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The BECCS Race

Bioenergy technology combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is being hailed as the future of environmentally friendly energy production due to the potential to generate power while simultaneously extracting carbon from the atmosphere.

BECCS summarised is producing electricity, heat, liquid fuels and gaseous fuels without releasing greenhouse gases and geologically storing the carbon emissions. Achieving net negative emissions is essentially the new space race.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 laid out clear objectives to reduce carbon emissions in the UK by 80% by 2050. In 2016, a report for the Energy Technology Institute, predicted that BECCS could deliver approximately 55 million tonnes of net negative emissions annually in the UK. This would be a huge step towards achieving national carbon emissions reduction goals and reduce the expenditure in achieving this goal.

However, BECCS is still experimental and unproven technology, with some critics suggesting it could even accelerate climate change. The lack of confidence in BECCS has recently been stressed by the withdrawal of funding from the Treasury for CCS competition. Deputy director for Energy, Environment and Agriculture at HM Treasury Neil Kenward said “CCS had to compete against alternative projects: £1 billion spent on CCS would be £1 billion less on schools or hospitals.” The obstacles for BECCS are to demonstrate effectiveness and receive government funding but the competition from more established and successful alternative energy production sources, such as offshore wind farms, are preventing firm investment in BECCS.

The Drax Group are currently piloting the first BECCS project of its kind in Europe. The trial at its North Yorkshire power station if successful will produce renewable, carbon negative electricity. In a bizarre twist, Drax are in talks with the British Beer & Pub Association about the potential to use the stored CO2 to add fizz to 32,000 pints a day. This commitment by Drax demonstrates a clear understanding of the foreseeable future for the renewable energy market with Sweden and Scandinavian countries expected to become net zero carbon by the 2030s; twenty years ahead of the UK’s national estimation.

Pilots such as the Drax Groups use of BECCS will be vital in demonstrating whether BECCS is reliable and successful in achieving negative carbon emissions or not. Without government funding, the race to achieve renewable, carbon free energy via BECCS will be between independent and innovative companies. The only question is whether the UK will be able to keep up with its own goals and its European neighbours’ achievements.