Electricity from biomass with carbon capture could make western US carbon-negative

February 9, 2015 by Robert Sanders
A carbon dioxide injection well in Australia. Credit: CO2CRC

Generating electricity from biomass, such as urban waste and sustainably-sourced forest and crop residues, is one strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because it is carbon-neutral: it produces as much carbon as the plants suck out of the atmosphere.

A new UC Berkeley study shows that if biomass electricity production is combined with carbon capture and sequestration in the western United States, generators could actually store more carbon than they emit and make a critical contribution to an overall zero-carbon future by the second half of the 21st century.

By capturing carbon from burning biomass - termed bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) - could become carbon-negative even while retaining gas- or coal-burning plants. The carbon reduction might even offset the emissions from fossil fuel used in transportation, said study leader Daniel Sanchez, a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group.

"There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies," Sanchez admitted. "Nevertheless, we're taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, BECCS doesn't merely let you reduce emissions by 80 percent - the current 2050 goal in California - but gets the power system to negative : you store more carbon than you create."

BECCS may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available to mitigate the worst effects of , said energy expert Daniel Kammen, who directed the research. This strategy will be particularly important should climate change be worse than anticipated, or emissions reductions in other portions of the economy prove particularly difficult to achieve.

"Biomass, if managed sustainably can provide the 'sink' for carbon that, if utilized in concert with low-carbon generation technologies, can enable us to reduce carbon in the atmosphere," said Kammen, a Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) in which the work was conducted.

The BECCS process of converting biomass into electricity and fuels and capturing and storing the carbon emissions. Credit: Diagram courtesy of Nature

Sanchez, Kammen and their colleagues published their analysis of BECCS in western North America Feb. 9 in the online journal Nature Climate Change.

Carbon capture & sequestration

Though the financial costs, not to mention technological hurdles, of capturing carbon from biomass power plants and compressing it underground are huge, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the major international body studying the issue, assumes that it will become viable in 50 years, and includes it in its long-term predictions.

"BECCS technologies figure prominently in the IPCC's recent Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which focuses in part on mitigating , but previous models examining BECCS deployment have not investigated its role in power systems in detail or in aggressive time frames," said Kammen, who serves as a coordinating lead author on the IPCC.

A chart showing how different mixes of fuels can affect the carbon emissions in 2050 from the electrical grid in the western US. Biomass carbon capture and sequestration and biomass co-firing CCS on coal CCS plants provide negative carbon dioxide emissions. As emissions limits are reduced, fossil-fuel CO2 emissions shift from coal and combined-cycle gas turbine technology to CCGT with CCS. Credit: Daniel Kammen and Daniel Sanchez, UC Berkeley

To remedy this, the UC Berkeley scientists used a detailed computer model they developed of the West's electric power grid to predict deployment of BECCS in low-carbon and carbon-negative power systems. This model of western North America, called SWITCH-WECC, was developed in the RAEL lab. Researchers can use SWITCH to study generation, transmission and storage options for the United States west of the Kansas/Colorado border as well as in northwest Mexico and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

The study found that BECCS, combined with aggressive renewable energy deployment and fossil emissions reductions, can enable a carbon-negative power system in western North America by 2050 with up to 145 percent emissions reduction from 1990 levels. Such reductions can occur with as little as 7 percent of the power coming from BECCS. In most scenarios explored, the offsets produced by BECCS are more valuable to the power system than the electricity it provides.

The study relies on a detailed spatial and temporal inventory of potential bioenergy feedstocks, such as forest residues, municipal solid waste and switchgrass, as well as complimentary renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

Sanchez noted that burning biomass as part of BECCS may have a greater impact on than using these same feedstocks for biofuels, solely because of the possibility of .

"We're evaluating a technology with some uncertainty behind it, but we are saying that if the technology exists, it really sketches out a different kind of climate mitigation pathway than what people are assuming," Sanchez said.

Explore further: Advanced power-grid model finds low-cost, low-carbon future in West

More information: Biomass enables the transition to a carbon-negative power system across western North America, Nature Climate Change, www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2488.html

SWITCH model: rael.berkeley.edu/switch

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tadchem
2.6 / 5 (7) Feb 09, 2015
In my experience the rule of thumb for Cost/Benefit estimations in Project Planning is that Costs will typically be double what was planned for while benefits will be half of what was planned for. This is due to the unrealistic optimism of top-level project managers, who are usually experts in marketing who sell ideas to investors. Whether these estimates are precise or not is unimportant, as the Cost/Benefit Differential (Profit Margin) inevitably diminishes to or beyond the point of disappearing.
LariAnn
4.4 / 5 (5) Feb 09, 2015
To me, a more viable alternative would be the developing technologies for collecting and utilizing the CO2 for manufacture of other useful compounds. "Sequestration" is just a fancy term for what should be called a "CO2 landfill"; it costs resources to hide it underground but produces nothing of value to the marketplace.
holoman
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2015
Chesapeake Bay Waterman's Livelihood in Jeopardy

http://www.prlog....rdy.html

Eikka
5 / 5 (6) Feb 09, 2015
it costs resources to hide it underground but produces nothing of value to the marketplace.


Depends on how exactly you do it.

Pyrolysis of plant matter produces a mixture of gasses that contain CO, CH4 and H2 which can be used for power or for chemical products. There is a residual solid waste that consists of solid carbon and minerals, which is cheaply buried underground, but it also provides for an excellent fertilizer and soil improvement called terra preta.

You plow it into the field and it provides your crops with nutrients, as well as prevents soil erosion and improves water retention, making marginal lands arable and improves their value.
24volts
5 / 5 (3) Feb 09, 2015
Chesapeake Bay Waterman's Livelihood in Jeopardy

http://www.prlog....rdy.html


Cool idea. I hope they can get it to work well.
T_ Del Monte
4 / 5 (2) Feb 09, 2015
It is always very strange to me seeing an article or discussion about BECCS without that doesn't also discuss the biomass-to-biochar and energy option. Biomass-to-biochar and energy is also carbon negative but seem far better BECCS since biochar is actually useful to society and there are markets willing to pay for it. Storing captured CO2 in vastly expensive and potentially even dangerous underground CO2 caverns as is the case with traditional CCS, and I assume BECCS, seems like a very dubious proposition.
ekim
4.7 / 5 (3) Feb 09, 2015
Currently we socialize the disposal of carbon waste. Those who purchase a product should be responsible for it's disposal as well, rather than violating the property rights of others. We are past the era of dumping ones chamber pot into the street, we now have septic tanks and sewage treatment. Why should CO2 be any different?
Shootist
1 / 5 (6) Feb 09, 2015
The Climate Fraud® continues.

Piltdown Man and Anthropomorphic Climate Change go hand in hand.

Yes, the climate changes, for 4.5 billion years.
Dug
4.8 / 5 (4) Feb 09, 2015
The primary problem has been and continues to be the logistics of moving biomass from its low density field presence, concentrating it, and then moving it to the point where it processed further or turned to energy - this isn't going to be overcome. Additionally there is a net lost of phosphates from the land that has to be replaced for additional production cycles whether food or forest - or wait a god awful long time on the natural phosphate cycle to replenish it - if at all. Basic energy economics haven't been proven with biomass /biofuels - after 40+ years/billion$ trying. It makes far more fiscal and physical sense to gather energy from the source - solar - rather than having that same energy less efficiently processed by biomass while using ever more critical food resources. Solar is already more efficient at reducing fossil energy than biomass/biofuels ever can be. If Lockheed Martin meets their promise of commercial fusion reactors in less than a decade - it will be bio-moot.
Eikka
4.7 / 5 (6) Feb 10, 2015
It makes far more fiscal and physical sense to gather energy from the source - solar - rather than having that same energy less efficiently processed by biomass while using ever more critical food resources.


Biomass as energy source sidesteps the whole energy storage issue, which is the biggest unobtainium preventing the widespread adoption of solar energy.

If you extract bioenergy by pyrolysis and plow the resulting charcoal back into the soil, you solve the phosphate issue by directly recycling it back, and you sequester carbon into the soil while improving it.

Furthermore, lower temperature pyrolysis yields tar oils, which were refined and used post WW2 for petroleum oli substitutes in engines and machinery. It's still possible today.

With direct solar etc. you need additional synthesis steps to derive the same.

Solar is already more efficient at reducing fossil energy


Solar is non-scalable without backing up with a massive energy storage system
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2015
Besides, you can't call biomass a "critical food resource" while the US is simpy throwing away 40% of its agricultural output because of inefficient logistics chains, and 60% of the population is eating about twice as much food than they need anyways.

The effect of which is, that the US is producing around 3 times as much food for its domestic consumption than is technically needed, and most of it is just down to overconsumption or thrown in the garbage because the shop ordered too much and it's now past the sell-by date.

When you tally up world food production and world population, there should be no hunger. The problem is in logistics and use, not in production.
Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2015
According to quick statistics found on Google, just the amount of grain that gets wasted in the US every year is worth approximately 79,000 GWh

To match that with other energy sources, you'd have to have one of the following:
- 9 nuclear power stations of 1 GW each
- 12,000 modern 3 MW wind turbines
- 320 million square meters of solar panels (California / North Africa)
- 640 million square meters of solar panels (Vancouver / Germany)

Not many people think about the fact that Los Angeles is at the same latitude as Tunisia and Morocco, or that Germany is more north than Seattle. That's why it's so hilarious that Germany is spending so much tax money on funding solar power - could you imagine Canada setting up a similiar project?

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2015
Solar is non-scalable without backing up with a massive energy storage system

According to your numbers biomass seems ideally suited to be that storage system, don't you think?
Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2015
According to your numbers biomass seems ideally suited to be that storage system, don't you think?


Well, it is and it isn't.

The problem is twofold: providing energy when it's lacking, and storing energy when there's an excess. Biomass deals with the first task, but not the second.

The problem with any non-dispatchable renewable energy source, alone and in combinations, is that without the ability to store the energy in some other form, it cannot produce more than the demand at any given moment without wasting energy and therefore increasing cost.

And that creates an limit of integration where the peak output meets the demand, while the average output remains in the low 20-30% range of the system total with the sources currently in use. That means, if biofuels are to play part in this kind of renewable energy production, it's actually the biofuels that would be the main source of energy and not the wind turbines or solar panels.

Eikka
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2015
Or to put it in other terms...

biomass seems ideally suited to be that storage system


No, because it isn't an energy storage system. It's an alternate energy source that you can store, unlike direct solar or wind power, because you can stockpile biomass.

You can't stick wires from solar panels into the ground to make switchgrass or sugar cane grow faster. Well, you could technically farm in multi-story buildings using artifical lighting with all the overflow energy, but that's really inefficient and plants don't grow very well if you shine a blinding light only for a couple hours a day at them.

Returners
1 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2015
It makes far more fiscal and physical sense to gather energy from the source - solar - rather than having that same energy less efficiently processed by biomass while using ever more critical food resources


Solar makes sense as a means of powering industrial operations during the day, because they use the power immediately. It also makes sense in an electric economy to line roads (typically 60 feet of right-of-ways) and nearby lands with them to power electric vehicles and trains during the day, which is when most commuting is done.

This energy service could be provided by the State or Federal government, and payed for with a meter on each vehicle which tracks how much energy your car draws from the grid. I'd have one of those hook things like trolleys and electric trains use which would link in to a cable or powered rail.
Uncle Ira
3.9 / 5 (7) Feb 10, 2015
It makes far more fiscal and physical sense to gather energy from the source - solar - rather than having that same energy less efficiently processed by biomass while using ever more critical food resources


Solar makes sense as a means of powering industrial operations during the day, because they use the power immediately. It also makes sense in an electric economy to line roads (typically 60 feet of right-of-ways) and nearby lands with them to power electric vehicles and trains during the day, which is when most commuting is done.

This energy service could be provided by the State or Federal government, and payed for with a meter on each vehicle which tracks how much energy your car draws from the grid. I'd have one of those hook things like trolleys and electric trains use which would link in to a cable or powered rail.


What covering the Pontchartrain with barges, is that one on schedule?
Returners
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2015
What covering the Pontchartrain with barges, is that one on schedule?


Your skepticism is truly quite taxing. A combination of applications of wind and solar power where viable can easily provide more power to the U.S. than is needed by the U.S. Canada and Mexico combined.

The problem is republicans block any government proposal that doesn't add a million dollars to their own back pockets.

You were outraged at the amount of initial investments my suggestions called for, but the U.S. invests 3 times as much in the Military every decade, whereas my suggestions pay for themselves 10 times in their expected lifetimes, and are better investments than stocks, bonds, CDs, or even real-estate.
Uncle Ira
4.4 / 5 (7) Feb 10, 2015
You were outraged at the amount of initial investments my suggestions called for,


Non Cher. I am not outraged me. I am amazed that you come up with so many goofy and weird ideas every day.

Some of the other Skippys around here might be outraged that you write so many postums as if the scientists need your help with things they didn't learn in the science school. But not ol Ira-Skippy, I am not outraged. I think it is funny and entertainment for free.

I'm heading up river to the BIG NO to see a couple of Indian parades so carry right on with your helping out all those scientists that didn't learn the good stuffs like you learned in Mandeville while the doctors were studying your mental conditions. I will read them later when I get home.

Laissez les bons temps rouler Skippy
Porgie
1 / 5 (1) Feb 10, 2015
Yeah and you will only pay $200 per KW for it. This is more left wing pie in the sky.
24volts
5 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2015
Biomass a very good source of power in many areas that don't have grid availability. I've been watching and keeping track of a small company called All Power Labs that started out about 10 years ago with a couple of guys on one of the Yahoo forum boards wanting to make a small power system using simple gassifier tech that's been around 100 years or more. They have gone from a couple of guys in a garage to now selling pallet sized 15kw power systems all over the world and are now setting up a truck container system that will supply 100kw. Biomass definitely has a place out there..... Maybe not a big place in the modern areas of the world but there are still a lot of places that don't have reliable power where devices like these can make a big difference in the quality of life. Best part is they are carbon neutral.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2015
Many of the fossil fuel beds we have today are the remains of the first forests on earth.
During the Devonian and preceding geologic periods, CO2 levels were much higher than they are today. There is no evidence of ice caps or arguably glaciers anywhere on the planet during this time, and the continents were effectively barren of large life.
Then something very special happened, the very first vascular plants got a footing, and with no glaciers or ice caps, and for the first time in the history of the earth, dense forests exploded over all of the contents.
By the end of the next period, the aptly named carboniferous period, the forests had absorbed enough carbon from the atmosphere so that we finally had ice caps and glaciers.

The fossil fuels today are the remains of these ancient first forests, if burning them releases the stored essence and causes the earth to return to its natural geologic state, we can regain control through doing the opposite
ekim
1 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2015
The fossil fuels today are the remains of these ancient first forests, if burning them releases the stored essence and causes the earth to return to its natural geologic state, we can regain control through doing the opposite

Doesn't volcanic activity release CO2. How does this carbon return to it's natural geologic state?
ndmurph04
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2015
Bunch of hokum - Plant growth without ever harvesting it for energy production is net negative CO2, and that's the only part of this scam that's actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The act of burning biomass is net positive CO2 emissions but capturing those emissions brings it down to zero. Conflating the two in some odd attempt to call it negative emissions is total hogwash - plants extract CO2 from the atmosphere, it's what they do and the act of burning them in a power plant does not in any way contribute to this process..

Really, oil and coal are just biomass that is millions of years old - so by this crazy logic burning them is somehow actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere! In essence - it would reduce CO2 more efficiently to just burn coal, capture the emissions, and leave the forest standing next to the power plant (rather than cutting the forest down to burn it).

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