By Fenna Swart
Co-written by Maarten Visschers

© cc-foto: Statkraft

BECCS and the false promises of CO2 capture and storage
Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture Storage, or bio-energy with CO2 capture and storage, simply called BECCS, is not yet a well-known concept to the general public, but it is a climate measure in which significant investments are being made through, among other things, government subsidies. In other words, it is a new revenue model for the industry. The question is whether this has helped the climate? This climate measure, promoted by the government as a new technology for clean air and which would therefore provide an incentive for industry, actually appears to do the opposite.

New research, published today by WWF, underlines what the Clean Air Committee, in collaboration with its local, regional and (inter)national fellow nature and forest protectors, has been saying for years: the biggest offender with regard to European climate policy is Brussels’ biomass policy. Number 1. Anyone with a heart for forests, biodiversity and air quality (both the Dutch voter and the new Dutch politicians) should take the conclusions of this report as a starting point for climate and nature policy.

While the current Dutch party leaders are calling in unison to get rid of biomass, the influence of Brussels policy is far-reaching. We are also experiencing the consequences of this in the Netherlands. RWE, the largest energy producer in the Netherlands and Europe, this month started the official permit procedure to convert the coal-fired power plant in Eemshaven into a fully biomass power plant.

This means that RWE and the Netherlands are completely missing the point, according to the Clean Air Committee. The European science umbrella organization (EASAC and JRC) as well as the United Nations and now also the World Wildlife Fund confirm this. Biomass is highly contradictory and inconsistent with European climate objectives because its production (logging and transport) and emissions (wood burning) actively hinder a rapid reduction of the necessary CO2 emissions.

Dutch forest burned up in seven years
The forests in Europe (including the Baltic States and (South-East) America) can therefore brace themselves. RWE’s biomass plan is also called BECCS, the abbreviation of the English term Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (biomass combustion with CO2 capture). and storage). The RWE Eemshaven coal-fired power plant came into operation in 2015 and will stop operating in 2030 due to the ban on coal combustion. The power plant therefore wants to use BECCS from 2030. At the moment, a maximum of 30% of biomass is allowed annually, which is 1.6 million tons are burned, without CO2 capture and storage (CCS).

The wood pellets come from clear-cut forests in the Baltic states and the southeast of the US. That is more than 5 million tons annually in 2030. In other words: 50,000 hectares of forest are burned every year. This amounts to the burning of all Dutch forests in about 7 years.

BECCS is therefore incorrectly described as emission-free (CO2 negative). RWE reasons as follows: CO2 from biomass combustion is captured and stored, and newly planted trees again capture CO2.

However, scientists indicate that on balance BECCS actually emits more CO2. This is because various emissions have not been included in the calculation. In other words, the CO2 emissions at the chimney are captured and stored. But what is not stated is that this capture and storage costs one-third of the energy generated (read: CO2 storage). In addition, CO2 emissions prior to biomass combustion are not captured, these are the CO2 emissions during forest clearing, such as the production and transport of wood pellets, and the newly planted trees only have the ability to capture CO2 after 50 – 100 years, if planting or regeneration takes place at all because there is no legal obligation to plant in the US.

Not a proven technique
So although this technology is now being heavily invested in through billions in government subsidies, strangely enough there is no evidence of a successful BECCS project. Yet Frans Timmermans, still in his position as European Climate Commissioner, decided, for example, to provide 180 million euros in innovation subsidy to the BECCS project in Stockholm of energy company Exergi. There is also not yet a single coal- or gas-fired power plant where successful CO2 capture and storage has been reported.

Expensive and not sustainable
An additional problem is that the costs of operating a biomass power plant with BECCS are astronomically high, according to think tank Ember. According to this renowned think tank, the two biomass installations of the British energy company Drax as BECCS require €36.7 billion in subsidies. This does not include the necessary subsidies for the construction of the transport pipeline and offshore storage of CO2.

Focusing on forest protection
Using BECCS as a climate measure therefore makes little sense and is also disastrous for forests and biodiversity. The technology is unproven, very expensive and not sustainable. While a natural solution is obvious. Leave forests, protect them and expand. The only natural and therefore sustainable way to purify the air, reduce CO2 emissions and let our earth breathe.