Report: biomass, CCS could reduce UK carbon emissions

By Anna Simet | April 24, 2013

A new report by Carbon Connect examines methods of carbon emission reductions in the United Kingdom, and says that biomass power stations and carbon capture and storage (CCS) could play an important role in replacing the electric capacity that is shut down in lieu of stricter pollution laws.

More electricity will be generated from non-fossil fuel sources, such as nuclear, wind and biomass, but fossil fuels could stay in the energy mix if carbon capture and storage can be proven, according to the report. It points out that the power sector is expected to more than half its carbon intensity by 2020, but what will happen in the decade to 2030 is less certain. “The future of coal power stations and the success of nuclear and renewables build programs will largely determine the emissions pathway during this decade,” it says.

The U.K. power system will face short-term operational challenges, as around one-fifth of existing capacity will retire in the next decade and be replaced largely by intermittent capacity. Wind is expected to increase threefold by 2020, but in the medium term, unabated thermal power stations, including biomass and gas, will have an important role to play, providing additional flexibility. Their role, however, is dependent upon how cost-effective and deployable alternative measures are.

At the start of 2012, the U.K. had 30 gigawatts of coal- and oil-fired capacity.  By April 2013, coal and oil capacity had reduced to 22 gigawatts with the retirement of several plants. A further five gigawatts is expected to close or convert to biomass by 2016, with up to three gigawatts of biomass conversions, although only one gigawatt has been confirmed to date, the report says.

The report also points out that carbon capture and storage fitted to biomass power stations is currently one of the only technologies that could offer the opportunity to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “Combusting biomass with CCS would create negative carbon emissions – the carbon absorbed by growing plants would be captured and permanently stored underground in the CCS process,” it says. “These negative emissions could then be offset against those from harder to decarbonize sectors such as transport, for example, by allowing greater use of petrol should alternative technologies prove costly.”

Large-scale use of biomass with CCS would require an increase in the domestic or international supply chain, the report adds, supported by robust sustainability criteria to ensure that carbon reductions are actually achieved