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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Carbon mitigation with biomass: An engineering, economic and policy assessment of opportunities and implications
by Rhodes, James S., III, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University, 2007, 333; 3271238
Abstract (Summary)

Industrial bio-energy systems provide diverse opportunities for abating anthropogenic greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions and for advancing other important policy objectives. The confluence of potential contributions to important social, economic, and environmental policy objectives with very real challenges to deployment creates rich opportunities for study. In particular, the analyses developed in this thesis aim to increase understanding of how industrial bio-energy may be applied to abate GHG emissions in prospective energy markets, the relative merits of alternate bio-energy systems, the extent to which public support for developing such systems is justified, and the public policy instruments that may be capable of providing such support.

This objective is advanced through analysis of specific industrial bio-energy technologies, in the form of bottom-up engineering-economic analyses, to determine their economic performance relative to other mitigation options. These bottom-up analyses are used to inform parameter definitions in two higher-level stochastic models that explicitly account for uncertainty in key model parameters, including capital costs, operating and maintenance costs, and fuel costs. One of these models is used to develop supply curves for electricity generation and carbon mitigation from biomass-coal cofire in the U.S. The other is used to characterize the performance of multiple bio-energy systems in the context of a competitive market for low-carbon energy products.

The results indicate that industrial bio-energy systems are capable of making a variety of potentially important contributions under scenarios that value anthropogenic GHG emissions. In the near term, cofire of available biomass in existing coal fired power plants has the potential to provide substantial emissions reductions at reasonable costs. Carbon prices between $30 and $70 per ton carbon could induce reductions in U.S. carbon emissions by 100 to 225 megatons carbon ("MtC"), equivalent to roughly 3% of U.S. GHG emissions.

In the medium or longer term, integration of carbon capture and storage technologies with advanced bio-energy conversion technologies ("biomass-CCS"), in both liquid fuels production and electric sector applications, will likely be feasible. These systems are capable of generating useful energy products with negative net atmospheric carbon emissions at carbon prices between $100 and $200 per tC. Negative emissions from biomass-CCS could be applied to offset emissions sources that are difficult or expensive to abate directly. Such indirect mitigation may prove cost competitive and provide important flexibility in achieving stabilization of atmospheric GHG concentrations at desirable levels.

With increasing deployments, alternate bio-energy systems will eventually compete for limited biomass resources and inputs to agricultural production—particularly land. In this context, resource allocation decisions will likely turn on the relative economic performance of alternate bio-energy systems in their respective energy markets. The relatively large uncertainty in forecasts of energy futures confounds reliable prediction of economically efficient uses for available biomass resources.

High oil prices or large valuation of energy security benefits will likely enable bio-fuels production to dominate electric-sector options. In contrast, low oil prices and low valuation of energy security benefits will likely enable electric-sector applications to dominate. In the latter scenario, indirect mitigation of transportation-sector emissions via emissions offsets from electric-sector biomass-CCS could prove more efficient than direct fuel substitution with biofuels, both economically and in terms of the transportation-sector mitigation of available biomass resources [tC tbiomass-1].

The policy environment surrounding industrial bio-energy development is systematically examined. Specifically, the policy objectives that may be advanced with bio-energy and the challenges constraining deployment are examined to understand the extent to which public policy support is justified to accelerate development. Policy frameworks and specific policy instruments that have been proposed or enacted to support industrial bio-energy are evaluated to understand their current and potential future roles in shaping bio-energy development.

This analysis indicates that deployment of industrial bio-energy systems to advance specified policy objectives has been compromised by inefficient and inconsistent public policies. Amending existing policies could substantially accelerate bio-energy deployment. More generally, public policies that set even prices across the economy for advancing targeted policy objectives should be developed. Industrial bio-energy systems can be expected to compete favorably in the context of such policies, including those valuing deep reductions in anthropogenic GHG emissions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Keith, David W.
School: Carnegie Mellon University
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-B 68/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Environmental engineering, Energy
Keywords: Bioenergy, Biomass, Carbon mitigation, Greenhouse gases
Publication Number: 3271238
ISBN: 978-0-549-11411-6
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