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Biomass enables the transition to a carbon-negative power system across western North America

An Addendum to this article was published on 02 March 2017

This article has been updated


Sustainable biomass can play a transformative role in the transition to a decarbonized economy, with potential applications in electricity, heat, chemicals and transportation fuels1,2,3. Deploying bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) results in a net reduction in atmospheric carbon. BECCS may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available should anthropogenic climate change be worse than anticipated or emissions reductions in other sectors prove particularly difficult4,5. Previous work, primarily using integrated assessment models, has identified the critical role of BECCS in long-term (pre- or post-2100 time frames) climate change mitigation, but has not investigated the role of BECCS in power systems in detail, or in aggressive time frames6,7, even though commercial-scale facilities are starting to be deployed in the transportation sector8. Here, we explore the economic and deployment implications for BECCS in the electricity system of western North America under aggressive (pre-2050) time frames and carbon emissions limitations, with rich technology representation and physical constraints. We show that BECCS, combined with aggressive renewable deployment and fossil-fuel emission reductions, can enable a carbon-negative power system in western North America by 2050 with up to 145% emissions reduction from 1990 levels. In most scenarios, the offsets produced by BECCS are found to be more valuable to the power system than the electricity it provides. Advanced biomass power generation employs similar system design to advanced coal technology, enabling a transition strategy to low-carbon energy.

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Figure 1: Supply curve of available solid biomass post-2030.
Figure 2: Generation, power cost and carbon emissions in 2050.
Figure 3: Hourly dispatch in 2050 in the −145% case.

Change history

  • 02 March 2017

    The authors omitted to cite a paper32 that introduces the SWITCH optimimization model. References 32. Fripp, M. Switch: a planning tool for power systems with large shares of intermittent renewable energy. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 6371–6378 (2012).


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We thank the California Energy Commission for support. This paper reflects the views of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the view of the California Energy Commission or the State of California. We thank the Class of 1935 of the University of California, Berkeley, the Karsten Family Foundation, the Zaffaroni Family (to D.M.K.), and the Link Foundation (to J.H.N.). This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE 1106400 (to D.L.S.).

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D.L.S., J.H.N., J.J. and A.M. designed research and analysed data; D.L.S. implemented biomass cofiring retrofits and drafted the paper; J.H.N. built the biomass supply curve; D.L.S., J.H.N., J.J., A.M. and D.M.K. revised the paper; D.M.K. supported development of the modelling platform and directs the research group.

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Correspondence to Daniel M. Kammen.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Sanchez, D., Nelson, J., Johnston, J. et al. Biomass enables the transition to a carbon-negative power system across western North America. Nature Clim Change 5, 230–234 (2015).

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