ETI releases UK decarbonization strategy combining bioenergy, CCS

By Katie Fletcher | November 25, 2016

The Energy Technologies Institute released a report this month highlighting the importance of combining bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) if the U.K. is to meet its 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets cost-effectively.

The report, entitled “The Evidence for Deploying Bioenergy with CCS in the U.K.” reveals that BECCS can deliver negative CO2 emissions while producing energy in the form of electricity, heat, gas and liquid fuels.

According to the ETI, BECCS deployment can be achieved by 2030 as all the major components of such a system have been demonstrated individually. If implemented, the ETI projects it could result in an emissions reduction of up to 55 million metric tons of CO2 per year by 2050, which is equivalent to half of the U.K. emissions target for 2050. This would result in meeting approximately 10 percent of the U.K.’s future energy demand, and reducing the cost of meeting the 2050 emissions target by up to 1 percent of gross domestic product.

The ETI stated that this is only going to become effective with significant support over the next five to 10 years to demonstrate commercial deployment of BECCS technology and the wider biomass and CO2 storage supply chain in the U.K. According to ETI’s report, the government should ensure that its U.K. CCS Strategy encompasses BECCS technology.

“The U.K. is well-placed to exploit the benefits of BECCS because it has vast storage opportunities offshore, experience in bioenergy deployment, and academic and industrial strength in both bioenergy and CCS,” said Geraldine Newton-Cross, ETI strategy manager. “There are no show-stopping technical barriers to BECCS. The individual technologies, sectors and value chains have been substantially de-risked over the last 10 years so the next steps are to demonstrate all the components together in combination at a U.K. plant. This will prove the technology, feedstock supply and logistics, and overall commercial viability. For this to happen, U.K. government support for BECCS is vital as the final decision on its implementation will be a political and financial one, not a technical one.”

According to ETI, the Committee on Climate Change’s “U.K. Climate Action following the Paris Agreement” report and two other adjoining reports make it “very clear that sustainable bioenergy and BECCS both play a critical role in enabling the U.K. to meet its 2050 GHG emission reduction commitments, and an even more central role in realizing the net-zero emission ambitions arising from the Paris Agreement.”

The International Energy Agency Clean Coal Centre does not focus on BECCS specifically, but lists a number of demonstrations and trails by major producers utilizing biomass in its fifth “Cofiring Biomass with Coal” conference papers. Amongst those listed are E.ON, DONG Energy, Drax, GDF Suez and scientific institutions working on the practical issues some biomass and waste fuels pose, such as fouling, corrosion and downstream catalyst deactivation. “This demonstrates the current commercial interest in developing biomass conversion technologies, which is a vital part of BECCS,” read the report.

Amongst topic areas highlighted in the report is the advancement in understanding costs, efficiencies and the challenges associated with biomass-fed combustion systems and carbon capture, together with evidence that numerous bioenergy value chains can deliver carbon savings, sizeable negative emissions when including BECCS, based on certain feedstocks. The ETI provided the examples of Drax’s coal unit conversions to biomass, and the Boundary Dam commercial-scale coal power CCS project in Canada as evidence.

The report provides context for why biomass combustion and gasification lend themselves to CCS. According to ETI, the scale of biomass in the U.K. today—in particular its use in a large unit like Drax—produces CO2 in sufficient quantities to deliver economies of scale in the capture of CO2.

Today, the U.K. does not have any large CCS projects, however, large-scale underground storage in North Sea aquifers has been practiced in Norway, and by 2017, 22 plants will be running CCS technology applications globally—spanning post-combustion and pre-combustion coal, natural gas steam reforming, bioenergy (corn to ethanol), and applications from power, gas production, refining, chemicals and steel. Also, TOKYO-Toshiba Corp. recently was selected by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment to construct a carbon capture facility to capture over 500 metric tons of CO2 per day from the 49 MW Mikawa Power Plant, which will be the first biomass power plant capable of capturing carbon.

While U.K. CCS development is not prevalent, bioenergy is the U.K.’s largest source of renewable energy, contributing 73 percent of all renewable energy inputs (151 TWh per year) and 59 percent of final renewable energy consumption. This meets 5 percent of all U.K. energy demand today—38 percent from electricity, 14 percent from transport fuels and 48 percent from heat.

The report details the potential availability and sustainability of feedstocks relevant to the U.K., as well as the identification and assessment of high-capacity, low-cost, low-risk stores for CO2 around the region and the infrastructure required to connect to them.

The ETI used a Bioenergy Value Chain Model to understand future bioenergy sector development scenarios and answer if a sufficient level of BECCS could be deployed in the U.K. to support its decarbonization pathways. Based on the scenario, it found final energy output requires approximately 190 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year of biomass feedstock (a combination of imported and domestically grown), and approximately 45 TWh per year of waste feedstocks. ETI’s analysis indicated that additional domestic biomass feedstock production needs could be met by converting 1.4 million hectares of U.K. agricultural land to bioenergy crops and forestry by the 2050s. This conversion could be made possible with small changes to farming practices and food waste to spare land in the agricultural system without impacting existing levels of U.K. food security, according to the report.

The report found that a consistent biomass feedstock planting rate of 30,000 hectares per year, combined with moderate imports, is sufficient to keep the U.K. on the required trajectory to meet the 2050 renewable energy targets.

Besides identifying if the U.K. could have a sufficient level of BECCS, the report attempts to answer three other critical questions. It looks into what would be the right combinations of feedstock, pre-processing, conversion and carbon capture technologies to deploy for bioenergy production in the region. The ETI also attempts to address how the greatest emissions savings from bioenergy and BECCS in the U.K. can be delivered. Finally, the report delivers insight on the amount of CO2 that could be stored from U.K. sources, and how these stores could be safely and efficiently monitored.

The full report with ETI’s evidence for deploying bioenergy with CCS in the U.K. can be downloaded here.