Those issues, although formidable, can be overcome by developing a systems approach that has multiple end points and that collectively can provide a variety of credits or incentives—such as carbon sequestration, water quality, soil quality, wildlife, and rural development—and thus strengthen the U.S. agricultural industry. Failure to link the various critical environmental, economic, and social needs and to address them as an integrated system could reduce the availability of biomass to amounts substantially below the 550 million tons technically deployable in 2020.
If thermochemical conversion of coal or combined coal and biomass is to be important in reducing U.S. reliance on crude oil and reducing CO2 emission in the next 20–30 years, CCS will have to be shown to be safe and economically and politically viable. The capture of CO2 is proved, and commercial-scale demonstration plants are needed to measure and improve cost and performance. Separate large-scale programs will be required to resolve storage and regulatory issues associated with geologic CO2 storage approaching an annual rate of gigatonnes. The analyses presented in this report assume that the viability of CCS will be demonstrated by 2015 so that integrated coal-to-liquid plants can start up by 2020. In that scenario, the first coal or coal-and-biomass gasification plant would not be in operation until 2020. The assumption of CCS demonstration by 2015 is ambitious and will require focused and aggressive government action to realize it. Uncertainty about the regulatory environment arising from concerns of the general public and policy makers have the potential to raise storage costs above the costs assumed in this report. Ultimate requirements for selection, design, monitoring, carbon-accounting procedures, liability, and associated regulatory frameworks are yet to be developed, and there is a potential for unanticipated delays in initiating demonstration projects and later in licensing individual commercial-scale projects. Large-scale demonstrations and establishment of procedures for operation and long-term monitoring of CCS projects have to be pursued aggressively in the next few years if thermochemical conversion of biomass and coal with CCS is to be ready for commercial deployment by 2020.