It’s Magic! Making a Million Tons of CO2 Disappear
While the rhetoric around climate change’s various issues doesn’t seem to allow for anything to actually get done to stabilize the climate, in the heart of America there’s a very interesting carbon mitigation project going on that people are about to notice.
Known by the prosaic name Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, or BECCS, the technology, from Biorecro, isn’t mind-bogglingly new. It’s the same old CCS that fossil-fuel emitters have resisted voluntarily developing to keep their emissions lower, with an important twist.
Instead of being an add-on to catch carbon at the site of fossil fuel emissions sites like coal factories, BECCS is applied to much less carbon intensive or carbon neutral factories, such as ethanol plants, biogas plants, pulp and paper facilities, and combined heat and power plants fueled by biomass.
This twist means that in some cases, using BECCS allows negative carbon emissions, or carbon cleanup, to be created. Since the biomass used at an ethanol plant, for example, has already sequestered carbon in its plant base via photosynthesis during growth, we consider it carbon neutral when it is burned or otherwise combusted. If the CO2 at that point is collected and sequestered, voila! negative carbon emissions – the bio matter sequestered doesn’t get back into the earth’s carbon cycle (unless it somehow escapes its sequestration!)
As you are probably imagining, building a CCS system, including the technology to suck up the CO2 and the pipeline to carry it to the place where it is pumped into (usually) saline aquifers entails large investments. (After initial capital outlays, Norway’s Statoil is saving $100,000 in carbon taxes each day from the carbon it is sequestering at Sleipner.)
But here’s the amazing part – Biorecro’s technology is not just hot air. Literally.
In Decatur, Illinois, at an Archer Daniels Midland Company ethanol plant, over 300,000 tonnes of of carbon dioxide are now being collected, compressed to liquid, transported to a nearby site, and pumped deep within the earth. As part of the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium, Biorecro’s BECCS is demonstrated. According to Biorecro CEO Henrik Karlsson, the Decatur project will eventually take 1,000,000 tonnes (approximately the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the roads) of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Not bad for a very small Swedish company that has thus far made most of its revenues from its research expertise in CCS.
That’s soon to change, as Biorecro will next month announce the first companies that have signed on to pay Biorecro for the offsets it generates at BECCS sites.
Not many people trumpet the possibilities of BECCS to help get to the goal of stabilizing climate change and the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 ppm. But perhaps they should be.