The IPCC has assigned a critical role to negative-CO2-emissions energy in meeting energy and climate goals by the end of the century, with biomass energy plus carbon capture and storage (BECCS) prominently featured. We estimate that methods of combining saline water electrolysis with mineral weathering powered by any source of non-fossil fuel-derived electricity could, on average, increase energy generation and CO2 removal by >50 times relative to BECCS, at equivalent or lower cost. This electrogeochemistry avoids the need to produce and store concentrated CO2, instead converting and sequestering CO2 as already abundant, long-lived forms of ocean alkalinity. Such energy systems could also greatly reduce land and freshwater impacts relative to BECCS, and could also be integrated into conventional energy production to reduce its carbon footprint. Further research is needed to better understand the full range and capacity of the world’s negative-emissions options.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Communications Open Access 19 April 2022
Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change Open Access 23 November 2018
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to Nature and 55 other Nature journal
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Smith, P. et al. Biophysical and economic limits to negative CO2 emissions. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 42–50 (2016).
Fuss, S. et al. Research priorities for negative emissions. Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 115007 (2016).
Field, C. B. & Mach, K. J. Rightsizing carbon dioxide removal. Science 356, 706–707 (2017).
Möllersten, K., Yan, J. & Moreira, J. R. Potential market niches for biomass energy with CO2 capture and storage—opportunities for energy supply with negative CO2 emissions. Biomass Bioenergy 25, 273–285 (2003).
Boysen, L. R. et al. The limits to global-warming mitigation by terrestrial carbon removal. Earth’s Future 5, 463–474 (2017).
Fajardy, M. & Mac Dowell, N. Can BECCS deliver sustainable and resource efficient negative emissions? Energy Environ. Sci. 10, 1389–1426 (2017).
Lenton, T. M. The global potential for carbon dioxide removal. Issues Environ. Sci. Technol. 38, 52–79 (2014).
Hughes, A. D. et al. Does seaweed offer a solution for bioenergy with biological carbon capture and storage? Greenh. Gas. Sci. Technol. 2, 402–407 (2007).
Little, M. G. & Jackson, R. B. Potential impacts of leakage from deep CO2 geosequestration on overlying freshwater aquifers. Environ. Sci. Technol. 44, 9225–9232 (2010).
Zoback, M. D. & Gorelick, S. M. Earthquake triggering and large-scale geologic storage of carbon dioxide. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 10164–10168 (2012).
Maddali, V., Tularam, G. A. & Glynn, P. Economic and time-sensitive issues surrounding CCS: a policy analysis. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 8959–8968 (2015).
Gasser, T., Guivarch, G., Tachiiri, K., Jones, C. D. & Ciais, P. Negative emissions physically needed to keep global warming below 2 °C. Nat. Commun. 6, 8958 (2015).
Hansen, J. et al. Young people’s burden: requirement of negative CO2 emissions. Earth Syst. Dynam. 8, 577–616 (2017).
House, K. Z., House, C. H., Schrag, D. P. & Aziz, M. J. Electrochemical acceleration of chemical weathering as an energetically feasible approach to mitigating anthropogenic climate change. Environ. Sci. Technol. 41, 8464–8470 (2007).
Rau, G. H. Electrochemical splitting of calcium carbonate to increase solution alkalinity: implications for mitigation of carbon dioxide and ocean acidity. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42, 8935–8940 (2008).
Rau, G. H. et al. Direct electrolytic dissolution of silicate minerals for air CO2 mitigation and carbon-negative H2 production. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 10095–10100 (2013).
Lu, L., Huang, Z., Rau, G. H. & Ren, Z. J. Microbial electrolytic carbon capture for carbon negative and energy positive wastewater treatment. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 8193–8201 (2015).
Willauer, H. D., DiMascio, F., Hardy, D. R. & Williams, F. W. Development of an electrolytic cation exchange module for the simultaneous extraction of carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from natural seawater. Energy Fuels 31, 1723–1730 (2017).
Rau, G. H. & Caldeira, K. Enhanced carbonate dissolution: a means of sequestering waste CO2 as ocean bicarbonate. Energy Convers. Manag. 40, 1803–1813 (1999).
Rau, G. H. CO2 mitigation via capture and chemical conversion in seawater. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 1088–1092 (2011).
de Lannoy, C.-F. et al. Indirect ocean capture of atmospheric CO2: Part I. Prototype of a negative emissions technology. Int. J. Greenh. Gas Control 70, 254–261 (2018).
Licht, S. Efficient solar-driven synthesis, carbon capture, and desalinization, STEP: solar thermal electrochemical production of fuels, metals, bleach. Adv. Mater. 23, 5592–5612 (2011).
Ren, J. W., Li, F. F., Lau, J., Gonzalez-Urbina, L. & Licht, S. One-pot synthesis of carbon nanofibers from CO2. Nano Lett. 15, 6142–6148 (2015).
Li, F. F. et al. Solar fuels: a one-pot synthesis of hydrogen and carbon fuels from water and carbon dioxide. Adv. Energy Mater. 5, 1401791 (2015).
IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).
Bruckner, T. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) Ch. 7 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Key World Energy Statistics (International Energy Agency, 2017).
Study Task Force of the Hydrogen Council Hydrogen—Scaling up a Sustainable Pathway for the Global Energy Transition (The Hydrogen Council, 2017).
Le Quéré, C. et al. Global Carbon Budget 2017. Earth Syst. Sci. Data Discuss. https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-2017-123 (2017).
National Research CouncilThe Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs (National Academies, 2004).
McDowall, W. & Eames, M. Forecasts, scenarios, visions, backcasts and roadmaps to the hydrogen economy: A review of the hydrogen futures literature. Energy Policy 34, 1236–1250 (2006).
IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) Annex III (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Renforth, P. & Henderson, G. Assessing ocean alkalinity for carbon sequestration. Rev. Geophys. 55, 636–674 (2017).
Hanak, D. P., Jenkins, B. G., Kruger, T. & Manovic, V. High-efficiency negative-carbon emission power generation from integrated solid-oxide fuel cell and calciner. Appl. Energy 205, 1189–1201 (2017).
Nikulshina, V., Hirsch, D., Mazzotti, M. & Steinfeld, A. CO2 capture from air and co-production of H2 via the Ca(OH)2-CaCO3 cycle using concentrated solar power—thermodynamic analysis. Energy 31, 1715–1725 (2006).
Licht, S. et al. Carbon nanotubes produced from ambient carbon dioxide for environmentally sustainable lithium-ion and sodium-ion battery anodes. ACS Cent. Sci. 2, 162–168 (2016).
Rau, G. H. & Baird, J. R. Negative-CO2-emissions ocean thermal energy conversion. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. (in the press).
Fu, R. et al. U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2017 Technical Report NREL/TP-6A20-68925 (US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2017).
Mone, C. et al. 2015 Cost of Wind Energy Review Technical Report NREL/TP-6A20-66861 (US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2017).
Hydrogen Production: Fuel Cell Technologies Office Multi-Year Research, Development, and Demonstration Plan—Planned Program Activities for 2011–2020 (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program, US Department of Energy, 2015).
Gahleitner, G. Hydrogen from renewable electricity: an international review of power-to-gas pilot plants for stationary applications. Int. J. Hydrog. Energy 38, 2039–2061 (2013).
The authors acknowledge (1) the support of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and input from R. Aines and S. Carroll (G.H.R.), (2) support by the Office of Naval Research both directly and through the US Naval Research Laboratory (H.D.W.) and (3) funding from the US National Science Foundation (grant no. CBET 1704921 to Z.J.R.). M. MacCracken provided valuable editorial input.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Rau, G.H., Willauer, H.D. & Ren, Z.J. The global potential for converting renewable electricity to negative-CO2-emissions hydrogen. Nature Clim Change 8, 621–625 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0203-0
This article is cited by
Nature Communications (2022)
Co anchored on porphyrinic triazine-based frameworks with excellent biocompatibility for conversion of CO2 in H2-mediated microbial electrosynthesis
Frontiers of Chemical Science and Engineering (2022)
Science China Materials (2020)
Nature Climate Change (2019)
Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change (2019)