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Deployment, Design, and Commercialization of Carbon-­Negative Energy Systems

  • Author(s): Sanchez, Daniel Lucio
  • Advisor(s): Kammen, Daniel M
  • Callaway, Duncan S
  • et al.
Abstract

Climate change mitigation requires gigaton-scale carbon dioxide removal technologies, yet few examples exist beyond niche markets. This dissertation informs large-scale implementation of bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS), a carbon-negative energy technology. It builds on existing literature with a novel focus on deployment, design, commercialization, and communication of BECCS.

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. BECCS complements other sources of renewable energy, and can be deployed in a manner consistent with regional policies and design considerations. The amount of biomass resource available limits the level of fossil CO2 emissions that can still satisfy carbon emissions caps. Offsets produced by BECCS are more valuable to the power system than the electricity it provides. Implied costs of carbon for BECCS are relatively low (~$75/ton CO2 at scale) for a capital-intensive technology.

Optimal scales for BECCS are an order of magnitude larger than proposed scales found in existing literature. Deviations from optimal scaled size have little effect on overall systems costs – suggesting that other factors, including regulatory, political, or logistical considerations, may ultimately have a greater influence on plant size than the techno-economic factors considered.

The flexibility of thermochemical conversion enables a viable transition pathway for firms, utilities and governments to achieve net-negative CO2 emissions in production of electricity and fuels given increasingly stringent climate policy. Primary research, development (R&D), and deployment needs are in large-scale biomass logistics, gasification, gas cleaning, and geological CO2 storage. R&D programs, subsidies, and policy that recognize co-conversion processes can support this pathway to commercialization. Here, firms can embrace a gradual transition pathway to deep decarbonization, limiting economic dislocation and increasing transfer of knowledge between the fossil and renewable sectors.

Global cumulative capital investment needs for BECCS through 2050 are over $1.9 trillion (2015$, 4% real interest rate) for scenarios likely to limit global warming to 2 °C. This scenario envisions deployment of as much as 24 GW/yr of BECCS by 2040 in the electricity sector. To achieve theses rates of deployment within 15-20 years, governments and firms must commit to research, development, and deployment on an unprecedented scale.

Three primary issues complicate emissions accounting for BECCS: cross-sector CO2 accounting, regrowth, and timing. Switchgrass integration decreases lifecycle greenhouse gas impacts of co-conversion systems with CCS, across a wide range of land-use change scenarios. Risks at commercial scale include adverse effects on food security, land conservation, social equity, and biodiversity, as well as competition for water resources. This dissertation argues for an iterative risk management approach to BECCS sustainability, with standards being updated as more knowledge is gained through deployment. Sustainability impacts and public opposition to BECCS may be reduced with transparent measurement and communication.

Commercial-scale deployment is dependent on the coordination of a wide range of actors, many with different incentives and worldviews. Despite this problem, this dissertation challenges governments, industry incumbents, and emerging players to research, support, and deploy BECCS.

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