DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2018-09-04 16:25:49
    • Article ID: 699968

    Coal Plant Offsets with Carbon Capture Means Covering 89 Percent of the U.S. In Forests

    • Credit: Rylie Kostreva, Michigan Tech

      Researchers found that using bio-sequestration to capture carbon produced by U.S. coal-fired plants even after carbon capture and storage would require using 62 percent of the nation’s arable land for that process, or 89 percent of all U.S. land with average forest cover.

    • Credit: Vassilissa Semouchkina, Michigan Tech

      Coal-fired power plants require 13 times more land to be carbon neutral than the manufacturing of solar panels.

    How many fields of switchgrass and forests of trees would be needed to offset the energy produced by burning coal? A lot, it turns out.

    While demand for energy isn’t dropping, alarms raised by burning fossil fuels in order to get that energy are getting louder. Often suggested solutions to cancel out the effects of the carbon dumped into our atmosphere through carbon capture and storage or bio-sequestration. This zero-emission energy uses technical means as well as plants to take in carbon emissions and store it. Another route is to use solar photovoltaics to convert sunlight directly into electricity and only sequester the carbon emissions from the production of solar cells.

    The Giving Tree Won’t Give Enough for Carbon Neutral Coal

    Zero-emission energy has been offered as a way to offset the carbon dioxide production while still maintaining coal’s electricity generation. That’s done through carbon capture and storage in saline aquifers or using enhanced oil recovery as well as bio-sequestration by planting trees and other plants to suck up and store carbon.

    In a new study published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication, Michigan Technological University researchers looked at how much land would be required to offset greenhouse gases created by traditional coal-fired plants or coal-fired plants with carbon sequestration and then neutralizing the remaining carbon pollution with bio-sequestration. Then it compared these routes to how much bio-sequestration would be required to offset greenhouse gases produced when making solar panels.

    For the first time, researchers have shown that there is no comparison. It’s not even close. Coal-fired power plants require 13 times more land to be carbon neutral than the manufacturing of solar panels. We’d have to use a minimum of 62 percent of U.S. land covered by optimal crops or cover 89 percent of the U.S. with average forests to do it. 

    “We know that climate change is a reality, but we don’t want to live like cavemen,” says Joshua Pearce, professor of material sciences and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “We need a method to make carbon neutral electricity. It just makes no sense whatsoever to use coal when you have solar available, especially with this data.”

    Coal-Fired Power Plant Emissions are Too Big to Solve

    Researchers drew these conclusions from over 100 different data sources to compare energy, greenhouse gas emissions and land transformation needed to carbon neutralize each type of energy technology.

    A one-gigawatt coal-fired plant would require a new forest larger than the state of Maryland for all of its carbon emissions to be neutralized.

    They found that applying the best-case bio-sequestration for all the greenhouse gases produced by coal-fired power plants would mean using 62 percent of the nation’s arable land for that process, or 89 percent of all U.S. land with average forest cover. A one-gigawatt coal-fired plant would require a new forest larger than the state of Maryland for all of its carbon to be neutralized without CCS.

    In comparison, solar cells require 13 times less land to become carbon neutral and five times less than the best-case coal scenario.

    “If your goal is to make electricity without introducing any carbon into the atmosphere, you should absolutely not do a coal plant,” he says. Not only is it not realistic to capture all the carbon dioxide they release, but burning coal also puts sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide and particulates in the air. They cause air population, which is already estimated to cause 52,000 premature deaths per year.

    Solar is a Better Zero-Emission Option – and Can Be Improved Too

    Pearce says that, in these calculations, he and his team were generous to coal-fired power plants in how efficient carbon capture and storage could ideally be when scaled up. They also did not consider new ways that solar farms are being used to make them even more efficient, like using higher efficiency black silicon solar cells, putting mirrors in between rows of panels so that the light that falls between them would also be absorbed, or planting crops between rows (agrivoltaics) to get the most use out of the land dedicated to solar panels that they can.

     

    Resources should be put towards improving the efficiency of solar panels and of solar farms, he says, not carbon capture of fossil fuel-powered plants in an attempt to become zero-emission energy, not when this data shows it isn’t realistic to make big difference in protecting our changing climate.

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    Stronger, lighter, greener

    A new award-winning magnet technology invented at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory could help drive the nation's transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric and hybrid power more rapidly, at lower cost, and in a more environmentally friendly way.

    Science Up-Close: Developing a Cookbook for Efficient Fusion Energy

    To develop a future fusion reactor, scientists need to understand how and why plasma in fusion experiments moves into a "high-confinement mode" where particles and heat can't escape. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory simulated the transition into that mode starting from the most basic physics principles.

    Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level

    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Neutron science publications reach new highs at ORNL's flagship facilities

    The High Flux Isotope Reactor and the Spallation Neutron Source at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have reached new levels of increased science productivity. In 2018, a record high of more than 500 scientific instrument publications were produced between HFIR and SNS--based on neutron beamline experiments conducted by more than 1,200 US and international researchers who used the world-leading facilities.

    Fiery sighting: A new physics of eruptions that damage fusion experiments

    Feature describes first direct sighting of a trigger for bursts of heat that can disrupt fusion reactions.

    Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost

    Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

    An effect that Einstein helped discover 100 years ago offers new insight into a puzzling magnetic phenomenon

    Experiments at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have seen for the first time what happens when magnetic materials are demagnetized at ultrafast speeds of millionths of a billionth of a second: The atoms on the surface of the material move, much like the iron bar did. The work, done at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser, was published in Nature earlier this month.

    Found: A precise method for determining how waves and particles affect fusion reactions

    Like surfers catching ocean waves, particles within plasma can ride waves oscillating through the plasma during fusion energy experiments. Now a team of physicists led by PPPL has devised a faster method to determine how much this interaction contributes to efficiency loss in tokamaks.

    Discovery adapts natural membrane to make hydrogen fuel from water

    In a recent study from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, scientists have combined two membrane-bound protein complexes to perform a complete conversion of water molecules to hydrogen and oxygen.

    How Plants Regulate Sugar Deposition in Cell Walls

    Identified genes involved in plant cell wall polysaccharide production and restructuring could aid in engineering bioenergy crops.


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    Top 10 Discoveries of 2018

    Every year, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory compiles a list of the biggest advances made by the Lab's staff scientists, engineers, and visiting researchers. From uncovering mysteries of the universe to building better batteries, here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top 10 discoveries of 2018.

    U.S. Department of Energy Announces $33 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

    The U.S. Department of Energy announced it will award 189 grants totaling $33 million to 149 small businesses in 32 states.

    DOE to Provide $16 Million for New Research into Atmospheric and Terrestrial Processes

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a plan to provide $16 million for new observational research aimed at improving the accuracy of today's climate and earth system models.

    Machine learning award powers Argonne leadership in engine design

    When attempting to design engines to be more fuel-efficient and emissions-free, automotive manufacturers have to take into account all the complexity inherent in the combustion process.

    ORNL partners with industry to address multiple nuclear technology challenges

    The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is collaborating with industry on six new projects focused on advancing commercial nuclear energy technologies that offer potential improvements to current nuclear reactors and move new reactor designs closer to deployment.

    Lithium earns honors for three physicists working to bring the energy that powers the sun to Earth

    Feature describes research of three PPPL physicists who have won the laboratory's 2018 outstanding research awards

    DOE approves technical plan and cost estimate to upgrade Argonne facility; Project will create X-rays that illuminate the atomic scale, in 3D

    The U.S. Department of Energy has approved the technical scope, cost estimate and plan of work for an upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source, a major storage-ring X-ray source at Argonne.

    Costas Soukoulis elected to National Academy of Inventors

    Costas Soukoulis, Ames Laboratory senior scientist and Iowa State University Frances M. Craig Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor, has been named as a 2018 National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow.

    Biophysicist F. William Studier Elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

    F. William Studier, a Senior Biophysicist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry at Stony Brook University, has been elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is among 148 renowned academic inventors being recognized by NAI for 2018.

    Blast to the future

    A grant from DOE's Technology Commercialization Fund will help researchers at Argonne and industry partners seek improvements to U.S. manufacturing by making discovery and design of new materials more efficient.


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    Rapid Lake Draining on Ice Sheets Changes How Water Moves in Unexpected Ways

    Widespread fracturing during lake drainage triggers vertical shafts to form that affect the Greenland Ice Sheet.

    New Historical Emissions Trends Estimated with the Community Emissions Data System

    The data system will allow for more detailed, consistent, and up-to-date global emissions trends that will aid in understanding aerosol effects.

    Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level

    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost

    Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

    New Method Knocks Out Yeast Genes with Single-Point Precision

    Researchers can precisely study how different genes affect key properties in a yeast used industrially to produce fuel and chemicals.

    How Plants Regulate Sugar Deposition in Cell Walls

    Identified genes involved in plant cell wall polysaccharide production and restructuring could aid in engineering bioenergy crops.

    Scientists Identify Gene Cluster in Budding Yeasts with Major Implications for Renewable Energy

    How yeast partition carbon into a metabolite may offer insights into boosting production for biofuels.

    More Designer Peptides, More Possibilities

    A combined experimental and modeling approach contributes to understanding small proteins with potential use in industrial, therapeutic applications.

    Deep Learning for Electron Microscopy

    Artificial intelligence on Summit to discover atomic-scale structures.

    Clarifying Rates of Methylmercury Production

    New model provides more accurate estimates of how fast microbes produce a mercury-based neurotoxin.


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