What Is BECCS? Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage Isn’t as Green as We Think

Guest Post By Spencer Moyle, Climate Impacts Stanback Fellow 2023.

Have you ever wondered about Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)? Have you heard that it may hinder the transition to clean energy? BECCS aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in reality, burning wood pellets releases more carbon than fossil fuels. Solar and wind power are simpler. They’re also more successful renewable options that can combat climate change.

What is BECCS?

Many people think that Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) can help fight climate change. The idea is to use plants like trees and crops, called biomass, instead of fossil fuels, to create energy.

When growing, these plants take in CO2 from the air through photosynthesis. After grown, the plants are burned to produce energy. But, instead of letting the carbon dioxide (CO2) go into the air, it’s captured and stored deep underground. This helps to prevent harmful emissions from going into the atmosphere. So, BECCS uses plants to create energy and then to supposedly lower the amount of greenhouse gasses released.

This sounds good in theory. But carbon capture and storage doesn’t have a great track record. It hasn’t yet reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Most biomass energy is considered a renewable energy source. This includes the production of wood pellets. But just because it’s renewable doesn’t mean it’s low carbon. BECCS still releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This contributes to global warming.

Despite industry touting it as a carbon-neutral process, overwhelming scientific evidence proves otherwise. Burning wood pellets actually emits more carbon than burning fossil fuels. Also, biomass energy is not very efficient compared to fossil fuels. As a result, it often needs to be used together with coal to produce enough energy.

The idea that bioenergy is good for the environment is causing more wood pellets to be produced. This is destroying forests in the US South. The entire process of making wood pellets includes logging, transportation, and production. These processes emit greenhouse gasses at every step. This worsens the environmental impact.

Not so Eco-Friendly

Oftentimes, these systems fall short on their targets once implemented. A coal plant called Petra Nova in Texas had a CCS system. But after only three years, they had to shut it down because it didn’t work. The system had a lot of problems, and the plant couldn’t capture as much carbon as they wanted to. They missed their goal by a big amount. 17% to be exact.

And this isn’t uncommon. A study found that most projects didn’t meet their expected capacity or perform as well as hoped. Out of the 13 projects, 10 of them had issues or didn’t work as planned. In fact, most of them fell significantly short of their goals.

The whole process of BECCS can cause a lot of emissions. For certain crops, the emissions can be quite high. In fact, these emissions make up about 64% of all the carbon originally stored.

For every ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored, the emissions are around 1.11 tons of carbon dioxide. So, the emissions are actually more than the amount of carbon storage. This makes it harder for BECCS to reduce carbon emissions.


BECCS technology is still in its early stages and comes with significant concerns. It combines bioenergy generation with capturing and storing carbon dioxide. However, its commercial viability is questionable. Experts doubt its ability to scale up enough for widespread use.

Another big problem with CCS is that we can’t be sure if the captured CO2 will stay underground. There are worries about it leaking back into the air. Leakage would work against our goal of reducing emissions. This makes CCS less reliable in our efforts to combat climate change. Researchers and scientists are working hard to find solutions. But, they haven’t yet found satisfactory answers. It raises doubts about the effectiveness of BECCS for carbon emissions reductions.

Drax is the largest biomass burner in the UK

​​The technical expertise required for using BECCS at scale is lacking. The best example is Drax. They’re the largest and most prominent biomass burner in the United Kingdom. Yet, Drax has only managed to capture a mere 27 tonnes of CO2 in total. All of that carbon went back into the atmosphere. So, they’ve fallen short on their promise of carbon dioxide removal. They’re far from achieving negative emissions.

It’s unlikely that Drax will achieve the carbon capture it says it will. But, are Drax’s claims motivated by securing subsidies rather than reducing carbon emissions? Carbon capture may become achievable, but it doesn’t fix the problem of logging biodiverse forests. Drax primarily sources its wood pellets in the USA, Canada, and the Baltic States.

Between 2012 and 2027, Drax expects to receive over £11 billion in subsidies from the UK government. But now, Drax is calling for a dual subsidy system for their BECCS operations. This would allow them to continue burning biomass without capturing carbon. Interim subsidies may be given to biomass power stations planning to build BECCS. Industry may receive this free money regardless of their follow-through with the plans. Drax has already delayed their BECCS construction. This increases the risk of them receiving these interim subsidies.

Tax Loopholes

Drax has already announced two new BECCS projects planned for the US. Drax already has headquarters in Houston, Texas. Many environmentalists in the US fear that domestic companies will follow suit. One piece of US legislation is the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Its goal is to incentivize and promote renewable energy. The law has various tax credits to encourage the transition towards sustainable sources.

The IRA includes incentives for BECCS. Even though it is detrimental to the environment. This contradicts the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It gives companies tax loopholes during this energy transition.

Policymakers must focus on clean and sustainable energy like wind and solar power. These energy sources are good for the environment. And they can help us make real progress in fighting climate change.

Biomass Sourcing

Using sustainable biomass is crucial when using BECCS. We must get biomass without hurting the environment. The process must consider social well-being. This is much harder than it sounds. One big worry is that energy crops for biomass might compete with food crops. Competition with bioenergy would put a lot of pressure on our agricultural resources. This could make it harder to have enough food. It could cause prices to go up. This is especially concerning in places that already struggle with food security.

Using biomass for energy can also cause problems with land use. When we grow energy crops, it can clash with other important ways we use the land. These other uses like farming or preserving natural areas are important, too. This conflict can lead to deforestation, where we cut down forests. It can harm habitats for plants and animals. It can also damage ecosystems, making environmental problems worse. When we use land for growing energy crops, we might lose critical forests. Forests capture carbon, protect different species, and provide many benefits for the environment.

Another major concern with biomass energy is forests’ long regeneration time. International agreements say that bioenergy is carbon neutral. This is because new trees can grow back. But, it can take many decades or even hundreds of years for forests to fully recover. When we cut down trees for biomass, it stops them from capturing carbon. Logged forests are not as healthy as mature, untouched forests. They don’t fight climate change as well either. Instead of bioenergy, we should use wind and solar power. They’re faster and better at reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.

We must acknowledge that large-scale or industrial bioenergy will become impractical. They’re unsustainable from both climate and biodiversity perspectives. The size of these projects makes it impossible to harvest raw materials sustainably.


BECCS can actually slow down the switch to clean energy. It takes attention and resources from other proven renewable technologies. BECCS has some good points. But it relies on complicated and expensive processes to capture and store carbon. Even worse, they might not always work in the long run.

But there’s good news! Solar and wind power are simpler and have already been successful. Solar power uses the energy from the sun, which we have a lot of. Solar panels can be put on rooftops, open areas, or even built into buildings. Wind power uses turbines to turn wind into electricity, and new designs are making it even better. Both solar and wind power give us clean energy without the pollution caused by fossil fuels.

Even better, solar and wind power can easily expand to make electricity on a bigger scale. If we focus on these reliable alternatives, we can reduce the carbon we put in the air. We’ll be fighting climate change and preventing global temperature rise.

In reality, carbon capture and storage hasn’t worked as well as we hoped. So, we need to look for better solutions that can make a big difference in fighting climate change.

Where To Go From Here

It can be scary to learn that our government is making bad energy choices. But there are ways you can make your voice heard! Even small actions can make a big difference.

Tell the USDA to stop promoting biomass

Demand accountability from Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet company.

Spencer Moyle is a student at Duke University. He’s majoring in Environmental Science & Policy. He has a deep love for nature and a drive to combat climate change. He’s dedicated to promoting sustainable living and environmental awareness. In his free time, he loves going to the beach, traveling, and exploring new places.

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