BEIS opens £5M ‘biomass to hydrogen with CCS’ competition – but should the UK rely on large scale biomass?

The government has opened a £5 million call for tenders, looking for technologies which will enable the commercialisation and deployment of Hydrogen biomass energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at scale.
BEIS says the programme is looking for innovation in generating hydrogen from biogenic feedstocks via gasification or other bioenergy conversion routes, combined with carbon capture and storage. It will support technologies in three categories:
• Feedstock pre-processing
• Gasification components
• Novel biohydrogen technologies
In this first phase the aim is to scope and develop feasible prototype demonstration projects. It will run for 7.5 months with grants of £50,000 – £250,000 for each project.
Physical build of certain projects will follow in a second phase of the programme which will launch in early 2023 and end on 31 March 2025.
BEIS intends to fund at least two demonstration projects in each category with a maximum cost per project of £2.5 million for feedstock pre-processing and £5 million for the other categories.
The competition will only support projects where the core technology being developed has not been previously operated widely or in a commercial environment.

CCC equivocal on biomass
In the call for tenders BEIS said that it, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other climate institutions regarded Hydrogen BECCS as essential to realising Net Zero targets, “due to its potential to deliver negative greenhouse gas emissions, and the opportunity it presents to support the decarbonisation of ‘hard-to-treat’ sectors.” The government wants to have 5Mt of negative emissions technology by 2030.
But giving evidence at a recent session by the Environmental Audit Committee as part of an inquiry (Technological Innovations and Climate Change: Negative Emissions Technologies), David Joffe, head of carbon budgets at the CCC was less enthusiastic about using large scale biomass.
On CCS in general he shared concerns that it would not be “easy and cheap”, but said negative emissions technologies were needed so it was best to try it now to have the option to change course if it fails.
When asked about the comparison between Beccs and direct air capture of carbon dioxide (DAC) as negative emissions option, he said that DAC was still “highly uncertain” and Beccs was “more established, at least in terms of people thinking about it
Of large scale biomass he said “we know it is feasible, we can fit CCS to [it] and do the removals that way.” But it “comes with problems”.
That referred to the source of the biomass. Asked how concerned he was about biomass sustainability, Joffe said, “It’s a really key issue. We don’t have more BECCs in our scenarios because of supply constraints in the UK and globally.” He said that in the pathways that underpin the CCC’s carbon budget advice, “the vast majority of biomass we assume is UK-grown so we have control over the governance of that biomass supply chain to a large extent.” Highlighting the challenges about assuring the sustainability of biomass grown outside the UK, he said it was not impossible but was very difficult, and “It is not something the UK should be relying on at large scale”.
He added that although BECCS was built into the CCC’s models “we hope that we can build in more DAC, because it comes without the problems we have from biomass supply and ensuring it is sustainable.”
He acknowledged that DAC has its own problems, such as energy supply, but said the CCC would “adjust its expectations” if progress was made quickly on DACs and there were problems with BECCS.
He added, “we have to build governance and sustainability from the start [for carbon removals technology] or we are just storing up problems for ourselves.”

More details on BEIS’s BECCS competition here

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