A Carbon-Negative U.S. West Coast?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Generating electricity from biomass, such as urban waste and sustainably-sourced forest and crop residues, is one strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, given its carbon-neutrality: it produces as much carbon as the plants absorb from the atmosphere.

By capturing carbon from burning biomass termed bio energy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) power generators could become carbon-negative even while retaining gas- or coal-burning plants with carbon capture technology. The carbon reduction might even offset the emissions from fossil fuel used in transportation, according to Senior ECPA expert Fellow Daniel Sanchez, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.

“There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” Sanchez admitted. “Nevertheless, we’re taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, BECCS doesn’t merely let you reduce emissions by 80 percent the current 2050 goal in California but gets the power system to emit carbon negatively: you store more carbon than you create.”

BECCS may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available to mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change, said Senior ECPA Fellow Kammen. This strategy will be particularly important should climate change be worse than anticipated, or emissions reductions in other portions of the economy prove particularly difficult to achieve.

“Biomass, if managed sustainably can provide the “drain” for carbon, if utilized simultaneously along generation technologies with low-carbon emissions, this way it can enable us to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” said Kammen. Sanchez, Kammen and their colleagues published their analysis of BECCS in Western North America Feb. 9 in the online journal Nature Climate Change.