and China, which are expected to expand their pulp industries in the coming years.

The ethanol industry is the other large early opportunity, where more than 52 million tonnes of CO2 were emitted during 2009.61,62 These emissions are not as large as in the pulp industry, but as mentioned previously, the pure streams of CO2 from the fermentation results in much lower costs for capture, and for the overall system. Due to this important cost/benefit scenario, BECCS applied to ethanol plants could constitute some of the earliest opportunities not only of BECCS, but of all CCS applications. This could provide a route into larger CCS deployment in Brazil and the United States, where most of the world’s ethanol is produced.

Biomass fuelled power plants and combined heat and power plants are also possible candidates for BECCS implementation projects, but they are typically of a smaller size, and therefore less suitable for BECCS operations. An option to overcome this problem, which would achieve larger economies of scale, is co-firing of biomass in coal power plants with CCS. In this way, BECCS systems would be able to piggy-back on fossil fuel CCS deployment.

The use of biomass is to a large extent dispersed in today’s energy system, especially in the developing world. One challenge in the coming years and decades is to build a biomass energy infrastructure that enables BECCS. This would imply a balancing and optimisation of transport of biomass input in relation to CO2 storage and transportation networks, and an adjustment in optimal plant size for biomass combustion and conversion systems to account for the economies of scale needed for BECCS implementation.

The billions of tonnes of sequestered CO2 from BECCS operations, as forecasted by the IEA, assume the use of emerging technologies such as biomass gasification, bio-SNG (biomass based synthetic natural gas) and Fischer-Tropsch fuel conversion processes. These technologies produce pure streams of CO2, which could be captured and stored at considerably lower costs than CO2 from combustion facilities (where the CO2 has to be separated out of the flue gases), but they are still in early phases of development. To realise the full potential for BECCS, technologies such as these need to be further developed and deployed.

With more than 350 million tonnes of CO2 generated annually by pulp and ethanol industries, the potential for scaling up BECCS is large already today. The possibility for scaling up BECCS however depends on awareness, financial incentives and the removal of barriers for implementation. To realise the potential in time and allow for BECCS to have an impact on the climate, these issues have to be addressed and resolved.

59 IEA, 2009

60 Grönkvist, 2010

61 Biofuels Platform (2010)

62 Ethanol Producer Magazine (2010)