OSLO – A little-known technology that may be able to take the equivalent of China’s greenhouse gas emissions out of the carbon cycle could be the radical policy shift needed to slow climate change this century, a draft U.N. report shows.
Using the technology, power plants would burn biomass — wood, wood pellets or plant waste like from sugar cane — to generate electricity while the carbon dioxide in the biomass is extracted, piped away and buried deep underground.
Among other techniques, a chemical process can strip carbon dioxide from the flue gases from combustion. The process, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), would make the power plants not only carbon-neutral but actively a part of extracting carbon dioxide from a natural cycle of plant growth and decay.
The technology could be twinned in coming decades with planting forests that absorb carbon as they grow, according to the study obtained by Reuters.
It would be a big shift from efforts to fight global warming mainly by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases from mankind’s use of fossil fuels in factories, power plants and cars, but may be necessary given the failure so far to cut rising emissions.
“BECCS forms an essential component of the response strategy for climate change in the majority of scenarios in the literature” to keep temperatures low, according to a report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The leaked report is Chapter 6 in a mammoth study due in mid-April in Berlin about solving climate change.
In theory, BECCS could extract between 3 billion and above 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the air a year, it says, and seems more promising than technologies such as blocking sunlight or building machines to extract carbon from the air.
China, the top carbon producer ahead of the U.S., emitted 9.86 billion tons in 2012.
BECCS will cost from $60 to $250 per ton of carbon dioxide eliminated, the IPCC says.
“BECCS faces large challenges in financing and currently no such plants have been built and tested at scale,” it says.
Most carbon capture and storage focuses on fossil fuels. Saskatchewan Power’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Canada, due to start this year as the first commercial project of its type, will capture 1 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
Apart from the high costs of BECCS, “the area you need is vast,” said Joris Koornneef, an expert at sustainable energy consultancy Ecofys in Netherlands.