Microsoft bets on BECCS in bid for carbon negativity

Microsoft has signed the world’s largest corporate contract to date to procure carbon removals from a biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) plant, as it aims to remove more carbon than it produces by 2030.

Microsoft bets on BECCS in bid for carbon negativity

The tech giant revealed on Monday (6 May) that it has partnered with Swedish BECCS plant operator Stockholm Exergi to procure 3.33 million tonnes of carbon removals from a new facility called the Värtan plant. The deal will span a 10-year period commencing in 2028.

Environmental permits, legal permits and planning permission for the site have already been secured and a final investment decision is due in the last quarter of 2024. The project will depend on state aid and additional deals from the private sector.

It will be Stockholm Exergi’s second biomass plant; the first has been in operation since 2016. A provisional date of early 2027 has been given for operations to commence at the new plant.

Stockholm Exergi is touting the carbon removals it will provide as being “permanent”. It intends to store the removed carbon deep underground in the Nordic region.

In a statement, Microsoft’s senior director of energy and carbon removal Brian Marrs addressed several of the common concerns around BECCS.

He said: “Leveraging existing biomass power plants is a crucial first step to building worldwide carbon removal capacity. In this case, we are pleased with the efficiency of recovering heat from carbon capture and adding it into district heating networks.

“Finally, it is crucial to sustainably source the biomass for BECCS projects and we were impressed with Stockholm Exergi’s commitment in this regard.”

The company claims it will not source from “sensitive areas” or use wood that could otherwise be used for “long-lived” products. It has also strategized to prevent the depletion of local forest carbon stocks, which could undermine lifecycle carbon removal benefits.

Concerns around these issues have plagued strategizing around the development of BECCs at scale in the UK. Questions are also now being asked about the affordability of BECCs in the UK as renewables decrease in cost.

Microsoft is investing in BECCs alongside other carbon removal solutions such as direct air capture and advanced rock weathering.

It has also stated that removals will not prevent the company from reducing emissions from its operations and supply chain in the first instance. Campaign groups including Greenpeace and Stand.Earth have recently called on Microsoft to set stricter targets for supply chain emissions.

CCS consultations 

In related news, the UK Government is consulting on the best course of action to scale networks for transporting captured carbon from the capture site to storage facilities.

Ministers are seeking evidence on whether captured CO2 could be transported using road, rail, barge or ship – in addition to via a network of pipes. Evidence can be submitted until 16 July.

Net Zero Industry Wales, a collaborative initiative between the Welsh Government, academia and heavy industry, claims that non-pipeline transport will be “pivotal” to scaling carbon capture in the region.

The new consultations were first promised in December 2023, at which point Ministers stated an intention to decide on CO2 transportation networks by early 2025.


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