Carbon Capture Technologies: Biomass Industry’s Unique Opportunity

Spurred by interest and growing recognition of the role biomass can play in mitigating climate change, project developers and policy makers are putting biomass on the map, but perhaps under a name you are less familiar with—carbon capture.
By Jessie Stolark | January 09, 2020

The biomass industry is at an interesting juncture. Spurred by interest and growing recognition of the role biomass can play in mitigating climate change, project developers and policy makers are putting biomass on the map, but perhaps under a name you are less familiar with—carbon capture. As an umbrella term, carbon capture refers to a broad suite of methods for capturing, geologically storing and utilizing carbon oxides, both carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide, to reduce emissions.

The Carbon Capture Coalition is a nonpartisan coalition supporting the economywide deployment and adoption of carbon capture technologies to foster domestic energy production, create and preserve jobs, and reduce carbon emissions. Today, the consensus-based Coalition boasts 75 members, spanning the energy, biomass, industrial, labor and NGO sectors.  The Coalition’s diversity is its core strength, bringing a unique voice to the federal energy and climate debate.

The Coalition achieved a landmark victory with the passage of 45Q in 2018, an update to the tax code that provides incentives for projects that permanently store CO2, or utilize captured carbon for a variety of commercial products, including fuels, chemicals and building materials. 45Q is considered the most comprehensive global policy for carbon capture; however, a broad suite of policy mechanisms will be necessary to fully realize a commercial-scale carbon capture industry.  Earlier this year, the Coalition released a Federal Policy Blueprint to guide our efforts in seeking widespread adoption and deployment of carbon capture and related technologies.

The biomass industry has long understood the unique value that sustainably sourced biobased fuels, products and energy can provide to mitigate emissions and provide new, profitable opportunities for the agricultural sector. Recent reports from governing bodies and nongovernmental organizations worldwide have underscored the role that sustainable biomass can play in capping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Indeed, without a wide variety of zero and negative emissions technologies, including biomass utilization, we will likely overshoot these temperature targets.

Negative emissions, or carbon dioxide removal, is when more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere than emitted. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is one important strategy than can be deployed at existing ethanol refineries or bioenergy plants. BECCS and other negative emissions technologies are highlighted in the 2018 International Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C as a necessary part of meeting mid-century emissions reduction goals.

This scientific, consensus-based document could not have stated the important role of negative emissions more clearly: “…(A)ll pathways that limit global warming with limited or no overshoot project the use of carbon dioxide removal on the order of 100 to 1,000 gigatons CO2 over the 21st century.” For comparison, 1 gigaton is equal to the CO2 emissions of the entire passenger vehicle fleet in the U.S. each year.  

Since then, scientists and researchers, from the national academies to former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, have stepped up to say that negative emissions technologies, including biomass, have an important role to play in climate mitigation.

The biomass industry has already begun capitalizing on these opportunities with several carbon capture projects deployed in the U.S., primarily through capturing CO2 and using it for geological storage through enhanced oil recovery. They include the Arkalon CO2 Compression Facility at the Arkalon Energy ethanol plant, and the Bonanza BioEnergy CCUS EOR project, both in Kansas. Two additional biomass CO2-to-EOR projects have been recently announced—the Oxy Low Carbon Ventures-Velocys project in Natchez, Mississippi, which will create jet fuel from waste biomass, and the Occidental Petroleum and White Energy ethanol joint venture in Texas. Outside of CO2-to-EOR, ADM’s Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture & Storage Project is geologically storing CO2 at its Decatur ethanol facility.

Carbon capture presents a unique opportunity for the biomass industry. While the 100 to 1,000 gigatons of negative emissions needed annually to stabilize global temperatures will not be realized from the biomass industry alone, the industry clearly has an important role to play to help realize economywide deployment of negative emissions, as well as other carbon capture technologies that are critical to meeting mid-century climate goals.

Author: Jessie Stolark
Public Policy & Member Relations Manager, Carbon Capture Coalition