The riskiness of relying on BECCS

Since were discussing (in the comments, at least) carbon budgets and emissions reductions yesterday, I thought I would post this short video of Nebojsa Nakicenovic talking about the riskiness of relying on Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). There’s a longer interview with him here.

My personal view is that there is a real Catch-22 here. Can we maintain standards of living in the developed world and have growth in the developing world without BECCS and without increasing our emissions. Very difficult, I would think. On the other hand, is it likely that BECCS will allow us to reduce emissions by > GtC/yr. As the video seems to indicate, this would again seem very difficult.

Despite this, my personal view, is that the first step would be recognising that reducing our emissions is crucial if we want to reduce the risk of significant warming this century. That it is likely to be difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to find solutions. The one thing I do think we have to be careful of, though, is assuming that we’ll find a solution. We could be lucky, but I think we’re more likely to find one if we’re actually looking, than if we’re simply hoping.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Climate change, Climate sensitivity, Science and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The riskiness of relying on BECCS

  1. T-rev says:

    >ATTP: Despite this, my personal view, is that the first step would be recognising that reducing our emissions is crucial if we want to reduce the risk of significant warming this century. That it is likely to be difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to find solutions

    I must admit to not really agreeing with the latter bit about it “being difficult”. I guess in the analogy of a drug user trying to come clean, it’s difficult, but the practicalities are really quite simple. For example, my partner and I stopped flying, it was exceedingly easy, very cheap (to dispel the ‘it’s too expensive myth’) and cut my emotions enormously. Prior to that we had moved to solar panels only and given up driving (living in a remote rural area of Australia, that involved some lifestyle changes but also cut costs)

  2. T-rev,
    I guess it depends on whether you mean technically difficult, or politically/societally difficult. The latter would seem to make it difficult; given that we don’t seemt to want to actually address these issues. We may have the technology, but even just implementing it on the timescales that might be required would seem to be difficult, and that’s before trying to resolve issues like baseload and intermittency. Of course, if we were optimistic and actually went ahead and tried to do so, we may find it easier than expected.

  3. Richard says:

    This is very complex. How do we even frame the question. If the goal is to avoid going beyond 450ppm we get one answer, if it is to get down to 350ppm it is another, and over what timescale? Even if we managed to reduce concentrations back to preindustrial 280ppm in 100 years or so, that would not be back to square one by any stretch … The Earth (eg. Cryosphere) would be a different state by then. Perhaps the best we can do is avoid the worst, but certainly not expect the best. BECCS is not a silver bullets, but is part of the toolkit we need,

  4. Richard,
    Indeed, I thought he made a good point at the end about how we don’t even know how the Earth System would respond to overshooting some target and us then trying to draw down atmospheric CO2. We don’t know that getting to 600ppm and then bringing it back to 450ppm would result in the same state as simply getting to 450ppm and fixing it there.

  5. Andrew Dodds says:

    aTTP –

    Well, if we listen to those people who drone on repeatedly about how CFD shows that the system can have many different ‘attractors’, then yes, it’s quite possible that going to 600ppm will hit an ‘attractor’ that makes things much, much worse.

  6. Andrew,
    Yes, I made a similar point here.

  7. Sam taylor says:

    “Can we maintain standards of living in the developed world and have growth in the developing world without BECCS and without increasing our emissions.”

    If the answer to this question is ‘no’ (as I currently think) then the next question is “how are we going to react to this situation?”. I think it’s fairly predictable. As a species we’re generally pretty good at self deception, and behavioural psychology shows that when faced with either a small guaranteed loss, or a much riskier gamble in which there’s a chance that we won’t lose anything then we’ll generally go with the gamble. Hell, we’re already doing this with all the IAMs that assume that we hit peak carbon a few years ago and we’ll get negative emissions later.

  8. Marlowe Johnson says:

    attp,

    you might find this calculator interesting in that is shows different scenarios for getting the UK close to carbon neutrality by 2050. CCS plays a very large role .

  9. BBD says:

    Which leaves us in a bit of a pickle if it proves to be impractical.

  10. Marlowe Johnson says:

    indeed, although ‘practical’ is a very fluid concept subject to circumstance. to be clear, when they say CCS they also include things like biochar ;), which really is just another form of BECCS. The key in my not so humble opinion will be sequestration options like biochar where you get a value added product (e.g. soil amendment) in addition to sequestration benefits. Yet another reason why coal-fired electricity CCS is such a dead end.

  11. Of course car manufacturers spend £100s of millions, if not a billion or more, developing their next generation of competing mid-range vehicles—each of which is only slightly better than the model it replaces—so couldn’t we easily come up with a few £100 million in research funds?

    Then again I guess the latest model of car on the drive—with that sexy optional sports pack—is rather compelling when compared with a climate problem that won’t hit us for a few years yet?

  12. mt says:

    “Can we maintain standards of living in the developed world and have growth in the developing world [under conditions X Y Z]” is indeed the right question, but nobody in power is asking it.

    They are asking whether we can have continued growth everywhere under [X Y Z], which raises much greater difficulties, including of equity. Further, the “growth” is defined not in terms of wealth but of throughput. And finally, there’s an implicit statement to the world that if you participate in the global capital system, you can eventually catch up.

    The extent to which impact intensity needs to decline to satisfy this implicit goal and maintain a tolerable peak CO2 concentration is extreme and probably implausible. So those in power are asking a question that is likely to have no answer.

  13. Andrew Dodds says:

    johnrussell40 –

    That’s actually a consequence of our current economic setup.

    A company listed on the stock market is under huge short term pressure to deliver profits. If it does not, it’s not just a question of a lower stock price, it’s the question of a takeover by a private equity company. Even if a policy of diverting a chunk of profits into long term research was shown to deliver greater return on capital and long term profits, the immediate effect would be fatal.

    This is why Google – a company that actually does do some blue-sky and speculative research – has opted to keep control privately-owned.

    Note that this enforced short termism is against the interests of the workers at companies, and also against the interests of the big pension funds (often the same people) – and it’s doubtful if it delivers as much for customers as longer term strategies would.

  14. Sam taylor says:

    Kevin Anderson just linked to a report on the feasibility of BECCS, for anyone struggling with insomnia:

    http://www.avoid.uk.net/2015/07/synthesising-existing-knowledge-on-the-feasibility-of-beccs/

  15. Steven Mosher says:

    “Of course car manufacturers spend £100s of millions, if not a billion or more, developing their next generation of competing mid-range vehicles—each of which is only slightly better than the model it replaces—so couldn’t we easily come up with a few £100 million in research funds?”

    Danger you sound like you are arguing that we have to innovate our way out of the problem.

    some people hope we get lucky with a low ECS.. other people have other good luck charms..

  16. Danger you sound like you are arguing that we have to innovate our way out of the problem.

    Isn’t that a reasonable argument? I certainly think that investing in research and technology is a good thing. My issue is those who think we’ll somehow develop this magical new technology without actually trying to do so. Anyone suggesting that we actually invest in research is actually making some kind of concrete suggestion.

  17. gasbuggy says:

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is an unrealistic pipe dream that was part of the COP21 agreement. It is a multi-faceted technology that has not been tried out and it is assumed it could be deployed on a massive scale within 35-years and sustained for many decades after that. The target date of 2050 is unrealistic since Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) effects are happening so rapidly that the collapse of industrial civilization is likely to take place long before that target date is reached. The underground storage efforts began about two decades ago and have not shown the promise that was expected. Finally, numerous studies have shown that many plants, grown under natural conditions do not fare well under conditions of increasing drought, increasing CO2 concentration above certain levels and increasing temperatures. Links to articles, on this last issue follow.

    Trees don’t suck up carbon dioxide as hoped
    Forests do not get a growth spurt from greenhouse gas
    http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050822/full/news050822-7.html

    Trees absorbing less CO2 as world warms, study finds
    · Shorter winters weaken forest ‘carbon sinks’
    · Data analysis reverses scientists’ expectations
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/jan/03/climatechange.carbonemissions

    Satellite observations show global plant growth is not keeping up with CO2 emissions
    December 7, 2015
    Provided by: University of Minnesota
    http://phys.org/news/2015-12-satellite-global-growth-co2-emissions.html

    Scientists just discovered a surprising new factor that could make global warming worse
    By Chelsea Harvey
    December 9, 2015
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/12/09/the-surprising-factor-affecting-carbon-storage-in-the-worlds-forests/

    The hidden factor that could undermine U.S. plans to cut carbon emissions
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/11/16/the-hidden-factor-that-could-complicate-u-s-plans-to-cut-carbon-emissions/

    Scientists say climate change could cause a ‘massive’ tree die-off in the U.S. Southwest
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/12/21/scientists-say-climate-change-could-cause-a-massive-tree-die-off-in-the-southwest/

    Increasingly severe disturbances weaken world’s temperate forests
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150829123817.htm

    Big Trees First to Die in Severe Droughts
    Large trees like sequoias and redwoods suffer most when its dry
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/big-trees-first-to-die-in-severe-droughts/

    Amazon rainforest losing ability to regulate climate, scientist warns
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/31/amazon-rainforest-deforestation-weather-droughts-report

    The slow collapse of the world’s forests on The Science Show
    http://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/pgQm6yo3q7?play=true

    Drought Could Kill Off Many of the World’s Trees
    http://news.yahoo.com/drought-could-kill-off-many-worlds-trees-144139591.html

    NASA satellites reveal something startling about the future of food on Earth
    http://beta.finance.yahoo.com/news/nasa-satellites-reveal-something-startling-171000679.html?ltr=1
    (Above 95° F photosynthesis rate drops rapidly)

    Tens of Millions of Trees in Danger from California Drought
    http://carnegiescience.edu/node/1968

    Trees don’t suck up carbon dioxide as hoped
    Forests do not get a growth spurt from greenhouse gas
    http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050822/full/news050822-7.html

    Trees absorbing less CO2 as world warms, study finds
    · Shorter winters weaken forest ‘carbon sinks’
    · Data analysis reverses scientists’ expectations
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/jan/03/climatechange.carbonemissions

    Satellite observations show global plant growth is not keeping up with CO2 emissions
    December 7, 2015
    Provided by: University of Minnesota
    http://phys.org/news/2015-12-satellite-global-growth-co2-emissions.html

    Scientists just discovered a surprising new factor that could make global warming worse
    By Chelsea Harvey
    December 9, 2015
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/12/09/the-surprising-factor-affecting-carbon-storage-in-the-worlds-forests/

    The hidden factor that could undermine U.S. plans to cut carbon emissions
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/11/16/the-hidden-factor-that-could-complicate-u-s-plans-to-cut-carbon-emissions/

    Scientists say climate change could cause a ‘massive’ tree die-off in the U.S. Southwest
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/12/21/scientists-say-climate-change-could-cause-a-massive-tree-die-off-in-the-southwest/

    Increasingly severe disturbances weaken world’s temperate forests
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150829123817.htm

    Big Trees First to Die in Severe Droughts
    Large trees like sequoias and redwoods suffer most when its dry
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/big-trees-first-to-die-in-severe-droughts/

    Amazon rainforest losing ability to regulate climate, scientist warns
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/31/amazon-rainforest-deforestation-weather-droughts-report

    The slow collapse of the world’s forests on The Science Show
    http://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/pgQm6yo3q7?play=true

    Drought Could Kill Off Many of the World’s Trees
    http://news.yahoo.com/drought-could-kill-off-many-worlds-trees-144139591.html

    NASA satellites reveal something startling about the future of food on Earth
    http://beta.finance.yahoo.com/news/nasa-satellites-reveal-something-startling-171000679.html?ltr=1
    (Above 95° F photosynthesis rate drops rapidly)

    Tens of Millions of Trees in Danger from California Drought
    http://carnegiescience.edu/node/1968

    It would be wise to also consider past technologies that were once considered quite hopeful but which turned out to be great embarrassments. One example was the U.S. program called Project Plowshare that had it’s equivalent in the Soviet Russia. The program involved employing nuclear explosives for various civil engineering projects.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s