A recent article from Grist takes a closer look at the decades-old concept of “negative-emissions power plants.” As scientists and policy leaders seek innovative ways to combat climate change, the idea of negative-emissions projects is worth a second look.
By definition, negative-emission power plants are a form of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) capabilities. A recent report from Lawrence Livermore National Lab theorizes that plants could “convert wood from forests and orchards into liquid or hydrogen fuels, all while capturing their carbon.”
As the author acknowledges, “this idea still faces hurdles. Building plants, pipelines, and injection wells tends to be tricky, especially in California where building big things — railroads, apartment buildings — often face spirited opposition.”
With its ambitious target of being carbon-neutral by 2045, can bioenergy be a solution to help California reach its climate goals?
The idea, which often goes by the awkward acronym BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), relies on the fact that trees soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their tissues. Burn them while capturing their carbon and you’d have an energy source that was removing greenhouse gases: voila, so-called negative emissions. Harvest trees sustainably, so that they are naturally reseeded, or replanted in orchards, and you have what starts to look like a long-term solution.
Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, praised the report for its detail and practicality. “You should absolutely take it seriously,” he said. “It moves the conversation forward.”
Bioenergy isn’t the sole focus of the report. California just doesn’t produce enough bio-waste to capture the amount of carbon necessary for the state to hit its goals. It also needs natural solutions, like growing bigger trees, and machines filtering gases out of the air. “Let’s not kid ourselves, if you want to be carbon neutral you have to take carbon out of the atmosphere,” Lacker said.
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