Study: Big potential for negative CO2 emissions with biomass, CCS

By Lisa Gibson | August 03, 2011

The coupling of biomass technologies with carbon capture and storage yields negative carbon dioxide emissions and the global potential is enormous according to Potential for Biomass and Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, a study recently released by innovation company Ecofys and international research collaborative IEA Greenhouse Gas.

The study aimed to provide an assessment of the potential for biomass and CCS technologies up to 2050, with an additional focus on the medium term. Combining the two could result in up to 10 gigatonnes of negative carbon dioxide across the globe annually, researchers found. Putting that in perspective, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 reached almost 31 gigatonnes.

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

The study carefully distinguishes between technical potential: potential that is technically feasible and not restricted by economic limitations; realizable potential: potential that is technically feasible and takes future energy demand scenarios for the phase out of existing generating capacity into account; and economic potential: the potential at a competitive cost compared to alternatives.

Looking at both electricity and fuel production, the study explored six technology routes. For power, it included pulverized coal with direct biomass cofiring; circulating fluidized bed dedicated biomass; integrated gasification combined cycle with cogasification of biomass; and biomass integrated gasification combined cycle. For biofuels, the study evaluated advanced production of bioethanol through hydrolysis and fermentation; and biodiesel based on gasification and Fischer Tropsch synthesis. The report also distinguishes three types of biomass: energy crops, forest residues, and agricultural residues. It also includes global sustainable biomass potential.

Taking only technical limitations into account, the maximum annual potential is about 10 gigatonnes of negative emissions annually in the power sector alone, or 6 gigatonnes in the biofuel sector. The realizable potential in the medium- and long-term appears to be the greatest for pulverized coal coupled with CCS and cofiring with biomass, according to the report. The best economic potential in both the medium- and long-term lies in biomass integrated gasification combined cycle with CCS. It has the lowest cost of electricity when using low-cost biomass.

But even with all the potential, barriers remain, including the lack of a clear economic incetive. “Without such an incentive, the huge potential for negative emissions will not be deployed,” the report says. In the near-term, the researchers recommend a detailed look at the most promising regions.

For a copy of the full report, contact Toby Aiken, IEA Greenhouse Gas communications dissemination manager, at