BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage) is a carbon removal method with three main components: a process that generates biogenic CO2, a carbon capture element, and a durable carbon storage mechanism.
BECCS proposes to capture biogenic CO2 and channel it to durable storage, usually in geological formations or durable products. Biogenic CO2 refers to carbon dioxide emissions that come from renewable biological materials, and biomass, such as plants and trees. Because living organisms absorb atmospheric CO2 through their respective metabolic processes when they grow, BECCS processes ultimately result in CO2 removal from the atmosphere. However, instead of letting that biogenic CO2 be released, BECCS consists of capturing it using Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, making sure it does not re-enter the atmosphere.
The CO2 capturing process:
The most well-known application of BECCS utilizes CO2 captured in biomass to generate bioenergy, which can provide fuels and high-temperature heat to work with existing engines that traditionally would have used fossil fuels. BECCS can therefore play an important role in decarbonising certain industries. Other applications of BECCS aim to capture the CO2 emissions from existing biogenic processes such as fermentation processes (e.g. ethanol production) or anaerobic digestion. Another opportunity to realize BECCS exists in capturing combustion emissions from industrial systems using biomass to fire their applications (e.g., waste-to-energy plants or pulp and paper production). The emissions of all these processes originate from biomass, hence the CO2 generated has a biogenic origin. CCS technology captures this CO2 before it enters the atmosphere and prevents it from contributing to climate change. The captured CO2 is then stored underground in geological formations (=carbon removal), or used in processes that require CO2.
The CO2 storing process:
Geological sequestration encompasses putting CO2 deep underground in special rock formations, such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs or deep-water areas. These geological formations work like natural containers, safely holding the CO2 and stopping it from getting out into the air for millennia.
Potential and scalability:
Existing infrastructure and technologies can be used to capture sources of biogenic CO2 combined with CCS systems that have been developed and optimized for over a decade. This gives BECCS a promising scaling potential in the near term and is an advantage compared to other carbon removal approaches that still require further research and development. However, CCS systems are expensive, which can sometimes be cost-prohibitive on a small scale for certain BECCS applications. Unlike DACCS, BECCS systems cannot always be strategically located close to CO2 storage sites, they often need to be located close to the biomass source or to the location where demand for their product exists (e.g. close to industries or urban developments with energy demands where bioenergy is the main product, or close to industries that require the end product). Given this location constraint, the logistics and transport costs from the CO2 point of capture to the storage sites are still challenging. It is also made more complicated by the current lack of specific infrastructure. At present, this combination often represents the main bottleneck and cost source for BECCS projects.
Other difficult circumstances exist, connected to the fact that BECCS systems depend exclusively on biomass as their source material. This reliance could also make BECCS a self-sustaining method for removing carbon, but it can only be realized with effective and auditable biomass management measures. These measures must guarantee the sustainable management and renewal of natural resources, protect biodiversity, and minimize changes in land use. Ensuring sustainability is a significant hurdle when implementing BECCS projects that use woody biomass as their source material.
The IEA (International Energy Agency) estimates that 2 megatonnes (Mt) of biogenic CO2 are currently captured per year with BECCS, mainly in bioethanol applications. Several plans for new plants were announced in 2022 to capture up to 15 Mt of CO2 per year from biogenic emissions. The IEA also estimates that 190 Mt CO2 per year needs to be removed through BECCS by 2030 to reach their ‘Net zero emissions by 2050’ scenario.