"Our results show that carbon capture and storage, particularly if coupled to bioenergy, can affect the transformation of energy and agricultural systems as well as impact macroeconomic trends, significantly reducing the cost of mitigating climate change," Matteo Muratori, now based at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, US, told environmentalresearchweb. "In particular, carbon capture and storage tends to temper the decline in fossil-fuel trade [driven by climate-change mitigation policies] and the upward pressure on the price of agricultural products."

Muratori, who was then at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland, and his colleagues used the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM) to assess the economic implications of moving ahead with such a proposal.

Deploying bioenergy with carbon capture and storage is an attractive idea as it provides a route towards driving down greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere. For instance, imagine a power plant fed by biomass – a fuel that extracts carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows. Then, couple this with the means to permanently store carbon dioxide emitted by the facility, for example by injecting exhaust gases deep underground. Overall, this process would lead to net negative emission, effectively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Projecting out to the year 2100, the group found that the availability of carbon capture and storage technologies in the model reduced the climate-change mitigation cost by roughly half relative to a scenario without carbon capture and storage.

Revenues from the biomass trade could become a significant share of GDP in regions where the feedstock is largely cultivated, the scientists estimate. And the effect is amplified if carbon capture and storage technologies are not available, given the more critical role of biomass.

Removing carbon capture and storage from the picture means that renewables, nuclear and biomass must take on a larger share of primary energy supply as emissions from the use of fossil fuels cannot be offset. In such a scenario, fossil fuels would virtually no longer be used by 2100, heavily impacting the trade balance of fossil-fuel exporting regions.

The analysis does, however, come with strings attached. When viewing the results, it’s important to keep in mind that both bioenergy and carbon capture and storage face challenges in their deployment. "Technological and institutional challenges relating to the large-scale deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage must be addressed before scenarios that depend heavily on this strategy can be confidently relied on and realized in the real world," said Muratori.

Muratori and colleagues reported their findings in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

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