Biomass. It’s the organic matter in forests, agriculture and trash. You can turn it into electricity, fuel, plastic and more. And you can engineer it to capture extra carbon dioxide and sequester it underground or at the bottom of the ocean. 

The catch: The world has a finite capacity for biomass production, so every end use competes with another. If done improperly, these end uses could also compete with food production for arable land already in tight supply.

So which decarbonization solutions will get a slice of the biomass pie? Which ones should?

In this episode, Shayle talks to Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct. They cover the sources of biomass, everything from municipal solid waste to kelp.

They also survey the potential end-uses, such as incineration to generate power, gasification to make hydrogen, and pyrolyzation to make biochar, as well as fuel production in a Fischer-Tropsch process

In a report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Julio and his co-authors propose a new term called biomass carbon removal and storage, or ‘BiCRS’, as a way to describe capturing carbon in biomass and then sequestering it. Startups Charm Industrial and Running Tide are pursuing this approach. Julio and his co-authors think of BiCRS as an alternative pathway to bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS). 

They then zoom in on a promising source of biomass: waste. Example projects include a ski hill built on an incinerator in Copenhagen and a planned waste-to-hydrogen plant in Lancaster, California

Shayle and Julio also dig into questions like:

  • How to procure and transport biomass, especially biowaste, at scale? 
  • How to avoid eco-colonialism, i.e. when wealthy countries exploit the resources of poorer countries to grow biomass without meaningful consent?
  • If everyone wants it, when is biowaste no longer waste? And when there’s a shortage of waste—like corn stover, for example—what’s the risk of turning to raw feedstocks, like corn?
  • How to pickle trees? (yes, you read that right)

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