The role of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage in the UK’s net-zero pathway
25 May 2021
What are the implications for sustainability and for government policies and regulations?
This report explores the potential role for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) in the UK’s pathway to net-zero by 2050, and the implications for sustainability and policy. It concludes that BECCS could make a significant contribution to meeting net-zero. However, there are important risks that need to be taken into account – particularly risks to timely deployment and risks to the sustainability of bioenergy supply chains.
Past experience with carbon capture and storage (CCS) suggests that technical, economic, financial and policy uncertainties could delay the deployment of carbon capture technologies and associated pipeline and storage infrastructure. Furthermore, life cycle emissions from BECCS supply chains could reduce or completely cancel its effectiveness as a method for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Investment in BECCS at a significant scale could also lead to negative impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems and the use of land.
The report recommends five policy actions in response to these risks:
- Reducing demand for energy and other resources through efficiency and a more circular economy will, in turn, reduce the amount of greenhouse gas removals required.
- Policy incentives should support a diverse range of removal options. This could involve the reform of carbon pricing so that its scope is extended to removals, alongside strict sustainability criteria.
- Specific policies will also be required to scale up engineered removal technologies including BECCS. Generic policies like carbon pricing are insufficient because these technologies are too capital intensive and risky.
- Policy support for BECCS should be incremental and conditional, and subject to rigorous evaluation and performance review. This will allow costs, technical performance, life cycle emissions and sustainability to be assessed before scaling up further.
- Regulations for biomass sustainability need to be reformed and extended to cover the full supply chain: from biomass supply to energy production, and the capture of CO2 for use or storage. This includes the alignment of regulations across international borders.
Jim Watson, (Professor of Energy Policy and Research Director, UCL Institute of Sustainable Resources), explains:
Burning biomass and capturing the carbon emissions is often put forward as a key option to meet net-zero emissions – in the UK and globally. It is essential that any plans to deploy this technology take the significant challenges and risks into account. A cautious approach to investment is required to determine whether it can deliver in practice.’
Professor Jim Watson - Professor of Energy Policy, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources
Mr Oliver Broad - Senior Research Fellow, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources
Dr Isabela Butnar - Senior Research Associate, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources
Image: Miscanthus Elephant Grass by Yves Bernardi from Pixabay