UK commitment to bio energy carbon capture is misguided

A new report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has urged Downing Street to roll out new technologies to ensure power plants that burn trees can capture and store emissions. But this is a step in the wrong direction, according to critics. 

close-up photo of cut wood logs on forest

Environmental experts have warned that even with the addition of carbon capture and storage at bio energy facilities, the overall impact of incinerating wood will have a huge negative impact on the climate crisis, potentially for decades to come. 

Not only does this process hinder the ability of forests to naturally absorb greenhouse gases, plans to increase tree planting to compensate are ill-conceived as saplings take a long time to ‘catch up’ with the more established trees they are replacing. As a result, it is believed the UK’s ongoing failure to reduce its contribution to emissions and other climate crisis factors is in part a result of continued commitment to this fuel type. 

Nevertheless, the Government is now proposing billions in subsidies to bio energy companies, providing they pledge to one day capture the carbon they emit. The problem here is that payments will be made well before any requirement to develop and implement capture and storage technologies, meaning it is more than possible that firms will take public money and then neglect to fulfil the promise of tackling long-term emissions. Even if companies do keep their side of the bargain, the estimated cost of a bio energy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) power plant, according to climate think tank Ember, is £31billion over its lifetime. Around £3.8billion of this would likely be added to household energy bills.

‘The Climate Change Committee gets a lot right about the need to go further and faster in cutting emissions, but on bioenergy it has missed the mark. Even if carbon capture technology ever works, the only way to make up for the destruction to forests – that lock up carbon – is by letting them regrow. But this takes decades. Claiming that bioenergy, even with capture technology, is instantly carbon neutral is a parlour trick. And one that is costing us billions extra on our energy bills to pay for the subsidies,’ said Matt Williams of Cut Carbon Not Forests and senior advocate at the National Resource Defence Council (NRDC).

‘Burning trees in power stations like Drax, and then attempting to capture the carbon emitted with unproven BECCS technology is a disaster for forests, wildlife and communities. We agree with the Climate Change Committee that the Government’s current plans are inadequate. However, the CCC’s support for BECCS is a huge mistake,’ added Katy Brown, a Biofuelwatch campaigner. ‘Standing forests are vital carbon sinks, whilst those destroyed for biomass burning take decades to re-sequester carbon, precious time we don’t have – we need to reduce emissions now. BECCS prolongs the harm caused to forests and communities by the biomass industry, regardless of captured carbon. UK energy bills should be used to fund genuine climate solutions, like home insulation and wind and solar power, not Drax’s climate-wrecking, tree burning and carbon capture con.’

More on bio energy carbon capture and storage:

Feature: E10 petrol, is it worth it?

EU ‘green fuel’ plan may lead to deforestation, warns campaign group

Environmental group calls for the UK to end biomass subsides


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