The breadth and coverage of analytical expertise in the IEA Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs) are unique assets that underpin IEA efforts to support innovation for energy security, economic growth and environmental protection. The 39 TCPs operating today involve about 6 000 experts from government, industry and research organisations in more than 50 countries1.

Greenhouse Gas R&D (GHG TCP)


Zero-emission technology for coal and biomass

The GHG TCP examines technologies that can reduce GHG emissions derived from fossil-fuel use, with a focus on CCS. Equipping a biomass power plant with CCS technology may result in negative emissions, yet trading schemes do not currently enable reporting of negative emissions. 

CO2 emissions from power plants burning coal or biomass, with and without carbon capture and storage (CCS).*

Combining CCS with combustion of fuels with high carbon content (e.g. coal-fired power plants, use of diesel in heavy industry) may significantly reduce or even neutralise CO2 emissions. Combining CCS with combustion of a low-carbon fuel such as biomass from agricultural crops can actually result in “negative” CO2 emissions and, as a result, offset CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use.

Despite this considerable advantage, there remain a number of barriers to widespread development of biomass combined with CCS (bio-CCS). The most important barrier is the fact that few emissions accounting methodologies acknowledge negative emissions from bio-CCS and, without the means to recognise, attribute, or allocate them, it would not be possible to benefit from the concept within an emissions trading scheme. Additional barriers include carbon leakage into the ground, and land use. For example, crops used for energy purposes may compete for land used for food crops.

Recognising bio-CCS remains a task for policy makers. While incentives and rewards have been used with some success, policy makers and regulators are discussing how to address – and overcome – these barriers.

For these reasons, experts in the GHG TCP are actively engaged in providing input to meetings of the European regulatory bodies and to the joint task force on bio-CCS led by the European Commission. These contributions are built on three recent studies of the topic carried out by the GHG TCP. Six possible options for large-scale electricity generation from biomass and for production of biofuels were evaluated.

Among the technology options identified to achieve negative CO2 emissions, only around one-third appeared to be economically attractive. A further report reviewed the methodologies for monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions. The report found that emissions trading schemes do not recognise or attribute negative emissions, resulting in few incentives to deploy bio-CCS.

The potential of two additional technology options for producing natural gas from crops (biomethane) in combination with CCS were assessed. Again, the technical options were promising in terms of CO2 reductions, yet the economic benefits were smaller, with niche applications in anaerobic digestion seeming favourable.** The study found that the barriers to large-scale commercialisation of biomethane production with CCS include the price of CO2 in emissions trading markets, the lack of necessary infrastructure, and the price and availability of crops.

These and other findings are comprised in the reports Biomass and CCS – Guidance for Accounting for Negative Emissions and Global Potential for Biomethane Production with CCS up to 2050.

* Graphic adapted from information provided by the GHG TCP


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