Research over the first three years of the grant has resulted in the expansion of some new research programs and the contraction of others. In the next three years, our groups will contribute to our “stabilization wedge” assessment, while continuing to conduct investigator-driven research in their various fields.
Work on the Stabilization Wedge will continue. Results developed by the capture, storage, and policy groups will be turned into cost estimates for packages of slices. The initial focus exclusively on what could be in place in 2050 will be augmented by descriptions of 2025.
We will continue to steer a fraction of the research initiatives in each group toward areas that will refine our understanding of aspects of the Stabilization Wedge. As mentioned earlier, the strategies we are assessing include:
- Energy efficient technologies
- Replacing coal use with natural gas
- Zero-carbon electricity from solar cells, wind turbines, and nuclear plants
- Zero-carbon fuels from biomass
- Carbon capture and underground storage
- Biological storage
In the capture group, work on the effect of a CO2 capture requirement on the coal vs. natural gas vs. biomass competition will clarify details of Strategies #2 and #5. Work on hydrogen couples to Strategy #1.
In the storage group, work on leakage through abandoned wells will inform discussions of geological CO2 sequestration and thus illuminate Strategy #5.
In the science group, work on climate change impacts of various CO2 emission trajectories will support work on the required size of the wedge as a whole, and work on the environmental consequences of large-scale renewable energy will address upper limits to the number of slices from strategies #3, #4, and #6.
In the policy group, integrated assessment modeling will provide trajectories of imputed costs of carbon emissions; these costs will permit quantitative assessments of the future competitiveness of all six strategies.
The Capture Group
The group is extending its work to clarify the competition between coal and natural gas for both electricity and synthetic fuels markets. Modelling will be expanded to investigate the polygeneration of chemical fuels, hydrogen, and electricity, and gasification analyses will incorporate low quality fossil fuel feedstocks other than coal.
The polygeneration/carbon-capture strategy is expected to remain the largest component of the capture program over the next three years. Collaboration will continue with the Politecnico di Milano and with Tsinghua University in a more integrated, three-way collaboration. At least one new collaboration, preferably in the developing world, will be sought.
Among specific topics under consideration are: scale dependence and “multiple training” of gasifiers, reactors, etc., to understand better reliability/capital cost tradeoffs; the role of economic dispatch in determining capacity factors and thereby shaping the economic competition between natural gas and low-quality primary energy sources; the potential for cost reduction for energy systems via advanced oxygen production technologies and how this might impact the competition between coal and natural gas-based energy systems; co-polygeneration systems using fossil and biomass feedstocks as co-inputs; firing of fossil fuels with biomass fuels, polygeneration systems with the flexibility to produce variable ratios of products; and evolutionary strategies for national systems, including systems that involve co-capture with CO2 of pollutants like sulfur.
Work on hydrogen fuel issues will continue as the second thread of the Capture Group. On the production side, they will complete an economic analysis for systems co-producing hydrogen and electricity from natural gas and make a side-by-side comparison of systems for making hydrogen from coal and natural gas. More attention will also be given to examining hydrogen as an evolutionary element in a polygeneration system and understanding the prospects for hydrogen in markets other than transportation.
It is hoped that the work on Hydrogen Combustion can become more of a collaboration with Ford. Work on hydrogen/CO2 infrastructures will be continued and extended to include polygeneration systems, as a collaboration with the University of California at Davis, where Prof. Joan Ogden is now building a research group.Work with outside partners will continue exploring long-term prospects for large-scale conversion of biomass energy crops to fuels with and without electricity co-product. This research will enable CMI researchers to compare relative prospects for fuels from coal and other low-quality fossil fuel feedstocks with carbon capture and storage, fuels from natural gas, and fuels from biomass.
The Storage Group
After analyzing a potential test basin (the Alberta Basin), the group has concluded that leaky abandoned wells could be the most important factor determining CO2 leakage rates from deep saline aquifers. This discovery has prompted the addition of two new activities. First, George Scherer has begun experiments on cement deterioration to assess potential impacts on CO2 leakage. Second, Mike Celia, confronting the need to simulate the impacts of hundreds of existing wells, has begun to develop fast analytical models to predict short-term leakage.
The group’s current plan for the next three years emphasizes the empirical research on physical and structural changes that occur in well cements under high CO2 conditions. In support of this work, the researchers will improve on software now available to simulate the region where well meets reservoir in a CO2-rich setting. In parallel, they will continue to develop powerful analytical solutions for the near-term consequences of CO2 injection into reservoirs.
The Science Group
The science group has been organized around three problems: the glacial/interglacial cycle, natural sources and sinks for atmospheric carbon, and frontier mitigation technologies. These foci will be retained, but with sharper emphasis on the critical questions unearthed during the past three years and with greatly added power provided by the new Earth System Model (ESM). The group will continue to leverage the much larger level of funding provided by other sponsors. This base has been expanded recently by the naming of a NOAA Joint Institute at Princeton on the carbon and climate problem (funded this year at 3.5 million dollars).
Beginning this year, CMI researchers will take part in a GFDL project using the new ESM to make climate change predictions under a series of emissions and stabilization scenarios for the next IPCC Assessment. At the same time, D. Sigman and his group will continue to work on solving the paleoclimate problem of glacial/interglacial cycles.
In partnership with GFDL/NOAA, CMI researchers will lead the development of a new software system to link carbon cycle models to observational data from a wide variety of existing sources (images of the biosphere, meteorological data, atmospheric data from the global sampling network, eddy flux measurements, forest inventory data, etc.). The system will generate real-time maps of the sources and sinks for atmospheric carbon around the planet.
The group will continue to provide frontier scouting of the feasibility and environmental impact of mitigation technologies, following up in two specific areas. First, with GFDL and Ford researchers they will study the interaction of the carbon and air quality problems. Second, they will build on intriguing early results on climate change and wind power, with an emphasis on turbine and wind farm designs that minimize impacts.
The Policy Group
The policy group will further build up its in-house integrated assessment capability and its working relationships with those who manage integrated assessment models elsewhere. Two relationships currently under development are with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna and with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at the University of Maryland.
The group will build the work of the other three groups into such models to develop its own estimates of the costs of stabilization, and of our “Stabilization Wedge” in particular. The group will also continue development of models of market-driven international mechanisms for cutting global CO2 emissions.
In addition, the group will continue research in three related areas:
- The team will use existing economic models and develop more advanced ones to address the issue of how to make decisions in the face of both parameter and model uncertainty. They will build on current work to elucidate the relative roles of emissions mitigations, sequestration, and adaptation in future economic scenarios. They will also focus on building more accurate representations of climate thresholds and economic systems into their models.
- Exploring institutional issues related to long-term stabilization targets is another of the group’s objectives. Specifically, they will analyze whether present agreements provide an adequate framework for implementing climate goals, what further scientific research is needed to develop such goals, what institutions should coordinate discussions, and how private efforts can be transformed into public initiatives.
- The group will also explore specific mechanisms, e.g., trading schemes, that could be used to implement a long term target. Its goal is to build a conceptual map of policy options that foster early action.
Over the next three years CMI plans to expand its communications with industry, academic colleagues, the media, policymakers, and the general public. To further this effort, we have hired a new information officer and corporate liaison, Dr. Roberta Hotinski.
Dr. Hotinski will work full-time on communicating our work to both our corporate sponsors and the broader community. Her role will be to identify target audiences and deliver products to them via personal communication, our website, media releases, workshops, and other venues. We remain committed to generating a series of papers to serve as a primer on the issue of stabilization at the level of an undergraduate text. Along the way, we will also distill its work into a variety of shorter documents for audiences with broad range of expertise and interest in the climate problem.