PublicationJournal Article Biomass Enables the Transition to a Carbon-​​negative Power System Across Western North America

March 6, 2015
Publication Type:
Journal Article

Sus­tain­able bio­mass can play a trans­for­ma­tive role in the tran­si­tion to a decar­bonized econ­omy, with poten­tial appli­ca­tions in elec­tric­ity, heat, chem­i­cals, and trans­porta­tion fuels. Deploy­ing bioen­ergy with car­bon cap­ture and seques­tra­tion (BECCS) results in a net reduc­tion in atmos­pheric car­bon. BECCS may be one of the few cost-​​effective carbon-​​negative oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able should anthro­pogenic cli­mate change be worse than antic­i­pated or emis­sions reduc­tions in other sec­tors prove par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult 4 5. Pre­vi­ous work, pri­mar­ily using Inte­grated Assess­ment Mod­els (IAMs), has iden­ti­fied the crit­i­cal role of BECCS in long-​​term (pre– or post-​​2100 time­frames) cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion, but has not inves­ti­gated the role of BECCS in power sys­tems in detail, or in aggres­sive time­frames , even though commercial-​​scale facil­i­ties are start­ing to be deployed in the trans­porta­tion sec­tor . Here, we explore the eco­nomic and deploy­ment impli­ca­tions for BECCS in the elec­tric­ity sys­tem of West­ern North Amer­ica under aggres­sive (pre-​​2050) time­frames and car­bon emis­sions lim­i­ta­tions, with rich tech­nol­ogy rep­re­sen­ta­tion and phys­i­cal con­straints. We show that BECCS, com­bined with aggres­sive renew­able deploy­ment and fos­sil emis­sion reduc­tions, can enable a carbon-​​negative power sys­tem in West­ern North Amer­ica by 2050 with up to 145% emis­sions reduc­tion from 1990 lev­els. In most sce­nar­ios, the off­sets pro­duced by BECCS are found to be more valu­able to the power sys­tem than the elec­tric­ity it pro­vides. Advanced bio­mass power gen­er­a­tion employs sim­i­lar sys­tem design to advanced coal tech­nol­ogy, enabling a tran­si­tion strat­egy to low-​​carbon energy.

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