Bioenergy, Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

Galvanizing a practically-focused and policy-relevant discussion of the most complex and challenging questions relating to BECCS.

Corn grows near an ethanol plant near Lena, Illinois, in 2004. Photo credit: Copyright © Scott Olson/Getty

There is growing interest in the role of negative emissions technologies (NETs), and in particular bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), in achieving the Paris Agreement’s climate stabilisation goals.

Significant deployment of BECCS is common to most Paris-compliant emissions reduction pathways, but raises important considerations for policymakers, particularly regarding the land-take required and competing land-uses required for ecosystem services and multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The assumptions underpinning these pathways, and the trade-offs and consequences stemming from widespread BECCS deployments are currently under appreciated, as are the alternative mitigation potentials of natural ecosystems.

The lack of clarity for what remains a speculative technology, coupled to the potential scale of BECCS, ongoing concerns about conventional bioenergy, and the possibility of adverse impacts on forests, biodiversity, water availability, land-use change and food production presents a need for evidence-based consensus-building among key constituencies – to inform decisions, manage risks and militate against the emergence of a polarized discourse.

Our work

The first phase of this work, funded by the The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, involved convening a series of expert meetings harnessing the expertise, insight, and experience of prominent actors from a range of disciplines and constituencies, assessing the evidence base, identifing knowledge gaps and areas of consensus and contention, and proposing ways forward including policy and regulatory developments needed for a risk-based approach to BECCS.

A research paper, video explainer, and summaries of the expert meetings are available from this phase.

The second phase, funded by the European Climate Foundation, builds on this work, further investigating the assumptions (particularly relating to energy penalties) underpinning BECCS’s expected contribution to climate change mitigation and energy production, and the extent to which these have proliferated in the literature.

A research report will be published in the run up to COP26, showing the degree of reliance on BECCS of high-profile global energy scenarios and nation state climate policies. It will also draw conclusions about the role could BECCS play in revised Nationally Determined Contributions to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement.