Assessing the feasibility of carbon dioxide mitigation options in terms of energy usage

Abstract

Measures to mitigate the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) can vary substantially in terms of the energy required. Some proposed CO2 mitigation options involve energy-intensive processes that compromise their viability as routes to mitigation, especially if deployed at a global scale. Here we provide an assessment of different mitigation options in terms of their energy usage. We assess the relative effectiveness of several CO2 mitigation routes by calculating the energy cost of carbon abatement (kilowatt-hour spent per kilogram CO2-equivalent, or kWh kgCO2e–1) mitigated. We consider energy efficiency measures, decarbonizing electricity, heat, chemicals and fuels, and also capturing CO2 from air. Among the routes considered, switching to renewable energy technologies (0.05–0.53 kWh kgCO2e–1 mitigated) offer more energy-effective mitigation than carbon embedding or carbon removal approaches, which are more energy intensive (0.99–10.03 kWh kgCO2e–1 and 0.78–2.93 kWh kgCO2e–1 mitigated, respectively), whereas energy efficiency measures, such as improving building lighting, can offer the most energy-effective mitigation.

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Fig. 1: Mitigation option categories and representative examples.
Fig. 2: Energetic overview of the carbon embedding processes.
Fig. 3: Generalized energy and carbon balances of a process or a technology when considering the CO2 mitigation potential.
Fig. 4: Mitigation technologies according to their energy and carbon balance.
Fig. 5: CAE of compressed H2 gas production.
Fig. 6: CAE of different mitigation options.
Fig. 7: Comparison of carbon removal routes along with bioenergy use per unit CO2 removal modelled in several IAMs.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available in Supplementary Notes 14. Source data are provided with this paper.

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Acknowledgements

We thank our colleagues R. Hanna, A. Köberle, C. Markides and M. Tort for their support and discussions on this work and for detailed feedback on the manuscript. We also acknowledge our colleagues P. Ortega Arriaga, H. Beath, A. Gilbert and N. Grant for their comments on a draft of the manuscript. M.F. thanks Imperial College London for the funding of a President’s PhD Scholarship. J.N. also thanks the European Research Council for support under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Grant Agreement no. 742708. A.G. acknowledges support from the H2020 European Commission Project ‘PARIS REINFORCE’ under Grant Agreement no. 820846. This work was also supported by a UK Research Innovation (UKRI) Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) under Grant no. ES/M500562/1 and by an Imperial College Research Fellowship (ICRF) grant.

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Contributions

J.N. conceived the study. O.B. designed the study and carried out the data collection with contributions from S.D.C. and J.N. O.B. carried out the analysis with contributions from all the co-authors. M.F. provided the scenarios on electricity from biomass with carbon capture and storage. O.B. and J.N. co-wrote the paper. A.G., A.F., A.W.R. and M.F edited the paper.

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Correspondence to Oytun Babacan or Jenny Nelson.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–4, Tables 1–26 and refs. 1–59.

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Babacan, O., De Causmaecker, S., Gambhir, A. et al. Assessing the feasibility of carbon dioxide mitigation options in terms of energy usage. Nat Energy 5, 720–728 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-020-0646-1

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