Matt Carr, Executive Director, Algae Biomass Organization
In a paper published yesterday, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, find that biomass power generation, when combined with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), is a potential negative carbon power source. Because plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere during growth, capture and underground storage of CO2 from biomass combustion can result in net reductions of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. This bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) approach, the authors conclude, could be a key strategy to mitigating climate change.
The authors have it almost right. Capturing carbon from combustion of biogenic carbon does indeed provide a double carbon benefit to the atmosphere. But the best bang for the buck is delivered when, as in the case of algae-based carbon capture and utilization (CCU), that captured carbon is reused to produce yet more energy that substitutes for fossil fuels. Such a bioenergy with carbon capture and utilization approach (which I here christen BECCU) is a triple play for climate, absorbing carbon upstream, avoiding emissions at the power plant, and keeping fossil carbon stored for all time by substituting algae-based alternatives for fossil-derived fuels. It’s a AAA-rated approach! And, unlike underground storage, BECCU comes with a strong business case: revenue generated from carbon utilization can help offset, or even negate, the cost of carbon capture. In the case of algae-based CCU, there is even the added potential for co-production of new sources of proteins, plastics, and a host of other valuable products, further enhancing both the environmental and economic sustainability of the system.
We need look no further than the corn fields of Iowa to see BECCU in action – though in a slightly different form. BioProcess Algae’s project with Green Plains, Inc., in Shenandoah, Iowa, shows just how carbon- (and cash-) efficient energy systems can be with BECCU. In capturing biogenic carbon from the corn ethanol fermentation process, BioProcess and Green Plains deliver the same climate triple play as in the power plant scenario while enhancing the economics and environmental profile of corn ethanol production.
Granted, there may be some scenarios where underground storage is still the best available option. So, let’s go with an all-encompassing net negative carbon acronym. Why bioenergy with carbon capture, utilization and storage? BECCUS.