Towards meaningful deployment of BECCS

Developing a holistic framework for evaluating BECCS projects

Image: Mihály Köles

by Meron Tesfaye, PhD, senior policy fellow

After spending a year digging into bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) through my fellowship at Carbon180, it’s clearer to me than ever how urgently we need to scale carbon removal. The latest IPCC report is an undeniable call to decarbonize our world away from fossil fuels and remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. The cost of climate inaction is high, disproportionately distributed, and bound to touch each one of us. In my current home of Sacramento, CA, we’re enduring extreme heat waves and worsening air quality, and in my home continent of Africa, we’re at risk of losing many economic and political urban centers with millions living in low-elevation coastal zones. If we take transformative action today, like deploying a suite of carbon removal solutions, we can relieve some of these pressures and create opportunities for vulnerable communities around the globe to build climate resilience.

Right now, the US has the opportunity and responsibility to play a leading role in scaling up carbon removal practices and technologies like BECCS. According to global models, BECCS has the potential to remove 0.5–5.2 billion tons of CO₂ annually from the atmosphere using plant biomass to create energy and carbontech products. Still, this estimated potential says very little about how BECCS ought to be deployed — that part is yet to be decided.

Towards that effort, during my time at Carbon180 I have been reflecting on how BECCS deployment can meaningfully contribute to carbon removal while also bolstering communities’ well-being and protecting ecosystems at scale. After a year of research, here’s a glimpse into how we think about reliable and equitable BECCS deployment, attributes we expect to see in BECCS projects, and federal policies that can enable it.

Foundational principles for meaningful deployment of BECCS

  1. Evaluate deployment strategies on a local and regional scale to meaningfully integrate resources, concerns, and opportunities.
  2. Promote high-quality and transparent life cycle accounting to ascertain climate benefits.
  3. Ensure the protection of vulnerable ecosystems and biodiversity to safeguard against unintended consequences.
  4. Center equity considerations and benefits to frontline communities to ensure lasting positive impacts.
  5. Proactively engage with the public to rebuild trust and enable future BECCS projects to thrive.
  6. Diversify the landscape of BECCS academics, stakeholders, and policymakers to include voices beyond current discourse.

The four dimensions of an exemplary BECCS project

Ensure sustainable feedstock and ecosystem protections

Provide reliable net-negative emissions outcomes

Center community well-being and prosperity

Build trust in engagement and partnerships

Concretizing exemplary attributes through federal policy

Currently, there are a host of challenges to scaling up BECCS projects that can safely and equitably remove gigatons of carbon from our atmosphere. It is my hope that this set of guiding principles helps shape projects that safeguard vulnerable communities from climate extremes while enabling new economic opportunities — delivering transformational climate benefits across the globe.

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