Evaluating the use of biomass energy with carbon capture and storage in low emission scenarios

Naomi E. Vaughan, Clair Gough, Sarah Mander, Emma W. Littleton, Andrew Welfle, David E. H. J. Gernaat, Detlef P. van Vuuren

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Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is heavily relied upon in scenarios of future emissions that are consistent with limiting global mean temperature increase to 1.5 °C or 2 °C above pre-industrial. These temperature limits are defined in the Paris Agreement in order to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Here, we explore the use of BECCS technologies in a reference scenario and three low emission scenarios generated by an integrated assessment model (IMAGE). Using these scenarios we investigate the feasibility of key implicit and explicit assumptions about these BECCS technologies, including biomass resource, land use, CO2 storage capacity and carbon capture and storage (CCS) deployment rate. In these scenarios, we find that half of all global CO2 storage required by 2100 occurs in USA, Western Europe, China and India, which is compatible with current estimates of regional CO2 storage capacity. CCS deployment rates in the scenarios are very challenging compared to historical rates of fossil, renewable or nuclear technologies and are entirely dependent on stringent policy action to incentivise CCS. In the scenarios, half of the biomass resource is derived from agricultural and forestry residues and half from dedicated bioenergy crops grown on abandoned agricultural land and expansion into grasslands (i.e. land for forests and food production is protected). Poor governance of the sustainability of bioenergy crop production can significantly limit the amount of CO2 removed by BECCS, through soil carbon loss from direct and indirect land use change. Only one-third of the bioenergy crops are grown in regions associated with more developed governance frameworks. Overall, the scenarios in IMAGE are ambitious but consistent with current relevant literature with respect to assumed biomass resource, land use and CO2 storage capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number044014
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2018

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