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BECCS could cost-effectively mitigate CO2 – ORNL study

The combination of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) could cost-effectively sequester hundreds of millions of tonnes annually of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the United States (US), making it a competitive solution for carbon management, according to a new analysis by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists. The findings suggest there are large-scale opportunities to implement BECCS at moderate cost across the US, particularly in the Midwest, southern Great Plains, and Texas.

The combination of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) could cost-effectively sequester hundreds of millions of tonnes annually of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the United States (US), making it a competitive solution for carbon management, according to a new analysis by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists. The findings suggest there are large-scale opportunities to implement BECCS at moderate cost across the US, particularly in the Midwest, southern Great Plains, and Texas (image courtesy ORNL, DOE).

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, uses carbon absorbed by plants from the atmosphere to create energy. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured during the conversion process — such as electricity generation or biofuels production — and stored underground. The result is negative-emissions technology.

The ORNL analysis, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office and published in a paper “The Economic Accessibility of CO2 Sequestration through Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in the US” in the journal Land, confirmed that the approach can sequester from 200 million tonnes per year of CO2 in the near term to more than 700 million tonnes per year by 2040.

The study pegged the cumulative potential of CO2 sequestration in the United States at 46 billion tonnes by the year 2100 using BECCS. This represents 4 percent to 30 percent of global CO2 sequestration that could be needed by BECCS by 2100 as outlined in various scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2018 report.

BECCS is one solution to achieving a limit of a 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature increase cited by the IPCC, which the panel says is necessary to avoid the most far-reaching impacts of environmental change. BECCS is also cited as part of the solution in a 2018 report of the National Academies Press.

The research is aimed at improving our understanding of BECCS and informing potential strategies to deal with environmental issues, said ORNL lead investigator Matthew Langholtz.

As low as US$42 per tonne CO2

The ORNL team set out to explore the supply and costs of BECCS under a range of biomass options, logistics, and power generation scenarios. The BECCS model examined near-term and long-term biomass supply scenarios, using both conventional and pelletized biomass, and two power generation technologies.

Under a near-term scenario using up to 206 million tonnes per year of biomass, as much as 181 million tonnes CO2 can be sequestered annually at average costs ranging from US$62 to US$137 per tonne, the scientists found.

Under a long-term scenario using up to 740 million tonnes per year of biomass, as much as 737 million tonnes CO2 can be sequestered annually at average costs ranging from US$42 to US$92 per tonne.

The team’s results suggest there are large-scale opportunities to implement BECCS at moderate cost across the country, particularly in the Midwest, southern Great Plains, and Texas. The model found BECCS has the potential to reach 20 GW of power generation capacity in the United States, representing about 5 percent of the nation’s current electricity generation capacity.

These estimates may be reduced if future competing demand reduces biomass availability, or could be magnified if demand for renewable energy increases, according to the analysis.

With full accounting, the model found that BECCS is more cost-competitive than previously anticipated. BECCS produces electricity, for instance, and that generates revenue to be taken into account. You’re producing electricity in a way that both sequesters CO2 and avoids CO2 emissions compared with conventional power sources, Matthew Langholtz said.

The work drew on multiple disciplines across ORNL, including expertise in biomass feedstocks, transportation supply chains, data analytics, electric demand, and power plant modeling, carbon capture analysis, and geological reservoir assessment. Data from the ORNL-produced Billion Ton Report, Vol. 2, which analyzes possible environmental effects associated with the potential production of at least 1 billion tonnes of nonfood biomass per year by 2040, informed the study.

The ORNL research team included Ingrid Busch, Abishek Kasturi, Michael Hilliard, Joanna McFarlane, Costas Tsouris, Srijib Mukherjee, Olufemi Omitaomu, Melissa Allen-Dumas, Christopher DeRolph, Maggie Davis, Esther Parish, and Susan Kotikot. ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States.

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