US climate report outlines net negative emissions plan

The development of systems that combine biomass energy generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be vital in helping countries achieve greenhouse gas emissions targets, according to a new climate report.

Written by a team from Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) the report argues that the development of so-called BECCS technologies (Bioeenergy with carbon capture and storage)  will be essential if we are to sequester more  greenhouse gases than we emit.

‘Net negative emissions can be achieved when more greenhouse gases are sequestered than are released into the atmosphere,” said  the report’s lead author Jennifer Milne. ‘One of the most promising net-negative technologies is BECCS.’

A typical BECCS system converts woody biomass, grass and other vegetation into electricity, chemical products or fuels, such as ethanol. CO2 emissions released during the process are captured and stored.

The technology could be used in power plants, paper mills, ethanol processors and other manufacturing facilities.

The report identifies 16 BECCS projects at various stages of development around the world. These include a corn ethanol production facility in Illinois which sequesters around 1,000 metric tonnes of CO2 a day in a sandstone formation 7,000 feet underground.

Estimates show that by 2050, BECCS technologies could sequester 10 billion metric tonnes of industrial CO2 emissions annually worldwide. But according to the GCEP report, major technical and economic hurdles must be overcome, such as the relative inefficiency of biomass fuels and the high cost of CCS.