Billions could be wasted on for bioenergy and CCS

As the EU discusses new legislation to certify carbon removal technologies, European Science Academies are cautioning that billions of taxpayers’ money might go to technologies that fail to deliver.

“There is an assumption that bioenergy with carbon capture & storage (BECCS) can remove gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. But policymakers should look before they leap. The actual potential of BECCS highly contrasts with the prominent role it takes in many scenarios,” explained Professor Michael Norton, EASAC’s environment programme director.

The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) was formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and United Kingdom to provide independent, expert, evidence-based advice about the scientific aspects of European policies to those who make or influence policy within the European institutions.

EASAC’s latest evidence on the ability of BECCS to deliver substantial net removals of CO2 from the atmosphere shows that the models which point to BECCS as a preferred negative emissions technology to deliver on climate targets may contain weaknesses that are well-hidden.

“Many models ignore the fact that different feedstocks have different carbon payback periods, mistakenly considering that all bioenergy is carbon-neutral. But as much as there are differences in carbon content between different fossil fuels, there are significant differences in the climate impact of bioenergy depending on its origin,” explained Norton.

BECCS may also be over-emphasized in models for several reasons. One is because climate modelling tools assume high discount rates that favour deferring investments into the future (rather than spending now on more emission reductions). In addition, cost minimisation models may have difficulty in anticipating the rapid reductions in other renewable energy costs.

“Banking on future technologies such as BECCS to compensate later for inadequate emission reductions today places significant risks on future generations. Policymakers tend to assume that BECCS will not only be able to massively remove carbon from the atmosphere but will also be technically and economically feasible. However, on current evidence, BECCS projects should be of limited scale, all feedstocks provided locally, and feedstock carbon payback times should be very short.”, added Norton.

In addition, many scenarios for BECCS assume that unrealistic quantities of biomass will be available.

The danger remains that BECCS will be offered to policymakers as a climate solution to avoid the more politically challenging mitigation options. To avoid this, EASAC strongly argues for national and international targets to formally separate any carbon dioxide removal (CDR) targets and emissions reduction targets in their climate strategies, so that any CDR is treated as additional to emissions reduction.

William Gillett, EASAC’s energy programme director, added: “We do not argue that BECCS can never become an option. But until the underlying assumptions regarding the availabilities and carbon payback periods of different biomass feedstocks used in integrated assessment models have been refined, and the benefits and feasibility of BECCS are proven, the EU and national governments should not be offering subsidies.”

    Share Story:

Recent Stories