Biomass-CCS plant could help to reduce carbon emissions

Plans have been unveiled for a power plant that will combine biomass energy generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to, in theory, achieve a net reduction in carbon emissions.

The proposed plant is one of three projects announced today by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) — a public-private consortium tasked with developing mass-scale solutions that will help the UK to meet its renewable energy and emissions targets.

The plant will use a variety of second-generation feedstocks, including short-rotation coppice, miscanthus, willow and poplar, but will probably not be equipped to handle municipal solid or commercial industrial waste.

A consultation phase is now under way to decide the exact energy conversion technology it will employ, which could involve the basic combustion of crops or more advanced approaches such as gasification or combined heat and power (CHP) generation.

However, Akira Kirton, the ETI’s technology strategy manager, said one of the key challenges will be in combining energy generation with the CCS phase.

‘There are clearly differences between biomass as a feedstock versus coal or gas, and that can be both positive and negative. Coal tends to have much more sulphur, which is an issue during [carbon] separation, whereas biomass tends to have more halides — alkaline metals — which means that corrosion tends to be a larger issue [in CCS].’

Nevertheless, the project has enormous potential benefits since biomass power generation is carbon neutral by itself, so CCS should, in theory, help to able to achieve net reductions in carbon emissions.

‘We don’t want the entire community to be overly optimistic based on data that hasn’t been verified at the engineering level — that would be dangerous,’ said Kirton. ’On the flip side, we don’t want sceptics to be overly sceptical.’

The biomass-CCS plant will have an initial budget of £455,000 for the six-month consultation phase and will be led by CMCL Innovations in conjunction with Cambridge University, Doosan Babcock, Drax Power, EDF Energy, E4tech, Imperial Consultants and Leeds University. 

The other two ETI projects will be a trial to assess the impact of energy crops on land use and an evaluation of the overall bio-energy supply chain.