Tag: BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage)

The jobs needed to build a net zero energy future

Many components are needed to tackle climate change and reach environmental milestones such as meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. One of those components is the right workforce, large enough and with the necessary skills and knowledge to take on the green energy jobs of a low-carbon future. In 2020, the renewable energy sector employed 11.5 million people around the world, but as the industry continues to expand that workforce will only grow.

Last year, a National Grid report found that in the UK alone, 120,000 jobs will need to be filled in the low-carbon energy sector by 2030, to meet the country’s climate objectives. That figure is expected to rise to 400,000 by 2050.  The UK energy sector as a whole currently supports 738,000 jobs and much of this workforce already has the skills needed for a low carbon society . Others can be reskilled and retrained, helping to bolster the future workforce by supporting employees through the green transition.

At a global level energy sector jobs are expected to increase from 18 million to 26 million by 2050. Jobs that will span the full energy spectrum; from researching and advising on low-carbon solutions to installing and implementing them.

Here are some of the roles that will be key to the low-carbon energy transformation:

A wind farm under construction off the English coast

Wind turbine technicians

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), wind power is this year set for a 17% increase in global energy generation compared to 2020, the biggest increase of any renewable power source. The IEA also forecasts that wind power will need to grow tenfold by 2050 if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. It’s not surprising, therefore, that wind turbine technicians – the professionals who install, inspect, maintain, and repair wind turbines – are in high demand. In the US, wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing job in the country – with 68% growth projected over the 2020-2030 period – to give just one example.

In the UK, many wind turbine technicians have a background in engineering or experience from the wider energy sector. Although there are wind turbine technician and maintenance courses available, they are not a prerequisite, and many employers offer apprenticeships and on-the-job training – smoothing the path for energy professionals to transition into the role.

Solar panel installers

Today, solar photovoltaic (solar PV) is the biggest global employer in renewable energy, accounting for 3.8 million jobs. The IEA also reported a 23% uptick in solar PV installations around the world in 2020. In the UK, there are currently 13.2 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power capacity. Trade association Solar Energy UK predicts this will need to rise to at least 40 GW by 2030 if the UK is to succeed in becoming a net zero economy by 2050. The trade association believes this could see the creation of 13,000 new solar energy jobs.

Solar panel installers – who carry out the important job of installing and maintaining solar PV – are essential to a low-carbon future. Many solar panel installers in the UK come from a background in electrical installation or have transitioned from engineering. While there are training courses specifically designed for solar panel installers, they are not a necessity, particularly if you already have on-the-job experience in a relevant sector. This makes a move to becoming a solar panel installer relatively easy for someone already working in energy or with a mind for engineering.

Energy consultants

Businesses of all kinds must play a role in the transition to net zero. Organisations must be able to manage their energy use and begin switching to renewable sources. As professionals who advise companies on this process, renewable energy consultants are a key part of the green energy workforce. Aspects of the job include identifying how organisations use their electric assets and helping businesses optimise those assets to build responsiveness and flexibility into energy-intensive operations. The core responsibilities of a renewable energy consultant are to reduce a company’s environmental impact while helping the business reduce energy costs and identifying opportunities.

Carbon accountants

A growing number of businesses are setting targets for reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But that’s only possible if you can first determine what your GHG emissions are and where they come from, which is where the relatively young field of carbon accounting comes in. Through what is known as physical carbon accounting, companies can assess the emissions their activities generate, and where in the supply chain the emissions are occurring. This allows businesses to implement more accurate actions and be realistic in their timelines for reducing emissions.

On a wider scale, accurate carbon accounting will be crucial in certifying emissions reductions or abatement, as well as in the distribution of carbon credits or penalties as whole economies push towards net zero.

Battery technology researchers

Energy storage is essential to a low-carbon energy future.  The ability to store and release energy from intermittent sources such as wind and solar will be crucial in meeting demand and balancing a renewables-driven grid. While many forms of energy storage already exist, developing electric batteries that can be deployed at scale is still a comparatively new and expanding area.

Global patenting activities in the field of batteries and other electricity storage increased at an annual rate of 14% –  four times faster than the average for technology – between 2005 and 2018. However, it’s estimated that to meet climate objectives, the world will need nearly 10,000 GW hours of battery and other electricity storage by 2040. This is 50 times the current level and research and innovation will be crucial to delivering bigger and more efficient batteries.

Farmers and foresters

How we use and manage land will be important in lowering carbon emissions and creating a sustainable future for people and the planet. Crops like corn, sugarcane, and soybean can serve as feedstock for biofuel and bioenergy, and farming by-products such as cow manure can be used in the development of biofuel.

Techniques adopted in the agricultural sector will also be important in optimising soil sequestration capabilities while ensuring it is nutrient-rich enough to grow food. These techniques include the use of biochar, a solid form of charcoal produced by heating biomass without oxygen. Research indicates that biochar can sequester carbon in the soil for centuries or longer. It also helps soil retain water and could contribute to reducing the use of fertilisers by making the soil more nutrient-dense.

Forests, meanwhile, provide material for industries like construction, the by-products from which can serve as feedstock for woody biomass, primarily in the shape of low-grade wood that would otherwise remain unused. Sustainably managed forests, such as those from which Drax sources its biomass, have two-fold importance. They both enable woody biomass for bioenergy and ensure CO2 is removed from the atmosphere as part of the natural carbon cycle.

Biofuel engineers and scientists

Farmers and foresters provide feedstock for biofuels, but it’s biofuel scientists and engineers who research, develop, and enhance them, opening the door to alternative fuels for vehicles, heating, and even jet engines.

According to the IEA, production of biofuel that can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels in the transport sector grew 6% in 2019. However, the organisation forecasts that production will need to increase 10% annually until 2030to be in line with Paris Agreement climate targets.

Scientific innovations that can help boost the production of biofuel around the world, therefore, continues to be vital. As is the work of biofuel engineers who assess and improve existing biofuel systems and develop new ones that can replace fossil fuels like petrol and diesel.

The wealth of knowledge around fuels in the oil and gas industries means there is ample opportunity for scientists and engineers who work with fossil fuels to bring their skills to crucial low-carbon roles.

Geologists

The overriding goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to “well below” 2 and preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. This is an objective the IEA has said will be “virtually impossible” to fulfil without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. CCS entails capturing CO2 and transporting it for safe and permanent underground storage in geological formations such as depleted oil and gas fields, coal seams, and saline aquifers.

According to the Global CCS Institute, the world will need a 100-fold increase on the 27 CCS project currently in operation by 2050. Knowledge and research into rock types, formations, and reactivity will be important in helping identify sites deep underground that can be used for safe, permanent carbon storage, and sequestration. Skills and expertise gained in the oil and gas industries will allow professionals in these sectors to make the switch from careers in fossil fuel to roles that help power a net zero economy.  

Employees working at Drax Power Station

Chemists

The role of chemists is also vital to decarbonisation. Knowledge and research around CO2 is a potent force in the effort to reduce and remove it from the atmosphere.

Technologies like CCS, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECSS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) are based around such research. Carbon capture processes are chemical reactions between emissions streams and solvents, often based on amines, and GHGs. Understanding and controlling these processes makes chemistry a key component of delivering carbon capture at the scale needed to help meet climate targets.

Chemists’ role in decarbonisation is far from limited to carbon capture methods. From battery technology to reforestation, chemists’ understanding of the elements can help drive action against climate change.

Bringing together disciplines

Tackling climate change on the scale needed to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement depends on collaboration between industries, countries, and disciplines. Decarbonisation projects such as the UK’s East Coast Cluster, which encompasses both Zero Carbon Humber and Net Zero Teesside, fuse engineering and construction jobs with scientific and academic work.

Zero Carbon Humber, which brings together 12 organisations, including Drax, is expected to create as many as 47,800 jobs in the region by 2027. Among these are construction sector jobs for welders, pipefitters, machine installers and technicians. In addition, indirect jobs are predicted to be created across supply chains, from material manufacturing to the logistics of supporting a workforce.

Meeting climate challenges and delivering projects on the scale of Zero Carbon Humber, depends on creating an energy workforce that combines the knowledge of the past with the green energy skills of the future.

Drax’s apprenticeships have readied workers for the energy sector for decades, and will continue to do so as we build a low-carbon future. Options include four-year technical apprenticeships in mechanical, electrical, and control and instrumentation engineering. Getting on-the-job training and practical experience, apprentices receive a nationally recognised qualification, such as a BTEC or an NVQ Level 3, at the end of the programme.

Apprentices at Drax Power Station [2021]

The workforce needed to make low carbon societies a reality will be a diverse one – stretching from apprentices to experienced professionals with a background in traditional or renewable energy. It will also span every aspect of the renewable energy field, from the chemists and biofuel scientists who develop key technologies to the solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians who fit and maintain the necessary equipment.

The skills needed to take on these roles are already plentiful in the UK and around the world. Overcoming challenges on the road to net zero requires refocussing these existing talents, skills, and careers towards a new goal.

Transporting carbon – How to safely move CO2 from the atmosphere to permanent storage

Key points

  • Carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) offers a unique opportunity to capture and store the UK’s emissions and help the country reach its climate goals.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) can be stored in geological reservoirs under the North Sea, but getting it from source to storage will need a large and safe CO2 transportation network.
  • The UK already has a long history and extensive infrastructure for transporting gas across the country for heating, cooking and power generation.
  • This provides a foundation of knowledge and experience on which to build a network to transport CO2.

Across the length of the UK is an underground network similar to the trainlines and roadways that crisscross the country above ground. These pipes aren’t carrying water or broadband, but gas. Natural gas is a cornerstone of the UK’s energy, powering our heating, cooking and electricity generation. But like the country’s energy network, the need to reduce emissions and meet the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 is set to change this.

Today, this network of pipes takes fossil fuels from underground formations deep beneath the North Sea bed and distributes it around the UK to be burned – producing emissions. A similar system of subterranean pipelines could soon be used to transport captured emissions, such as CO2, away from industrial clusters around factories and power stations, locking them away underground, permanently and safely.

Conveyer system at Drax Power Station transporting sustainable wood pellets

The rise of CCUS technology is the driving force behind CO2 transportation. The process captures CO2 from emissions sources and transports it to sites such as deep natural storage enclaves far below the seabed.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) takes this a step further. BECCS uses sustainable biomass to generate renewable electricity. This biomass comes from sources, such as forest residues or agricultural waste products, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. Atmospheric COreleased in the combustion of the biomass is then captured, transported and stored at sites such as deep geological formations.

Across the whole BECCS process, CO2 has gone from the atmosphere to being permanently trapped away, reducing the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and delivering what’s known as negative emissions.

BECCS is a crucial technology for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but how can we ensure the CO2 is safely transported from the emissions source to storage sites?

Moving gases around safely

Moving gases of any kind through pipelines is all about pressure. Gases always travel from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. By compressing gas to a high pressure, it allows it to flow to other locations. Compressor stations along a gas pipeline help to maintain right the pressure, while metering stations check pressure levels and look out for leaks.

The greater the pressure difference between two points, the faster gases will flow. In the case of CO2, high absolute pressures also cause it to become what’s known as a supercritical fluid. This means it has the density of a liquid but the viscosity of a gas, properties that make it easier to transport through long pipelines.

Since 1967 when North Sea natural gas first arrived in the UK, our natural gas transmission network has expanded considerably, and is today made up of almost 290,000 km of pipelines that run the length of the country. Along with that physical footprint is an extensive knowledge pool and a set of well-enforced regulations monitoring their operation.

While moving gas through pipelines across the country is by no means new, the idea of CO2 transportation through pipelines is. But it’s not unprecedented, as it has been carried out since the 1980s at scale across North America. In contrast to BECCS, which would transport CO2 to remove and permanently store emissions, most of the CO2 transport in action today is used in oil enhanced recovery – a means of ejecting more fossil fuels from depleted oil wells. However, the principle of moving CO2 safely over long distances remains relevant – there are already 2,500 km of pipelines in the western USA, transporting as much as 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

“People might worry when there is something new moving around in the country, but the science community doesn’t have sleepless nights about CO2 pipelines,” says Dr Hannah Chalmers, from the University of Edinburgh. “It wouldn’t explode, like natural gas might, that’s just not how the molecule works. If it’s properly installed and regulated, there’s no reason to be concerned.”

CO2 is not the same as the methane-based natural gas that people use every day. For one, it is a much more stable, inert molecule, meaning it does not react with other molecules, and it doesn’t fuel explosions in the same way natural gas would.

CO2 has long been understood and there is a growing body of research around transporting and storing it in a safe efficient way that can make CCUS and BECCS a catalyst in reducing the UK’s emissions and future-proofing its economy.

Working with CO2 across the UK

Working with CO2 while it is in a supercritical state mean it’s not just easier to move around pipes. In this state CO2 can also be loaded onto ships in very large quantities, as well as injected into rock formations that once trapped oil and gas, or salt-dense water reserves.

Decades of extracting fossil fuels from the North Sea means it is extensively mapped and the rock formations well understood. The expansive layers of porous sandstone that lie beneath offer the UK an estimated 70 billion tonnes of potential CO2 storage space – something a number of industrial clusters on the UK’s east coast are exploring as part of their plans to decarbonise.

Source: CCS Image Library, Global CCS Institute [Click to view/download]

Drax is already running a pilot BECCS project at its power station in North Yorkshire. As part of the Zero Carbon Humber partnership and wider East Coast Cluster, Drax is involved in the development of large scale carbon storage capabilities in the North Sea that can serve the Humber and Teesside industrial clusters. As Drax moves towards its goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030, transporting CO2 safely at scale is a key focus.

“Much of the research and engineering has already been done around the infrastructure side of the project,” explains Richard Gwilliam, Head of Cluster Development at Drax. “Transporting and storing CO2 captured by the BECCS projects is well understood thanks to extensive engineering investigations already completed both onshore and offshore in the Yorkshire region.”

This also includes research and development into pipes of different materials, carrying CO2 at different pressures and temperatures, as well as fracture and safety testing.

The potential for the UK to build on this foundation and progress towards net zero is considerable. However, for it to fully manifest it will need commitment at a national level to building the additional infrastructure required. The results of such a commitment could be far reaching.

In the Humber alone, 20% of economic value comes from energy and emissions-intensive industries, and as many as 360,000 jobs are supported by industries like refining, petrochemicals, manufacturing and power generation. Putting in place the technology and infrastructure to capture, transport and store emissions will protect those industries while helping the UK reach its climate goals.

It’s just a matter of putting the pipes in place.

Go deeper: How do you store CO2 and what happens to it when you do?

Landmark moments on the path to a net zero UK

Biomass domes on a sunny day

In brief

  • £75m backing for Zero Carbon Humber to develop net zero technologies
  • Accenture and World Economic Forum report says Humber could decarbonise quicker than any other UK industrial region
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries partners with Drax, supplying its advanced carbon capture technology, making millions of tonnes of negative emissions possible at Drax Power Station this decade
  • Deploying bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) in the 2020s will have ‘positive spillover’ for a net zero economy, says Frontier Economics
  • Delaying BECCS until the 2030s, argues Baringa research, could increase energy system costs by £4.5bn
  • Planning consent process for BECCS at Drax from 2027 is underway, with public consulted
  • Drax and Bechtel studying global BECCS deployments

Around the world governments, industries and societies have begun to set themselves targets for reaching net zero but it is at home in the UK where real progress is starting to be made in answering some of the tougher challenges posed by the global environmental crisis.

Eyebrows were raised when the UK set itself one of the most stretching timeframes in which to decarbonise but like many business leaders, I am firmly of the belief that this ambitious target will be the catalyst to deliver the innovative thinking needed to get the planet to where it needs to be.

I was delighted to learn recently that Government has awarded the Zero Carbon Humber partnership £75 million in funding to develop world-leading net zero technologies.

MHI BECCS pilot plant within CCUS Incubation Area, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

MHI BECCS pilot plant within CCUS Incubation Area, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Drax was one of the founder members of the Partnership and its goal is to build the world’s first net zero industrial cluster and decarbonise the North of England. Along with the other members, we worked hard to secure this Government support and it consists of money from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge fund, with two thirds coming from private backing. This financing is a vote of confidence from investors and highlights the Government’s commitment to developing the world’s first zero-carbon industrial cluster in the region.

Projects of this scale, backed with meaningful funding, are key to accelerating a range of technologies that will be essential to advancing decarbonisation. These include hydrogen production, carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and negative emissions through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). But more than just having a positive effect on reducing emissions, delivering this in the Humber will also support clean economic growth and future-proof vital industries.

Biomass storage domes and water cooling towers at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

Biomass storage domes and water cooling towers at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

I believe that in a similar way to how renewables have made huge strides in helping decarbonise power, a range of new technologies are now needed to decarbonise industry and industrial regions. Our work as a partnership in the Humber is establishing a landmark project for the UK and the world’s journey to net zero and clean growth.

Reaching net zero depends on a diverse range of technologies

There are many factors that will be essential for the world to reach net zero, but perhaps none more important than open collaboration and integration. Government, industry and individual businesses will need to work together and share learnings and infrastructure to be able to make true progress. This collaboration will of course take many forms, but one that is crucially important is industrial clusters, such as Zero Carbon Humber and neighbouring Net Zero Teesside.

A recent report by Accenture highlighted how vital decarbonising industrial regions will be to reaching climate goals. Industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions account for as much as 11 gigatonnes, or 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). However, the report also highlights the opportunities, both environmental and economic, in decarbonising clusters. The market for global industrial efficiency alone is expected to receive investments worth as much as $40bn, while the global hydrogen market was estimated at around $175bn in 2019.

The Humber is the UK’s largest cluster by industrial emissions, emitting 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year – more than 2% of the UK’s total GHG emissions. Pioneering projects around hydrogen production, CCUS and negative emissions through BECCS are all ready to scale in the region, beginning the task of reducing and removing emissions. The potential benefit to the regional economy could also be significant – it’s estimated these technologies could create 48,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs in the Humber region by 2027. This new £75 million in funding will allow work to gather pace on these transformational projects.

The funding will be used to obtain land rights and begin front-end engineering design (FEED) for the hydrogen facility at H2H Saltend, as well as onshore pipeline infrastructure for CO2 and hydrogen. It marks the beginning of the vital work of putting transportation systems in place that will take captured CO2 from Drax Power Station’s BECCS generating units and permanently store it under the southern North Sea’s bed.

Drax’s BECCS power generation is one of Zero Carbon Humber’s anchor projects. Our recently confirmed partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will see its Advanced KM CDR™️ carbon capture technology deployed at Drax Power Station. The negative emissions that this long-term agreement will make possible, will enable the region to reduce its emissions faster than any other UK cluster, according to Accenture. Developing negative emissions through BECCS will help us achieve our ambition of becoming a carbon negative company by 2030. By that time, Drax Power Station could remove 8 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, playing a major part in helping the UK meet its climate goals.

From BECCS to a net zero UK

In March 2021, Drax kickstarted the process to gain the necessary planning permissions called a Development Consent Order (DCO) from the Government. It’s a crucial administrative step towards delivering a BECCS unit as early as 2027, and a landmark moment in developing negative emissions in the UK.

A report by Frontier Economics for Drax highlights BECCS as a necessary step on the UK’s path to decarbonisation. Developing a first-of-a-kind BECCS power plant would also have ‘positive spillover’ effects that can contribute to wider decarbonisation and a net zero economy. These include learnings and efficiencies that come from developing and operating the country’s first BECCS power station, as well as transport and storage infrastructure, which will reduce the cost of subsequent BECCS, negative emissions and other CCS projects.

However, the benefits of acting quickly and pioneering BECCS deployment at scale can only be achieved if policy is put in place to enable the right business models for BECCS and negative emissions. According to the Frontier report, intervention is needed to instil confidence in investors while also protecting consumer energy prices from spikes.

Inside MHI pilot carbon capture plant, Drax Power Station

Inside MHI pilot carbon capture plant, Drax Power Station

Failure to implement negative emissions through BECCS could also be costly. Time is of the essence for the UK to reach net zero by 2050 and research by energy consultancy Baringa, commissioned by Drax, highlights the economic cost of hesitation. Findings showed that delaying BECCS from 2027 to 2030 could increase energy system costs by more than £4.5bn over the coming decade and over £5bn by the time the UK has to reach net zero.

I believe what we are developing at Drax can become a world-leading and exportable solution for large-scale carbon negative power generation. The potential in negative emissions is economic as well as environmental, protecting thousands of jobs in the UK’s carbon-intensive industries, as well as overseas.

BECCS offers great potential for the UK to export skills, knowledge and equipment to an international market. To help establish this market we are working with engineering and construction project management firm Bechtel to explore locations globally where there is the opportunity to deploy BECCS, and identify how new-build BECCS plants can be optimised to deliver negative emissions for those regions.

Pictured L-R: Kentaro Hosomi, Chief Regional Officer EMEA, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI); Jenny Blyth, Project Analyst, Drax Group at Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire; Carl Clayton, Head of BECCS, Drax Group;

Multiple government and independent organisations have highlighted how essential negative emissions are to reaching net zero in the UK, as well as global climate goals. The recently formed Coalition for Negative Emissions aims to advance this vital industry at a global scale. By uniting a range of negative emissions providers and users from across industries, we can make it a more powerful force for decarbonisation and sustainable growth.

It will still be a long journey towards the UK’s goals, but the Government’s funding for Zero Carbon Humber, the beginning of our BECCS DCO and partnerships with MHI and Bechtel are key steps on the path to reaching net zero by 2050. I, for one, am excited to be on this journey.

What is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)?

What is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)? 

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is the process of capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from biomass (organic matter) energy generation.

Why is BECCS important for decarbonisation? 

Sustainably sourced biomass-generated energy (bioenergy) can be carbon neutral, as plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. This, in turn, offsets CO2 emissions released when the biomass is combusted as fuel.

When sustainable bioenergy is paired with carbon capture and storage it becomes a source of negative emissions, as CO2 is permanently removed from the carbon cycle.

Experts believe that negative emissions technologies (NETs) are crucial to helping countries meet the long-term goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. As BECCS is the most scalable of these technologies this decade, it has a key role to play in combating climate change.

How is the bioenergy for BECCS generated?

Most bioenergy is produced by combusting biomass as a fuel in boilers or furnaces to produce high-pressure steam that drives electricity-generating turbines. Alternatively, bioenergy generation can use a wide range of organic materials, including crops specifically planted and grown for the purpose, as well as residues from agriculture, forestry and wood products industries. Energy-dense forms of biomass, such as compressed wood pellets, enable bioenergy to be generated on a much larger scale. Fuels like wood pellets can also be used as a substitute for coal in existing power stations.

How is the carbon captured?

BECCS uses a post-combustion carbon capture process, where solvents isolate CO2 from the flue gases produced when the biomass is combusted. The captured CO2 is pressurised and turned into a liquid-like substance so it can then be transported by pipeline.

How is the carbon stored?

Captured CO2 can be safely and permanently injected into naturally occurring porous rock formations, for example unused natural gas reservoirs, coal beds that can’t be mined, or saline aquifers (water permeable rocks saturated with salt water). This process is known as sequestration.

Over time, the sequestered CO2 may react with the minerals, locking it chemically into the surrounding rock through a process called mineral storage.

BECCS fast facts

Is BECCS sustainable?

 Bioenergy can be generated from a range of biomass sources ranging from agricultural by-products to forestry residues to organic municipal waste. During their lifetime plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, this balances out the CO2that is released when the biomass is combusted.

What’s crucial is that the biomass is sustainably sourced, be it from agriculture or forest waste. Responsibly managed sources of biomass are those which naturally regenerate or are replanted and regrown, where there’s a increase of carbon stored in the land and where the natural environment is protected from harm.

Biomass wood pellets used as bioenergy in the UK, for example, are only sustainable when the forests they are sourced from continue to grow. Sourcing decisions must be based on science and not adversely affect the long-term potential of forests to store and sequester carbon.

Biomass pellets can also create a sustainable market for forestry products, which serves to encourage reforestation and afforestation – leading to even more CO2 being absorbed from the atmosphere.

Go deeper:

  • The triple benefits for the environment and economy of deploying BECCS in the UK.
  • How BECCS can offer essential grid stability as the electricity system moves to low- and zero-carbon sources.
  • Producing biomass from sustainable forests is key to ensuring BECCS can deliver negative emissions.
  • 5 innovative projects where carbon capture is already underway around the world
  • 7 places on the path to negative emissions through BECCS

7 places on the path to negative emissions through BECCS

Stockholm Gamla Stan Nacht Nordlicht

In brief:

  • Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is increasingly being explored and deployed around the world at heat and power stations, factories and waste-to-energy plants as they aim to achieve net zero through negative emissions.

  • Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the US and UK all have projects either piloting or developing BECCS with the aim of achieving negative emissions to reach their net zero climate goals.

  • Drax, the world’s leading sustainable biomass generation and supply business, has the biggest BECCS project, aiming for eight million tonnes of negative emissions per year by 2030.

  • BECCS projects often form part of low emissions clusters which make use of local sustainable sources of biomass and partner with nearby industries to share CO2 transport and storage infrastructure.

Can a power station make a positive impact on the climate? How about a cement factory? Or even a whole city?

Negative emissions technologies (NETs) aim to help do this by removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, reducing the detrimental effects of many industrial processes, and even go as far as countering the impacts of climate change.

Among NETs, BECCS offers a means of generating electricity or heat while also removing CO2 from the atmosphere. It works by using biomass from sustainable sources, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere when they grow. When the biomass is used as fuel, that same CO2 is captured and stored, permanently and safely, usually under the seabed.

Trials of BECCS technology are already underway around the world as companies, governments and the third sector work towards their climate goals through negative emissions. 

  1. Stockholm Exergi – powering the world’s first climate positive city

Stockholm Exergi BECCS pilot plant

Stockholm Exergi BECCS pilot plant

Stockholm Exergi is the energy utility responsible for the Swedish capital’s heating, cooling, electricity, and waste processing services. It has bold ambitions to become ‘climate positive’ by 2025. Since December 2019, the company has trialled BECCS at its heat and power cogeneration plant in the Värtan area of Stockholm, where it calculates there is potential to capture 800,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

The project sources biomass from ‘chopped slash’ made up of branches and treetops, as well as residues from the board, pulp and paper industries, 57% of which come locally from Sweden.

Stockholm’s location is also advantageous for storing CO2, with the nearby North Sea offering multiple sites that meet Stockholm Exergi’s criteria for carbon sequestration.

Graphic: Stockholm Exergi's BECCS plant would send captured carbon to the. Northern Lights project

Stockholm Exergi’s BECCS plant would send captured carbon to the Northern Lights project

Fabian Levihn, head of R&D at Stockholm Exergi highlights the economic advantages BECCS offers as a means of carbon offsetting for industries with hard-to-abate emissions. “For industrial emitters to remove the last 20% needed to reach net zero greenhouse gases it will cost as much as US$800 per tonne of CO2 or equivalent,” explains Levihn.

Fabian Levihn, head of R&D at Stockholm Exergi

Fabian Levihn, head of R&D at Stockholm Exergi

“If BECCS can be realised at $100 per tonne of CO2, it offers an upside in terms of economic efficiency for climate change abatement of $700 per tonne.”

Recent modelling by leading energy consultancy Baringa for Drax has shown that deploying BECCS in the 2020s can present billions of pounds of cost savings compared to waiting until later decades, closer to national net zero deadlines. 

  1. Mendota California – from cantaloupe to carbon capture

The City of Mendota’s seal proudly declares itself ‘The Cantaloupe Center of the world’. Now, however, the agricultural California city is getting a slice of energy innovation with a BECCS project designed to deliver negative emissions and reduce air pollution in the region.

The project comes from a partnership between Schlumberger New Energy, Chevron, Clean Energy Systems and Microsoft. It aims to remove as much as 300,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, the equivalent emissions created generating electricity for more than 65,000 US homes.

The BECCS plant, which is beginning its front-end engineering and design (FEED) phase before a final investment decision in 2022, is optimised for its location. The plant will convert waste from the surrounding agricultural industries, such as almond trees, into a renewable synthesis gas that will be mixed with oxygen in a combustor to generate electricity.

Desert, California

Desert, California

More than 99% of the carbon from this process is expected to be captured and then stored in nearby deep geological formations in the desert landscape. By using an estimated 200,000 tonnes of agricultural waste annually, the plant will also help towards the California Air Resources Control Board’s plan of phasing out almost all agricultural burning in the Valley by 2025.

The project is expected to create up to 300 construction jobs and about 30 permanent jobs once the facility is operating.

  1. HeidelbergCement – net zero at an industrial scale

Reaching net zero isn’t just about taking the emissions out of energy generation. Heavy industries must also reduce and remove CO2 with carbon capture and storage (CCS) and BECCS offers a way of achieving this at an even larger scale.

Concrete uses cement

Concrete uses cement

HeidelbergCement Norcem’s plant in Brevik, Norway plans to become the first industrial-scale CCS project at a cement production plant in the world. The project aims to capture 400,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, which will be compressed and transported by ship away from the plant, before being exported via pipeline and stored beneath the North Sea bed.

The plant aims to start CO2 separation from the cement production process by 2024. The end result will be a 50% cut of emissions from the cement produced at the plant. However, CCS is only part of the company’s plan to deliver carbon-neutral cement by 2050.

HeidelbergCement also plans to increase its use of alternative raw materials, primarily waste materials and by-products from other industries – biomass already plays a key part of this, making up 38.1% of the company’s alternative fuel mix. Importantly, it offers a model that can be sustainably applied to cement manufacturing around the world.

  1. Ørsted, Aker and Microsoft – Taking the carbon out of Denmark’s heat and power

Not one to be left behind by its Scandinavian neighbours, Denmark has set the ambitious target of reducing its emissions to 70% of 1990 levels by 2030. BECCS and negative emissions will be essential in meeting that goal, and the country already has some of the key infrastructure in place.

Ørsted operates six biomass-fired units that, as well as generating power, provide around one quarter of Denmark’s district heating. This use of combined heat and power stations, mean BECCS can decarbonise both utilities simultaneously. Ørsted, Aker Carbon Capture, and Microsoft are partnering to explore ways to do just that.

Avedøre combined heat and power plant in Denmark operated by Ørsted

Avedøre combined heat and power plant in Denmark operated by Ørsted

Ørsted’s biomass units are powered by low quality or surplus wood that would either be left to rot or be burned in the forest. With the biomass units already in operation, the partnership will address technological, regulatory, and commercial challenges around BECCS. This includes a technology collaboration to integrate Microsoft’s digital expertise into a BECCS project, along with Aker Carbon Capture’s capture technology.

The partnership is exploring the potential to store captured carbon in the North Sea-based Northern Lights project, which is expected to have the capacity to transport, inject, and store up around 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

Microsoft is already a partner in Northern Lights as part of its efforts to operate as carbon negative by 2030, which has seen it forge partnership across the CCS landscape.

  1. Drax – from coal emitter to climate innovator

Drax has evolved from a coal power station to run four of its 600MW-plus generating units on sustainable biomass and is the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

BECCS pilots at the plant have already been successful in capturing more than a tonne of CO2 a day. By proving the viability of multiple capture technologies, Drax has set 2030 as the date when it aims to become carbon negative, which would also see its BECCS operations scale up to capture as much as 8 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

Drax Power Station with biomass storage domes lit up

Drax Power Station with biomass storage domes lit up

The power station is in an advantageous location to deliver such significant negative emissions. Located near the UK’s Humber region, Drax is partnered with a range of industrial emitters through the Zero Carbon Humber partnership, which aims to become the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster through a combination of industrial CCS, hydrogen and BECCS.

Sharing carbon capture and transport infrastructure across the region helps to reduce costs for each party, and in Drax’s case can translate into keeping electricity costs down for consumers.

Delivering BECCS, negative emissions and a net zero carbon cluster is an economic driver for the Humber. A recent report found it could create and support almost 48,000 new jobs at the peak of the construction period in 2027 and provide thousands of long term, skilled jobs in the following decades. Negative emissions from BECCS also has an essential role to play in enabling the UK to reach its target of net zero emissions by 2050.

“Drax is ready to invest in this essential technology which will help the UK decarbonise faster and kickstart a whole new industry here,” says Drax CEO Will Gardiner.

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner in the control room at Drax Power Station

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner in the control room at Drax Power Station [Click to view/download]

“By delivering BECCS, the UK can show the world what can be achieved for the environment and the economy when governments, businesses and communities work together.”

  1. Fortum Oslo Varme – turning waste to negative emissions

Agriculture and forestry waste are some of the world’s primary sources of sustainable biomass. However, large amounts of household waste are also biological in origins – for example cardboard or vegetable peels.

Food waste recycling bin in a kitchen

Food waste recycling bin in a kitchen

Dealing with cities’ waste is an environmental necessity and key to achieving net zero on a wider scale. Waste-to-energy plants have long provided a means to avoid landfill usage, but by introducing CCS to such facilities they can deliver positive impact to the cities they serve.

The FOV (Fortum Oslo Varme) plant in Oslo delivers heat and power to the Norwegian capital by incinerating waste, approximately 50% of which comes from biological origins. The waste-to-energy facility first launched a CCS pilot in 2016 to remove CO2 from the atmosphere through BECCS.

The project is part of the city’s broader ambition to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 95% between 2009 and 2030. As the city’s largest single emissions source, introducing CCS to the FOV can reduce Oslo’s emissions by 14%, an essential step to reach the city’s ambitious climate goals.

The plant currently treats 400,000 tonnes of waste per year that can’t be recycled and has already conducted a 5,500-hour pilot with a 95% capture rate. The issue of non-recyclable waste hangs over almost every city in the world and the FOV’s system could be implemented on as many as 500 similar plants around Europe alone, delivering power, district heating, negative emissions from organic materials and waste reduction.

  1. HOFOR – keeping BECCS on budget

HOFOR is a not-for-profit utility currently exploring the potential of BECCS and makes an interesting case study for how the technology can be deployed as economically as possible.

Short for Hovedstadsområdets Forsyningsselskab, which roughly translates as Greater Copenhagen Utility, HOFOR is investigating the addition of BECCS to its combined heat and power (CHP) station. Biomass-fed CHP plants use residual energy from power generation, such as steam, to heat water that is then circulated through a citywide network of pipes to provide heating. It means that the energy utilisation of biomass is very high and, importantly for Nordic countries, provides a large supply of affordable heating.

Maintaining the affordability of its heating supply is crucial for HOFOR, which is bound by regulatory conditions to not undertake investments that make heat more expensive for its customers. For this reason, HOFOR’s exploration of BECCS needs to place an emphasis on technologies that have a high readiness level, and ways to keep costs to a minimum.

Minimalist living room, simple white and gray living with big window, scandinavian classic interior design

By partnering with other local utilities as part of the C4: Carbon Capture Cluster Copenhagen, the company is looking to share the costs of carbon transport and storage infrastructure, keeping heat prices low, while delivering negative emissions.

There is also the potential for HOFOR to sell captured carbon that can be used to create products, such as green aviation fuel. Carbon offsetting offers another way for the utility to invest in BECCS if there is an organised and long-term market for such transactions in place.

Go deeper

Discover the best business model for BECCS

Negative emissions consist of a range of technologies and nature-based solutions that capture and permanently store CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. They offer a way to remove emissions that are currently impossible to entirely reduce in industries like aviation, agriculture and construction, and eventually begin to reverse the effects of climate change. Join the Coalition for Negative Emissions

How to build a business model for negative emissions

Watching a biomass train as it prepares to enter Drax Power Station's rail unloading building 2 (RUB2)

In brief

  • Policy intervention is needed to enable enough BECCS in power to make a net zero UK economy possible by 2050

  • Early investment in BECCS can insure against the risk and cost of delaying significant abatement efforts into the 2030s and 2040s

  • A two-part business model for BECCS of carbon payment and power CfD offers a clear path to technology neutral and subsidy free GGRs

The UK’s electricity system is based on a market of buying and selling power and other services. For this to work electricity must be affordable to consumers, but the parties providing power must be able to cover the costs of generating electricity, emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and getting electricity to where it needs to be.

This process has thrived and proved adaptable enough to rapidly decarbonise the electricity system in the space of a decade.

With a 58% reduction in the carbon intensity of power generation, the UK’s electricity has decarbonised twice as fast as that of other major economies. As the UK pushes towards its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, new technologies are needed, and the market must extend to enable innovation.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is one of the key technologies needed at scale for the UK to reach net zero. Yet there is no market for the negative emissions BECCS can deliver, in contrast to other energy system services.

BECCS has been repeatedly flagged as vital for the UK to reach its climate goals, owing to its ability to deliver negative emissions. The Climate Change Committee has demonstrated that negative emissions – also known as greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) or carbon removals – will be needed at scale to achieve net zero, to offset residual emissions from hard to decarbonise sectors such as aviation and agriculture. But there is no economic mechanism to reward negative emissions in the energy market.

For decarbonisation technologies like BECCS in power to develop to the scale and within the timeframe needed, the Government must implement the necessary policies to incentivise investment, and allow them to thrive as part of the energy and carbon markets.

BECCS is essential to bringing the whole economy to net zero

The primary benefit of BECCS in power is its ability to deliver negative emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere through responsibly managed forests, energy crops or agricultural residues, then storing the same amount of CO2 underground, while producing reliable, renewable electricity.

Looking down above units one through five within Drax Power Station

Looking down above units one through five within Drax Power Station

A new report by Frontier Economics for Drax highlights BECCS as a necessary cornerstone of UK decarbonisation and its wider impacts on a net zero economy. Developing a first-of-a-kind BECCS power plant would have ‘positive spillover’ effects that contribute to wider decarbonisation, green growth and the UK’s ability to meet its legally-binding climate commitments by 2050.

Drax has a unique opportunity to fit carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment to its existing biomass generation units, to turn its North Yorkshire site into what could be the world’s first carbon negative power station.

Plans are underway to build a CO2 pipeline in the Yorkshire and Humber region, which would move carbon captured from at Drax out to a safe, long-term storage site deep below the North Sea. This infrastructure would be shared with other CCS projects in the Zero Carbon Humber partnership, enabling the UK’s most carbon-intensive region to become the world’s first net zero industrial cluster.

Developing BECCS can also have spillover benefits for other emerging industries. Lessons that come from developing and operating the first BECCS power stations, as well as transport and storage infrastructure, will reduce the cost of subsequent BECCS, negative emissions and other CCS projects.

Hydrogen production, for example, is regarded as a key to providing low, zero or carbon negative alternatives to natural gas in power, industry, transport and heating. Learnings from increased bioenergy usage in BECCS can help develop biomass gasification as a means of hydrogen production, as well as applying CCS to other production methods.

The economic value of these positive spillovers from BECCS can be far reaching, but they will not be felt unless BECCS can achieve a robust business model in the immediate future.

With a 58% reduction in the carbon intensity of power generation, the UK’s electricity has decarbonised twice as fast as that of other major economies. As the UK pushes towards its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, new technologies are needed, and the market must extend to enable innovation.

Designing a BECCS business model

The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) outlined several key factors to consider in assessing how to make carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) economically viable. These are also valid for BECCS development.

Engineers working within the turbine hall, Drax Power Station

Engineers working within the turbine hall, Drax Power Station

One of the primary needs for a BECCS business model is to instil confidence in investors – by creating a policy framework that encourages investors to back innovative new technologies, reduces risk and inspires new entrants into the space. The cost of developing a BECCS project should also be fairly distributed among contributing parties ensuring that costs to consumers/taxpayers are minimised.

Building from these principles there are three potential business models that can enable BECCS to be developed at the scale and in the timeframe needed to bring the UK to net zero emissions in 2050.

  1. Power Contract for Difference (CfD):
    By protecting consumers from price spikes, and BECCS generators and investors from market volatility or big drops in the wholesale price of power, this approach offers security to invest in new technology. The strike price could also be adjusted to take into account negative emissions delivered and spillover benefits, as well as the cost of power generation.
  2. Carbon payment:
    Another approach is contractual fixed carbon payments that would offer a BECCS power station a set payment per tonne of negative emissions which would cover the operational and capital costs of installing carbon capture technology on the power station. This would be a new form of support, and unfamiliar to investors who are already versed in CfDs. The advantage of introducing a policy such as fixed carbon payment is its flexibility, and it could be used to support other methods of GGR or CCS. The same scheme could be adjusted to reward, for example, CO2 captured through CCS in industry or direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS). It could even be used to remunerate measurable spillover benefits from front-running BECCS projects.
  3. Carbon payment + power CfD:
    This option combines the two above. The Frontier report says it would be the most effective business model for supporting a BECCS in power project. Carbon payments would act as an incentive for negative emissions and spillovers, while CfDs would then cover the costs of power generation.
Cost and revenue profiles of alternative support options

Cost and revenue profiles of alternative support options based on assuming a constant level of output over time.

 Way to go, hybrid!

Why does the hybrid business model of power CfD with carbon payment come out on top? Frontier considered how easy or difficult it would be to transition each of the options to a technology neutral business model for future projects, and then to a subsidy free business model.

By looking ahead to tech neutrality, the business model would not unduly favour negative emissions technologies – such as BECCS at Drax – that are available to deploy at scale in the 2020s, over those that might come online later.

Plus, the whole point of subsidies is to help to get essential, fledgling technologies and business models off to a flying start until the point they can stand on their own two feet.

The report concluded:

  • Ease of transition to technology neutrality: all three options are unlikely to have any technology neutral elements in the short-term, although they could transition to a mid-term regime which could be technology neutral; and
  • Ease of transition to subsidy free: while all of the options can transition to a subsidy free system, the power CfD does not create any policy learnings around treatment of negative emissions that contribute to this transition. The other two options do create learnings around a carbon payment for negative emissions that can eventually be broadened to other GGRs and then captured within an efficient CO2 market.

‘Overall, we conclude that the two-part business model performs best on this criterion. The other two options perform less well, with the power CfD performing worst as it does not deliver learnings around remunerating negative emissions.’

Assessment of business model options

Assessment of business model options. Green indicates that the criteria is largely met, yellow indicates that it is partially met, and red indicates that it is not met.

Transition to a net zero future

Engineer inspects carbon capture pilot plant at Drax Power Station

Engineer inspects carbon capture pilot plant at Drax Power Station

Crucial to the implementation of BECCS is the feasibility of these business models, in terms of their practicality in being understood by investors, how quickly they can be put into action and how they will evolve or be replaced in the long-term as technologies mature and costs go down. This can be improved by using models that are comparable with existing policies.

These business models can only deliver BECCS in power (as well as other negative emissions technologies) at scale and enable the UK to reach its 2050 net zero target, if they are implemented now.

Every year of stalling delays the impact positive spillovers and negative emissions can have on global CO2 levels. The UK Government must provide the private sector with the confidence to deliver BECCS and other net zero technologies in the time frame needed.

Go deeper

Explore the Frontier Economics report for Drax, ‘Supporting the deployment of Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in the UK: business model options.’

Global collaborationis key to tacklingthe climate crisis

Leaders from 40 countries are meeting today, albeit virtually, as part of President Joe Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate. The event provides an opportunity for world leaders to reaffirm global efforts in the fight against climate change, set a clear pathway to net zero emissions, while creating jobs and ensuring a just transition.

Since taking office President Biden has made bold climate commitments and brought the United States back into the Paris Agreement. Ahead of the two-day summit, he announced an ambitious 2030 emissions target and new Nationally Determined Contributions. The US joins other countries that have announced significant reduction goals. For example, the EU committed to reduce its emissions by at least 55%, also South Korea, Japan and China have all set net-zero targets by mid-century.

Here in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week outlined new climate commitments that will be enshrined in law. The ambitious new targets will see carbon emissions cut by 78% by 2035, almost 15 years earlier than previously planned. If delivered, this commitment which is in-line with the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee’s sixth carbon budget will put the UK at the forefront of climate action, and for the first time the targets include international aviation and shipping.

What makes climate change so difficult to tackle is that it requires collaboration from many different parties on a global scale never seen before. As a UK-North American sustainable energy company, with communities on both sides of the Atlantic, at Drax we are keenly aware of the need for thinking that transcends borders, creating a global opportunity for businesses and governments to work together towards a shared climate goal. That’s why we joined other businesses and investors in an open letter supporting the US government’s ambitious climate actions.

Collaboration between countries and industries

It’s widely recognised that negative emissions technologies will be key to global efforts to combat climate change.

At Drax we’re pioneering the negative emissions technology bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at our power station in North Yorkshire, which when up and running in 2027 will capture millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, sending it for secure storage, permanently locking it away deep under the North Sea.

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic consider BECCS essential for reaching net zero. The UK’s Climate Change Committee says it will play a major role in removing CO2 emissions that will remain in the UK economy after 2050 from industries such as aviation and agriculture that will be difficult to fully decarbonise. Meanwhile, a report published last year by New York’s Columbia University revealed that rapid development of BECCS is needed within the next 10 years in order to curb climate change and a recent report from Baringa, commissioned by Drax, showed it will be a lot more expensive for the UK to reach its legally binding fifth carbon budget between 2028 and 2031 without BECCS.

A shared economic opportunity

Globally as many as 65 million well-paid jobs could be created through investment in clean energy systems. In the UK, BECCS and negative emissions are not just essential in preventing the impact of climate change but will also be a key component of a post-Covid economy.

Government and private investments in clean energy technologies can create thousands of well-paid jobs, new careers, education opportunities and upskill workforces. Developing BECCS at Drax Power Station, for example, would support around 17,000 jobs during the peak of construction in 2028, including roles in construction, local supply chains and the wider economy. It would also act as an anchor project for the Zero Carbon Humber initiative, which aims to create the world’s first net zero industrial cluster. Developing a carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen industrial cluster could spearhead the creation and support of tens of thousands of jobs across the Humber region and more than 200,000 around the UK in 2039.

Under the Humber Bridge

Additional jobs would be supported and created throughout our international supply chain. This includes the rail, shipping and forestry industries that are integral to rural communities in the US South and Western Canada.

A global company

As a British-North American company, Drax embodies the positive impact that clean energy investments have. We directly employ 3,400 people in the US, Canada, and the UK, and indirectly support thousands of families through our supply chains on both sides of the Atlantic. Drax is strongly committed to supporting the communities where we operate by investing in local initiatives to support the environment, jobs, education, and skills.

From the working forests of the US South and Western Canada to the Yorkshire and Humber region, and Scotland, we have a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030. At Drax, we believe the challenge of climate change is an opportunity to improve the environment we live in. We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% and transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Drax Power Station is the most advanced BECCS project in the world and we stand ready to invest in this cutting-edge carbon capture and removal technology. We can then share our expertise with the rest of the world – a world where major economies are committing to a net zero future and benefiting from a green economic recovery.

If we are to reach the targets set in Paris, global leaders must lock in this opportunity and make this the decade of delivery.

Supporting the deployment of Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in the UK: business model options

Innovation engineer inspecting CCUS incubation area BECCS pilot plant at Drax Power Station, 2019

Click to view/download the report PDF.

Drax Power Station is currently exploring the option of adding carbon capture and storage equipment to its biomass-fired generating units. The resulting plant could produce at least 8 million tonnes (Mt) of negative CO2 emissions each year, as well as generating renewable electricity. Drax is planning to make a final investment decision (FID) on its bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (‘BECCS in power’1) investment in Q1 2024, with the first BECCS unit to be operating by 2027.

The potential of BECCS as part of the path to Net Zero has been widely recognised.

  • BECCS in power is an important part of all of the Climate Change Committee (CCC)’s Net Zero scenarios, contributing to negative emissions of between 16- 39Mt CO2e per year by 20502. Investment needs to occur early: by 2035, the CCC sees a role for 3-4GW of BECCS, as part of a mix of low carbon generation3.
  • The Government’s Energy White Paper commits, by 2022, to establishing the role which BECCS can play in reducing carbon emissions across the economy and setting out how the technology could be deployed. The Government has also committed to invest up to £1 billion to support the establishment of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) in four industrial clusters4.
  • National Grid’s 2020 Future Energy Scenarios (FES) indicate that it is not possible to achieve Net Zero without BECCS5.

However, at present, a business model6 which could enable this investment is not in place. A business model is required because a number of barriers and market failures otherwise make economic investment impossible.

  • There is no market for negative emissions. There is currently no source of remuneration for the value delivered by negative emissions, and therefore no return for the investment needed to achieve them.
  • Positive spillovers are not remunerated. Positive spillovers that would be delivered by a first-of-a-kind BECCS power plant, but which are not remunerated include:
    • providing an anchor load for carbon dioxide (CO2) transport and storage (T&S) infrastructure that can be used by subsequent CCS projects;
    • delivering learning that will help lower the costs of subsequent BECCS power plants; and
    • delivering learning and shared skills that can be used across a range of CCS projects, including hydrogen production with CCS.
  • BECCS relies on the presence of CO2 transport and storage infrastructure. Where this infrastructure doesn’t already exist, or where the availability or costs are highly uncertain, this presents a significant risk to investors in BECCS in power.
CCUS incubation area, Drax Power Station, July 2019

CCUS incubation area, Drax Power Station; click image to view/download

Frontier Economics has been commissioned by Drax to develop and evaluate business model options for BECCS in power that could overcome these barriers, and help deliver timely investment in BECCS.

Business model options

We started with a long list of business model options. After eliminating options that are unsuitable for BECCS in power, we considered the following three options in detail.

  • Power Contract for Difference (CfD): the strike price of the CfD would be set to include remuneration for negative emissions, low carbon power and for learnings and spillover benefits.
  • Carbon payment: a contractual carbon payment would provide a fixed payment per tonne of negative emissions. The payment level would be set to include remuneration for negative emissions, low carbon power and for learnings and spillovers.
  • Carbon payment + power CfD: this option combines the two options above. The carbon payment would provide remuneration for negative emissions and learnings and spillovers while the power CfD would support power market revenues for the plant’s renewable power output.

We first considered if committing to any of these business model options for BECCS in power now might restrict future policy options for a broader GGR support scheme. We assessed whether these options could, over time, be transitioned into a broader GGR support scheme (i.e. one not just focused on BECCS in power), and concluded that this would be possible for all of them.

We then considered how these business model options could be funded, and whether the choice of a business model option is linked to a particular source of funds (for example, power CfDs are currently funded by a levy paid by electricity suppliers to the Low Carbon Contracts Company [LCCC]). We concluded that business models do not need to be attached to specific funding sources; all of the options can be designed to fit with numerous different funding options, so the two decisions can be made independently. This means that the business model options can be considered on their own terms, with thinking about funding sources being progressed in parallel.

We then evaluated the three business model options against a set of criteria developed from principles set out in the BEIS consultation on business models for CCS, summarised in the figure below.

Figure 1: Principles for design of business models

Instil investor confidence▪ Attract innovation
▪ Attract new entrants
▪ Instil supply chain confidence
Cost efficiency▪ Drive efficient management of investment costs
▪ Drive efficient quantity of investment
▪ Drive efficient dispatch and operation
▪ Risks allocated in an efficient way, taking into account the impact on the cost of capital
Feasibility▪ Limit administrative burden
▪ Practicality for investors
▪ Requirement for complementary policy
▪ Wider policy and state aid compatibility
▪ Timely implementation
Fair cost sharing▪ Allows fair and practical cost distribution
Ease of policy transition▪ Ease of transition to subsidy free system
▪ Ease of transition to technology neutral solution

Source: Frontier Economics. Click to view/download graphic. 

All three business model options performed well across most criteria. However, our evaluation highlighted some key trade-offs to consider when choosing a business model:

  • investor confidence: the power CfD and the two-part model with a CfD performed better than the carbon payment on this measure, as they shield investors from wholesale power market fluctuations;
  • feasibility: the power CfD performed best on this measure. Because it is already established in existing legislation and is well understood, it will be quick to implement. Introducing a mechanism to provide carbon payments may require new legislation. However, this will be needed in any case to support other CCUS technologies7, and could be introduced in time before projects come online; and
  • potential to become technology neutral and subsidy free: all three options could transition to a mid-term regime which could be technology neutral. However, the stand-alone power CfD performed least well as it does not deliver any learnings around remunerating negative emissions.

Overall, the two-part model performed well across the criteria and would offer a clear path to a technology neutral and subsidy free world, delivering learnings that will be relevant for other GGRs as well.

Conclusions

The UK’s Net Zero target will be challenging to achieve, and will require investment in negative emissions technologies to offset residual emissions from hard-to-abate sectors, as highlighted by the CCC8. BECCS in power is a particularly important part of this picture, and represents a cost-effective means of delivering the scale of negative emissions needed. Early investment in BECCS is also important in insuring against the risk and cost of ”back ending” significant abatement effort.

However, market failures, most notably the lack of a market for negative emissions, lack of remuneration for positive spillovers and learnings, and reliance on availability of T&S infrastructure, mean that without policy intervention, the required level of BECCS in power is unlikely to be delivered in time to contribute to Net Zero.

There are a number of business options available in the near term to overcome these barriers. In our view, a two-part model combining a power CfD and a carbon payment is preferable.

This measure:

  • addresses identified market failures;
  • can be implemented relatively easily and in time to capture benefits of early BECCS in power investment; and
  • can be structured to ensure an efficient outcome for customers (including with reference to investors’ likely cost of capital) and in a way that allocates risks appropriately.

View/download the full report (PDF).


1: Biomass can be combusted to generate energy (typically in the form of power, but this could also be in the form of heat or liquid fuel), or gasified to produce hydrogen. The resulting emissions can then be captured and stored using CCS technology. The focus of this report is on biomass combustion to generate power, with CCS, which we refer to as ‘BECCS in power’. We refer to biomass gasification with CCS as ‘BECCS for hydrogen’.

2: CCC (2020) , The Sixth Carbon Budget, Greenhouse Gas Removals, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Sector-summary-GHG-removals.pdf The CCC’s 2019 Net Zero report also saw a role for BECCS, with 51Mt of emissions removals included in the Further Ambition scenario by 2050. CCC (2019), Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming. https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/net-zero-the-uks-contribution-to-stopping-global-warming/

3: CCC (2020), Policies for the Sixth Carbon Budget, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Policies-for-the-Sixth-Carbon-Budget-and-Net-Zero.pdf

4: BEIS (2020), Powering our Net Zero Future, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/945899/201216_BEIS_EWP_Command_Paper_Accessible.pdf

5: National Grid (2020), Future Energy Scenarios 2020, https://www.nationalgrideso.com/future-energy/future-energy-scenarios/fes-2020-documents

6: In this report, we use “business model” to describe Government market-based incentives for investment and operation. This is in line with the use of this term by BEIS, for example in BEIS (2019), Business Models For Carbon Capture, Usage And Storage, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/819648/ccus-business-models-consultation.pdf

7: BEIS (2020), CCUS: An update on business models for Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/946561/ccus-business-models-commercial-update.pdf

8: CCC (2020) , The Sixth Carbon Budget, Greenhouse Gas Removals, https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Sector-summary-GHG-removals.pdf