Monday, August 08, 2016

Michigan Scientists See Urgency for Negative Emissions

Pollution from a power plant smoke stack. (Credit: Ray Slakinski/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Sarang Supekar, a systems engineer at the University of Michigan, is part of a team developing a computer model that estimates how countries can stay within their carbon budgets, limiting their greenhouse gases so that the earth does not warm beyond the 2°C (3.6°F) threshold.

His research, which is ongoing and has not yet been published, is suggesting an increasingly dire situation: Countries may have only until 2026 to begin retiring most old coal-fired power plants and replacing them with 100 percent renewable power sources, or the globe is likely to blow through its carbon budget and exceed 2°C of warming.

What happens if countries miss that target?

“Then we have no option than to remove the CO2 we have already emitted,” Supekar said.

However, nobody is certain if removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — something called “negative emissions” — to help stabilize the climate is possible or feasible on a mass scale.

The program Supekar works under at the University of Michigan — Beyond Carbon Neutral — is one of several university programs across the country investigating potential ways of taking large-scale negative emissions out of the theoretical realm and into the real.

The negative emissions technology that exists today is in its infancy.  Much more research on carbon dioxide removal is necessary, and understanding the costs is paramount because the technology will take time to develop and scale.

Mounting research suggests that negative emissions may have to be a major part of any global strategy to stabilize the climate because simply slashing carbon dioxide emissions likely won’t be sufficient.  That’s something that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged when it factored negative emissions into some of its climate stabilization scenarios in its Fifth Assessment Report in 2014.

A National Center for Atmospheric Research study published in July showed that halting global warming at 2°C is likely to require carbon dioxide to be removed from the atmosphere on a large scale by the second half of this century.

But researchers say the world would benefit by developing negative emissions technology as soon as possible.
Scientists are studying many different ways of carbon dioxide removal, including growing trees for biomass electric power production and then capturing and storing the resulting emissions. Other strategies involve planting large forests across the globe, and altering soil management to increase the amount of carbon it can store.
In the U.S., the more than 500 million acres of federal public lands also present a major opportunity for negative emissions, John DeCicco, a University of Michigan climate mitigation researcher and co-founder of Beyond Carbon Neutral, said.

With the federal government as the single land manager of such a vast area of land, ecosystems could be optimized for enhanced carbon storage, he said.

“Instead of a big effort to promote biofuels, that should be completely abandoned from a scientific point of view, we need to be making a full-court press to protect and preserve and expand forests, wetlands, natural grasslands, and natural ecosystems that are carbon sinks,” DeCicco said.

Read more at Michigan Scientists See Urgency for Negative Emissions

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