Ecofys study finds large global potential for negative CO2 emissions through biomass linked with carbon dioxide capture and storage
Combining biomass-to-energy for electricity or biofuel production with CO2 capture and storage (Bio-CCS) could result in an annual global technical potential of up to 10 gigatonnes of negative CO2 emissions in the year 2050, according to a study commissioned by IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme to the global energy consultancy company Ecofys. Compared to the almost 31 gigatonnes of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2010, this represents a large CO2 emissions reduction potential.
The combination actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere. The biomass extracts CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and the CCS takes out the CO2 released in the energy conversion process.—Joris Koornneef from Ecofys
The study makes a distinction between technical potential (the potential that is technically feasible and not restricted by economic limitations); realizable potential (the potential that is technically feasible and takes future energy demand and scenarios for the phase out of existing generating capacity into account); and economic potential (the potential at competitive cost compared to alternatives).
Taking only technical limitations into account, the maximum annual potential is approximately either 10 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) of negative emissions in the power sector or 6 gigatonnes in the biofuel sector. In the short term, bio-ethanol production is the most promising option as it allows CO2 capture at relatively low cost.
Negative CO2 emissions associated with the realizable potential range between 0.3 and 2.3 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent/year in 2030 and between 0.8 and 3.2 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent/year in 2050.
The economic potential of biomass and CCS that can potentially compete with fossil technologies amounts to negative emissions of either up to 3.5 gigatonnes in the power sector or 3.1 gigatonnes in the biofuel sector.
Estimates of the economic potential are highly sensitive to assumptions on CO2 and biomass prices. Ecofys also identifies other important drivers and barriers that influence deployment of these technologies.
In most regions, the sustainable supply of biomass, rather than CO2 storage potential, is likely to be the limiting factor, said Koornneef says. However, he noted, worldwide, there is ample sustainable biomass available to achieve negative emissions.
Ecofys identifies six promising technology routes in the power and transport sectors, including biomass combustion and gasification for power production, and biomass conversion to bio-ethanol and biodiesel.
Currently, a major hindrance is the lack of a clear economic incentive to store CO2 from biomass and create negative emissions. Without such an incentive, the potential for negative emissions will not be deployed, the report said. In the near term, useful preparatory work would involve a more detailed look at the most promising regions where sustainable biomass production and conversion can be combined with CCS.