The Challenge 

Both the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UK’s Committee on Climate Change have stated that negative emissions technologies are needed at scale if the UK is to hit its net-zero targets and the world is to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5℃. 

In response, Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire in the UK has submitted plans to build what would be the world’s largest bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) facility.

Advocates of BECCS argue that it can play a role in sustainable forest management, while also providing a secure, affordable form of carbon negative energy, which extracts and permanently stores CO2 from biomass.

However, critics point to complex issues such as Indirect Land Use Change, long carbon payback periods, supply chain emissions and inadequate community engagement.

If BECCS is to play a role in the emerging Negative Emissions Technologies mix, how can we ensure that it is developed in the right way, enabling positive outcomes for society, climate and the economy? 

What does BECCS “Done Well” look like? 

The High Level Panel on BECCS Done Well

To move this debate forward, Will Gardiner, the CEO of Drax Group invited Jonathon Porritt, environmental campaigner and Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, to convene a High Level Panel to conduct an independent Inquiry into BECCS. 

The aim of the six-month Inquiry (concluding in November 2022) was to identify the necessary conditions which, if met, would satisfy the Panel of independent sustainability experts, that BECCS from woody biomass can deliver positive outcomes for nature, climate, and people.

The Panel and its findings: 30 conditions for success

On 23 November 2022, the Panel — chaired by Jonathon Porritt and comprising of Brad Gentry of the Yale School of the Environment, whose expertise lies in nature-based solutions, Stuart Haszeldine of the University of Edinburgh, whose focus lies in carbon capture and storage, and Claire O’Neill, acting as an Independent Consultant with expertise in energy policy and governance — published its findings in a new Report centred around four Inquiry questions:  

  • What conditions would need to be complied with to ensure that the sourcing and processing of woody biomass delivers positive outcomes for nature, climate and people? 
  • What conditions would need to be complied with to demonstrate that energy from woody biomass makes a positive contribution to decarbonisation, energy security, affordability and a just transition? 
  • What conditions would need to be complied with to ensure that BECCS from woody biomass makes a material, ongoing contribution towards net zero targets?
  • What are the implications for Drax of these conditions, and for the wider biomass industry, in terms of policy and governance? How will verification work, in an authoritative and transparent way, demonstrating compliance with these conditions?

The Report reveals 30 conditions that must be met if BECCS is to deliver positive outcomes

Among the 30 conditions, the Panel recommended that Drax should:  

  • Ensure 100% of feedstocks are certified under internationally-recognised sustainable certification schemes that deliver positive social and environmental outcomes to the highest possible standard.
  • Aggressively reduce emissions both from direct operations and the wider value chain, prioritising investment in renewable power for all pellet-making plants, while scoping out further decarbonisation measures on any new BECCS plants.
  • As a condition of future government support for Drax’s carbon removals, to publicly disclose all flue stack emissions, as well as captured tonnage of CO2 on a weekly basis. Agree that all such support from taxpayers should be paid retrospectively on the basis of tonnes of CO2 successfully captured and stored.
  • Consult with policymakers and NGOs on setting up a comprehensive Transparency Dashboard, establishing a set of indicators with ambitious targets to generate positive nature, climate and people outcomes.

Download the full  BECCS Done Well  Report findings

Speaking on behalf of the Panel, Jonathon Porritt said: “For too long, we’ve debated BECCS as either ‘good or bad’. This Inquiry dives into the nuance of that debate. It asks what conditions need to be satisfied for BECCS to deliver positive outcomes for people, planet and the economy. The Panel has operated on a strictly independent basis, calling on a wide range of Expert Witnesses and reviewing a huge amount of literature to present recommendations that we hope will prove valuable at a critical moment for this debate.”

Process

Whilst acknowledging the support of Drax in commissioning Forum as Secretariat to design and facilitate this process, the Panel conducted its activities on a strictly independent basis - inviting 12 Expert Witnesses to give evidence, determining what literature to review, and retaining full editorial control of its final Report and recommendations.

As part of this process, Drax provided a ‘Preliminary Submission’ to put forward its initial case to the Panel. This Preliminary Submission along with digests of the hour-long Expert Witness sessions are publicly available. 

Download Supplementary Materials to the Inquiry

(including Drax’s preliminary submission and digests of the hour-long Expert Witness sessions)

Further reading:

Press release: New Report outlines minimum conditions for success for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage

For media inquiries, contact Amy Langridge

For more information, contact Martin Hunt

Image: A train delivers biomass pellets imported from North America to Drax Power Station during severe flooding in February 2020 – Image Credits: GB Railfreight