Study: Big potential for negative CO2 emissions with biomass, CCS

By Lisa Gibson | August 03, 2011

The coupling of biomass technologies with carbon capture and storage yields negative carbon dioxide emissions and the global potential is enormous according to Potential for Biomass and Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, a study recently released by innovation company Ecofys and international research collaborative IEA Greenhouse Gas.

The study aimed to provide an assessment of the potential for biomass and CCS technologies up to 2050, with an additional focus on the medium term. Combining the two could result in up to 10 gigatonnes of negative carbon dioxide across the globe annually, researchers found. Putting that in perspective, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 reached almost 31 gigatonnes.

“The combination actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere,” said Joris Koornneef, a consultant at Ecofys. “The biomass extracts CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and the CCS takes out the CO2 released in the energy conversion process.”

The study carefully distinguishes between technical potential: potential that is technically feasible and not restricted by economic limitations; realizable potential: potential that is technically feasible and takes future energy demand scenarios for the phase out of existing generating capacity into account; and economic potential: the potential at a competitive cost compared to alternatives.

Looking at both electricity and fuel production, the study explored six technology routes. For power, it included pulverized coal with direct biomass cofiring; circulating fluidized bed dedicated biomass; integrated gasification combined cycle with cogasification of biomass; and biomass integrated gasification combined cycle. For biofuels, the study evaluated advanced production of bioethanol through hydrolysis and fermentation; and biodiesel based on gasification and Fischer Tropsch synthesis. The report also distinguishes three types of biomass: energy crops, forest residues, and agricultural residues. It also includes global sustainable biomass potential.

Taking only technical limitations into account, the maximum annual potential is about 10 gigatonnes of negative emissions annually in the power sector alone, or 6 gigatonnes in the biofuel sector. The realizable potential in the medium- and long-term appears to be the greatest for pulverized coal coupled with CCS and cofiring with biomass, according to the report. The best economic potential in both the medium- and long-term lies in biomass integrated gasification combined cycle with CCS. It has the lowest cost of electricity when using low-cost biomass.

But even with all the potential, barriers remain, including the lack of a clear economic incetive. “Without such an incentive, the huge potential for negative emissions will not be deployed,” the report says. In the near-term, the researchers recommend a detailed look at the most promising regions.

For a copy of the full report, contact Toby Aiken, IEA Greenhouse Gas communications dissemination manager, at


7 Responses

  1. Mark Schaffer



    Well...let's get on it. I want to fuel my car with biofuels now and contribute to solving the problem and am tired of reading about solutions that are not being implemented.

  2. John Bonitz



    While I applaud the study sponsors, I am compelled to point out that this study has very limited usefulness here in the United States. You see, policymakers and investors have already largely rejected CCS as a technology for mitigating climate change. "Five large-scale CCS projects have been canceled or postponed, while the fate of several others remains doubtful." The following news items underscore this point: If CCS with cheap coal is prohibitively expensive, then CCS with low-energy density biomass will logically be even more expensive. It is very unfortunate that this study was limited to CCS, and ENTIRELY ignored the other carbon negative bioenergy pathway -- pyrolysis or gasification with co-production of char. In these systems, biofuels or biopower are produced while also creating biochar for use as a soil amendment that also puts carbon back in the soil. Read more about biochar and carbon negative bioenergy here: And here's an archived webinar on the subject: If you think about CCS, pumping liquid CO2 underground is like a naughty kid sweeping a mess under the rug. In contrast, biochar is a way we can rebuild the soil, providing for the needs of future generations, while also providing for our own energy needs today. Biomass-CCS and bioenergy-with-biochar are very different: Different engineering (biochar is much simpler), different pathways for the carbon (into the soil where it's needed), and different economics (few places really need liquid CO2 pumped underground, but many places need soil to be restored). Biochar is of course pre-commercial: Much additional work is needed to demonstrate it and test & understand biochar's benefits to different soils and crops. But I feel confident the economics will sooner favor biochar rather than liquifying CO2 from smokestack emissions. From a political standpoint it should be less controversial, too: Who wouldn't want to move past the debate over carbon neutrality to a technology which can be proven and measured to actively sequester carbon while delivering energy?

  3. Oscar Fr. Graff



    I welcome the report. It's a good initiative to identify the potential for sustainable use of biomass in the power sector. CCS will be a part of future energy production and CCS applied on bioenergy, resulting in a carbon negative foot print, represents a "fast track" to achieve the goals for CO2 emissions. One technology that could be of interest in this possible carbon negative market segment, is the integration of gas power and biomass in combination with CCS: Flue gas from the gas power is used as "combustion air" for the bioenergy plant, thereby increasing the CO2 concentration before the gas enters the absorber for CO2 extraction by amines. The amount of CO2 removed from the flue gas is greater than the amount generated by the gas power plant (since this also contains CO2 from the biomass) and the total system becomes carbon negative. Heat (steam) from the bioenergy plant is used to boil off the CO2 from the amines, contrary to a conventional design where the required steam is tapped off from the gas power plant itself. Using bioenergy can therefore be said to increase the electric power output. There are also other positive synergies in this described technology.

  4. Fred Leith



    Wouldn't it be easier to store the CO2 as existing coal, oil and gas which we choose to not extract and burn? This avoids the 25% energy penalty of CCS and the land-use issues that biomass (a relatively land-intensive way of generating energy) creates.

  5. ed



    Man made global warming is theargest fraud perpetrated on the global citizens period. The icelandic volcanoes released more co2 in 24 hours than 10 years of emissions from China and the u.s. combined.

  6. Jerky



    Look folks! The easiest way to handle CO2 mitigation is .... wait for it ... PLANT MORE TREES! Even if you believe in global warming or not, I think we could all use a little more oxygen in the atmosphere and trees are the most cost effective way to control CO2.

  7. Mike Parr



    I partially agree with the comments of Mr Bonitz. I was one of the chaps that founded Biochar Europe and have had a letter published in Nature on the subject. The issue resolves itself into the cost in both capital and "implied energy loss" for a pyrolysis process with bio-char as an output vs total combutions and CO2 (plus implied energy needed for capture and storage) as an output. The bio-chare process has an implied energy "loss" since not all the carbon is combusted, the CCS process has a real energy loss in the energy required to capture, process and store the CO2. Might be interesting to do a comparison CCS vs Biochar in capital and energy terms. Having said that, I could see that both could have an application - my guess is that CCS will work better with coal and bio-char with bio-mass.


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