Do you believe in magical BECCS?

Equipped with the knowledge and resources, humans continue to advance themselves using the help of all kinds of technology. Similarly, in the fight against climate change, we have resorted to technology in hopes to rectify this critical situation. Nonetheless, we need to remember nothing is entirely good and viceless. In other words, there are pros and cons to everything.

In this article written by Roxanne Low, she prompts us to think about the seamless BECCS that might not be so flawless,

Considering our option using BECCS

By Roxanne Low (MYD15)
All these while, humans have been using science to their advantage to develop various technologies to improve lives. Activities that were carried out in the name of development and advancement have led humans to do onto mother earth what cannot be undone. As a result, the inhabitants of the earth, including ourselves, are left to face with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change such as increasing Earth’s average temperature, rising sea level due to the melting of permafrost and changes in amounts and patterns of precipitation. Today, the current carbon dioxide gas concentration in the atmosphere is alarmingly at 50 parts per million (ppm) more than what is considered the safety amount (at 350ppm) “to preserve a livable planet” (350.org). Fortunately for us, in our battle against climate change, scientists and researchers have made a new technology called the Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) available to us.

What is BECCS and how does it work?
Some believe that BECCS is a brilliant technology for it would allow us to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With this system, we can resolve the issue of having high CO2 ppm. According to an article published by the DailyMailUK, the logic behind BECCS is quite simple; the agricultural crops which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere will be burnt in a power station to generate energy. Then, the resulting emission from the burning of these crops will be captured by the BECCS plant and stored deep underground. Therefore, “the combination of bioenergy with carbon capture is a carbon reducing technology that can achieve net removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a significant advantage over other [climate change] mitigation alternatives.” (As stated in an online publishing by International Energy Agency, 2014)

Bio-Energy_with_CCS(BECCS)carbon

Photo Credits by http://biorecro.com/?page=about_us_press

Go BECCS!
In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report (AR4), BECCS received much special attention because of its potential to supply energy with negative emission which in simpler terms means that greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is permanently removed from the Earth’s atmosphere. Since then, many governments have been exploring the option for BECCS as a technology that could play a role in the energy and climate policy. This can be seen through the efforts of the International Energy Agency (IEA) that organized various workshops in corporations with other institutions and experts to seek opportunities and challenges for developing BECCS in countries like Indonesia and Brazil. Furthermore, seeing that this system require a plant to store carbon emission underground, countries with gas wells and coal mines such as Britain can easily convert these into storage facilities to test out BECCS.

Today, in the faith that this newly invented super technology is the way forward as a key climate mitigation option, the governments of USA and Canada has run it on a small scale in their countries. Nevertheless, for the Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) system to be effective, it needs to happen on a large scale.

Flipping the Coin
While there seem to be great potential in the BECCS and CCS in general, there have been critics who urge that we consider both sides of the coin carefully. The the goodness of this technology can easily mask the shortcomings, but if BECCS is brought to a larger scale, the possible adverse impact would surely take a toll on our environment.

In a recent article, published by the ETC Group, it was suggested that despite what BECCS seems to be, a supreme technology, it is unlikely to save us from climate change. Few important issues that were raised by critics to dispute the concept are as follows:-

  • Where would billions of tonnes of captured carbon be stored? The likely destination would be “enhanced oil recovery” techniques, increasing, not decreasing, the flow of fossil fuels that cause climate change.
  • To reduce overall CO2 by 1 billion tons using BECCS would require a landmass of 218-990 million hectares of land which is 14-65 times as much land as the US uses to grow corn for ethanol. This would require landgrabbing on an enormous scale.
  • BECCS proponents assume that 10 billion tonnes of wood can be harvested per year without any carbon from soil or ecosystems escaping into the atmosphere. And yet, land use change and emissions from soil are widely acknowledged as leading drivers of climate change.
  • Today, the only schemes that are labelled as BECCS extract CO2 from biofuels such as ethanol, tying this scheme to their many associated problems, starting with land grabs and food price hikes.
  • Would the hundreds of billions of tonnes of stored carbon leak into the atmosphere or pollute local ecosystems?

A country with geology, climate policies and skills and has also been a strong supporter of renewable energy, Germany does not fancy CCS. In fact, Jochen Flasbarth, the state secretary at Germany’s federal environmental ministry told New Scientist that buried CO2 is seen to be as bad as nuclear waste.

As a counter argument to the critical issues brought up by non-supporters of BECCS, it is that in this time of urgency, any possible solution should be given a chance to be tested. In order for us to keep the hope of keeping the increase of global temperature less than 2°C, active investigation of different technologies is greatly needed.

BECCS or No BECCS
The reason for considering various points of view is to have a more holistic judgment towards an issue. It may be justifiable that the advancement of our technology should be taken advantage of, but due underlying uncertainties that could be present in regards to “the life-cycle toxicity of some capture solvents, the operational safety and long-term integrity of CO2 storage sites, and the risks associated with CO2 transport via dedicated pipelines” (DailyMail UK, 2014), the discussion on “BECCS or no BECCS” still remains debatable.

Whether or not this ingenious technology thrives, perhaps the other approach to mitigate climate change on the grassroots level could be the awareness-raising of individual carbon footprint. The fight against climate change is not only the responsibility of large institutions and countries’ governments but every single individual’s effort to reduce carbon emission by simply a change in lifestyle. Always remember that small changes can go a long way to protect our planet Earth.

Other Resources:

  • https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/bioenergy_ccs.pdf
  • http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/twp147.pdf
  • http://www.etcgroup.org/content/will-unicorns-save-us-climate-change-beccs-wont
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