Investigating the BECCS resource nexus: delivering sustainable negative emissions
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and other negative emissions technologies (NETs), are integral to all scenarios consistent with meeting global climate ambitions. BECCS's ability to promptly remove CO2 from the atmosphere in a resource efficient manner, whilst being a net energy generator to the global economy, remains controversial. Given the large range of potential outcomes, it is crucial to understand how, if at all, this technology can be deployed in a way which minimises its impact on natural resources and ecosystems, while maximising both carbon removal and power generation. In this study, we present a series of thought experiments, using the Modelling and Optimisation of Negative Emissions Technologies (MONET) framework, to provide insight into the combinations of biomass feedstock, origin, land type, and transport route, to meet a given CO2 removal target. The optimal structure of an international BECCS supply chain was found to vary both quantitatively and qualitatively as the focus shifted from conserving water, land or biomass, to maximising energy generated, with the water use in particular increasing threefold in the land and biomass use minimisation scenario, as compared to the water minimisation scenario. In meeting regional targets, imported biomass was consistently chosen over indigenous biomass in the land and water minimisation scenarios, confirming the dominance of factors such as yield, electricity grid carbon intensity, and precipitation, over transport distance. A pareto-front analysis was performed and, in addition to highlighting the strong trade-offs between BECCS resource efficiency objectives, indicated the potential for tipping points. An analysis of the sensitivity to the availability of marginal land and agricultural residues showed that (1) the availability of agricultural residues had a great impact on BECCS land, and that (2) water use and land use change, two critical sustainability indicators for BECCS, were negatively correlated. Finally, we showed that maximising energy production increased water use and land use fivefold, and land use change by two orders of magnitude. It is therefore likely that an exclusive focus on energy generation and CO2 removal can result in negative consequences for the broader environment. In spite of these strong trade-offs however, it was found that BECCS could meet its electricity production objective without compromising estimated safe land use boundaries. Provided that the right choices are made along BECCS value chain, BECCS can be deployed in a way that both satisfies its resource efficiency and technical performance objectives.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2018 Energy and Environmental Science HOT Articles