Biofuels: better to bury than burn?

Burying biomass to sequester CO2 could be more economical than biofuel production with a $15-50/ton carbon price. Thus the global bioethanol industry could be disrupted. Burying biomass would also remove 8x more CO2 per acre, at a lower total cost. More conventional oil could be decarbonized with offsets. Ethanol mills and blenders would be displaced. The numbers and implications are outlined in this 12-page report.

Nature-based solutions to climate change need to double annual CO2 uptake from plants in our models of decarbonization, using forests and fast-growing grasses (pages 2-3).

We profile the bioethanol industry, which is already using fast-growing grasses to offset 2Mbpd of liquid fuels. But our models suggest the economics, efficiency and CO2 intensities are weak (pages 4-6).

A first alternative is to reforest the land used to grow biofuels, which would carbon-offset 1.5x more oil-equivalents than producing biofuels (pages 7-8).

A more novel alternative is to bury the biomass, such as sugarcane or other fast-growing grasses, which could sequester 8x more CO2, with superior economics at $15-50/ton CO2 prices (pages 9-11). Another concept is to bury wood for carbon sequestration.

Company implications are summarized, suggesting how the ethanol industry might be displaced, and quantifying the CO2 intensity of incumbents (page 12).

This report was originally published in 2020. We have also deepened our analysis of the corn ethanol industry, CO2 of corn production, alternative uses for bio-ethanol and an outlook for biofuels in the 2020s. We have not seen much progress or momentum behind the idea of burying biomass crops for carbon storage.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2019-2024.