Biomass and carbon capture potential to cut emissions

3 Aug 2011

Combining biomass with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) could result in an annual global saving of up to 10 gigatonnes of negative CO2 emissions by the year 2050, an International Energy Agency (IEA)-commissioned study has predicted.

Released today, the study, which looks at the global sustainable biomass potential and the CO2 storage potential, was carried out by energy consultancy firm Ecofys as part of the IEA’s Greenhouse Gas R&D programme.


According to the study, feeding biomass to energy conversion processes for electricity or biofuel production with subsequent capture and storage of CO2 from these sources – otherwise known as Bio-CCS – results in a negative greenhouse gas (GHG) balance.

“The combination actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere,” says Joris Koornneef of Ecofys. “The biomass extracts CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and the CCS takes out the CO2 released in the energy conversion process.”

But for this negative GHG balance to happen, one prerequisite is sustainable biomass production,” he adds.

“In most regions, the sustainable supply of biomass, rather than CO2 storage potential, is likely to be the limiting factor. But worldwide, there is ample sustainable biomass available to achieve negative emissions.”

‘Promising’ tech routes in power and transport sectors

Ecofys has identified six promising technology routes in the power and transport sectors. These include biomass combustion and gasification for power production, and biomass conversion to bio-ethanol and biodiesel.

Taking only technical limitations into account, the energy consultancy says the maximum annual potential is circa either 10 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) of negative emissions in the power sector or six gigatonnes in the biofuel sector.

Bio-ethanol production – most promising?

In the short term, Ecofys predicts that bio-ethanol production is the most promising option as it allows CO2 capture at relatively low cost.

However, a major impediment right now, according to Ecofys, is the lack of a clear economic incentive to store CO2 from biomass and create negative emissions.

Without such an incentive, it says the huge potential for negative emissions will not be deployed. In the short term, Ecofys suggests taking a more detailed look at the most promising regions where sustainable biomass production and conversion can be combined with CCS.

Graphic: Concept of energy supply from biomass combined with carbon capture and storage resulting in the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Source: Ecofys

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic