A deep dive into the modelling assumptions for biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS): A transparency exercise

Isabela Butnar, Pei Hao Li, Neil Strachan, Joana Portugal Pereira, Ajay Gambhir, Pete Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is envisaged as a critical element of most deep decarbonisation pathways compatible with the Paris Agreement. Such a transformational upscaling-to 3-7 Gt CO2/yr by 2050-requires an unprecedented technological, economic, socio-cultural and political effort, along with, crucially, transparent communication between all stakeholders. Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) that underpin the 1.5 °C scenarios assessed by IPCC have played a critical role in building and assessing deep decarbonisation narratives. However, their high-level aggregation and their complexity can cause them to be perceived as non-transparent by stakeholders outside of the IAM community. This paper bridges this gap by offering a comprehensive assessment of BECCS assumptions as used in IAMs so as to open them to a wider audience. We focus on key assumptions that underpin five aspects of BECCS: Biomass availability, BECCS technologies, CO2 transport and storage infrastructure, BECCS costs, and wider system conditions which favour the deployment of BECCS. Through a structured review, we find that all IAMs communicate wider system assumptions and major cost assumptions transparently. This quality however fades as we dig deeper into modelling details. This is particularly true for sets of technological elements such as CO2 transport and storage infrastructure, for which we found the least transparent assumptions. We also found that IAMs are less transparent on the completeness of their treatment of the five BECCS aspects we investigated, and not transparent regarding the inclusion and treatment of socio-cultural and institutional-regulatory dimensions of feasibility which are key BECCS elements as suggested by the IPCC. We conclude with a practical discussion around ways of increasing IAM transparency as a bridge between this community and stakeholders from other disciplines, policy decision makers, financiers, and the public.

Original languageEnglish
Article number084008
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number8
Early online date17 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the UK Energy Research Council (UKERC)-funded project ‘Assessing potential, feasibility and impacts of Bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) in the UK (Access-BECCS)’. We are very grateful to our anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback which helped us to improve the manuscript.


  • integrated assessment models
  • bioenergy with carbon capture and storage
  • model assumptions
  • transparency
  • climate mitigation
  • LAND


Dive into the research topics of 'A deep dive into the modelling assumptions for biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS): A transparency exercise'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this