Lost in the scenarios of negative emissions: what can be expected of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)?



Adrina Lefvert and Stefan Grönkvist, KTH


Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a mitigation tool among others, which is dependent upon financial incentives (Honegger et al., 2021; Lefvert et al., 2022). BECCS is the chain of technologies to capture, transport and store carbon dioxide (CO2) from the emissions of e.g. industry and/or energy sector facilities that mainly use biomass as a fuel (Möllersten et al., 2003; Obersteiner et al., 2001). CO2 molecules, once they are in the atmosphere, have the same impact on earth’s radiative balance regardless of their origin (Grönkvist et al., 2006). Thus, BECCS could contribute to climate change mitigation. In addition, if a boundary is drawn around a BECCS project, and the used biomass is sustainably grown, the project could be seen to create a net sink of emissions from the atmosphere, thereby enabling negative emissions. Today, integrated assessment models (IAMs), which seek to analyze future development pathways through combining models of the physical world (biosphere and atmosphere) with technoeconomic models on technologies and society, are becoming increasingly reliant on BECCS to reach global temperature goals (Muratori et al., 2020; van Vuuren et al., 2018; Vaughan et al., 2018). However, this could require a giga-ton-scale implementation of BECCS, according to some IAMs, something that has sparked a debate on the realism of the IAMs, as well as a discussion on the possibility to deploy BECCS on such scale (Smith et al., 2015). Since a giga-ton-scale deployment of BECCS would require a massive expansion of biomass use, some have argued that such scenarios are unfeasible (Jones and Albanito, 2020). This has led to arguments about a sustainability demand on BECCS projects, as a way to make sure that negative emissions are truly negative emissions (Tanzer and Ramírez, 2019). In contrast, we argue that the discussion concerning a sustainability demand on biomass for BECCS miss two crucial points for BECCS deployment in reality, i.e.: (1) BECCS is an add-on to old and new facilities which are producing some other product as their main source of income, and (2) emissions from the change in biomass carbon stocks are already accounted for in the land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector. Given this, we find that a demand for sustainability certification on biomass used for BECCS risks to unnecessarily delay wide-spread deployment of BECCS – a potentially cost-effective climate change mitigation tool.


Grönkvist, S., Möllersten, K., Pingoud, K., 2006. Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO 2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes. An International Journal Devoted to Scientific, Engineering, Socio-Economic and Policy Responses to Environmental Change. 11, 1083-1096. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-006-9034-9.

Honegger, M., Burns, W., Morrow, D.R., 2021. Is carbon dioxide removal ‘mitigation of climate change’? Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law. 30, 327-335. https://doi.org/10.1111/reel.12401.

Jones, M.B., Albanito, F., 2020. Can biomass supply meet the demands of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)? Global Change Biology. 26, 5358-5364. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15296.

Lefvert, A., Rodriguez, E., Fridahl, M., Grönkvist, S., Haikola, S., Hansson, A., 2022. What are the potential paths for carbon capture and storage in Sweden? A multi-level assessment of historical and current developments. Energy Research & Social Science. 87, 102452. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2021.102452.

Möllersten, K., Yan, J., R. Moreira, J., 2003. Potential market niches for biomass energy with CO2 capture and storage—Opportunities for energy supply with negative CO2 emissions. Biomass and Bioenergy. 25, 273-285. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0961-9534(03)00013-8.

Muratori, M., Bauer, N., Rose, S.K., Wise, M., Daioglou, V., Cui, Y., Kato, E., Gidden, M., Strefler, J., Fujimori, S., Sands, R.D., van Vuuren, D.P., Weyant, J., 2020. EMF-33 insights on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Climatic Change. 163, 1621-1637. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-020-02784-5.

Obersteiner, M., Azar, C., Kauppi, P., Möllersten, K., Moreira, J., Nilsson, S., Read, P., Riahi, K., Schlamadinger, B., Yamagata, Y., Yan, J., van Ypersele, J.P., 2001. Managing Climate Risk. Science. 294, 786. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.294.5543.786b.

Smith, P., Davis, S.J., Creutzig, F., Fuss, S., Minx, J., Gabrielle, B., Kato, E., Jackson, R.B., Cowie, A., Kriegler, E., van Vuuren, D.P., Rogelj, J., Ciais, P., Milne, J., Canadell, J.G., McCollum, D., Peters, G., Andrew, R., Krey, V., Shrestha, G., Friedlingstein, P., Gasser, T., Grübler, A., Heidug, W.K., Jonas, M., Jones, C.D., Kraxner, F., Littleton, E., Lowe, J., Moreira, J.R., Nakicenovic, N., Obersteiner, M., Patwardhan, A., Rogner, M., Rubin, E., Sharifi, A., Torvanger, A., Yamagata, Y., Edmonds, J., Yongsung, C., 2015. Biophysical and economic limits to negative CO2 emissions. Nature Climate Change. 6, 42. 10.1038/nclimate2870 https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate2870#supplementary-information.

Tanzer, S.E., Ramírez, A., 2019. When are negative emissions negative emissions? Energy & Environmental Science. 12, 1210-1218. https://doi.org/10.1039/C8EE03338B

van Vuuren, D.P., Stehfest, E., Gernaat, D.E.H.J., van den Berg, M., Bijl, D.L., de Boer, H.S., Daioglou, V., Doelman, J.C., Edelenbosch, O.Y., Harmsen, M., Hof, A.F., van Sluisveld, M.A.E., 2018. Alternative pathways to the 1.5 °C target reduce the need for negative emission technologies. Nature Climate Change. 8, 391-6798. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0119-8.

Vaughan, N.E., Gough, C., Mander, S., Littleton, E.W., Welfle, A., Gernaat, D.E.H.J., van Vuuren, D.P., 2018. Evaluating the use of biomass energy with carbon capture and storage in low emission scenarios. Environmental Research Letters. 13, 044014. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaaa02.