A new report has backed burning or creating liquid fuels gas from biomass and then capturing the resulting carbon dioxide emissions.
The document, published today (8 October) by the Energy Technologies Institute, suggests that the UK’s carbon abatement costs could double by 2050 unless there is a roll out of carbon capture and storage (CCS).
And it says that biomass, either burned directly for heat and power or converted into low carbon gases and liquid fuels, could be a “critical resource” for the UK’s energy system.
The two technologies could be “especially valuable” if combined to create “negative emission” plants, which could take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere both when the biomass itself is being grown and then by capturing the gas during the generation process, says the report.
“Together, they offer the potential for negative emissions to counterbalance the continued use of fossil fuels in difficult sectors like aviation. Without negative emissions generated in the UK, achieving a “net zero” emissions target will require the prohibition of certain industrial activities and lifestyle choices or reliance on imported carbon credits from other countries.”
Moves to combine biomass and CCS, which is being trialled by Drax Power this autumn, were also embraced by energy minister Claire Perry in remarks at the Conservative party conference last week.
However constraints on the development of biomass and CCS would require more comprehensive reduction of gross emissions across the energy system to meet the legally binding targets, the study warns.
The report updates two alternative pathways outlined in a previous 2015 report on how the UK energy system can be decarbonised in order meet its 2050 climate targets.
These are a “Clockwork” scenario, in which well-coordinated and long-term investments roll out new energy infrastructure.
And in the other, so called “Patchwork” scenario, central government provides less strategic coordination, leading to the development of regional and sectoral energy strategies.
In the “Patchwork” scenario, deployment of CCS infrastructure is held back and the lack of a coherent national plan results in slower growth of the domestic bioenergy sector, meaning more comprehensive reduction of gross emissions is required across the energy system in order to meet the legally binding targets.
The ETI estimates that by pursuing a balanced approach to carbon reduction, the UK will be able to limit the costs to around 1 per cent of GDP in 2050.
Andrew Haslett, chief engineer of ETI, said: “These scenarios also show that if key technologies are taken off the table, these costs will inevitably rise, potentially jeopardising UK industrial competitiveness and limiting lifestyle choices.”