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Evaluating Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation

2013 April 26

To celebrate Earth Day and the Agency’s effort to expand the conversation on climate change, we are highlighting EPA climate change research with Science Matters articles this week.

Breaking Through? Evaluating Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation
EPA modelers develop innovative methods to assess low-carbon technologies.

Much of the energy we use to power our homes, cars, and industries is also the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG) responsible for global climate change. It follows then, that limiting emissions from the combustion of these energy sources could contribute toward a stable, sustainable environmental future.

Developing new “game changing” technologies and energy sources will be important to mitigate GHG emissions cost-effectively. But how can today’s decision makers identify technologies with true transformational potential for reducing global climate change over the long term?

EPA scientists and engineers are helping answer just that question. They are using sophisticated computer models to support decision makers by comparing potential mitigation technologies in terms of cost, environmental performance, economic impact, and more.

In one such effort, the results of which were recently presented in the journal Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy, EPA physical scientist Dan Loughlin and his research colleagues used an innovative modeling approach tapping the MARKet ALlocation (MARKAL) model to demonstrate a “breakthrough analysis” that researchers can use to identify technologies that can make a true difference in reducing GHG emissions.

MARKAL was created in the late 1970s by Brookhaven National Laboratory scientists to help partner researchers and others wade through the complex and far reaching differences and tradeoffs involved in making decisions and policies related to energy use. Over the next several decades, the model was improved and reworked to support new functionality, and to take advantage of increasing computational power. It is now one of several models that EPA’s own climate change researchers use.

“Breakthrough” in this case refers to a technology that can limit GHG emissions significantly and cost-effectively over the long haul, explains Loughlin. “We developed a methodology to examine the breakthrough potential of energy-related technologies, taking into account the complexities of the entire energy system.”

The researchers focused on MARKAL because of its comprehensive coverage of the energy system, from the importation, production, or manufacture of a particular energy source, right through its distribution and end use by a whole variety of interacting sectors.

“For example, using MARKAL we might ask ‘What would happen if the cost of solar photovoltaic technology goes down to 20 cents per kilowatt hour? Would it penetrate the market and yield significant reductions in GHG? Using MARKAL this way allows us to incorporate important multi-sectoral interactions in our analysis that would not be possible with less powerful tools,” says EPA engineer William Yelverton, who contributed to the breakthrough technology approach.

To demonstrate how such an approach could be used to support greenhouse gas mitigation decisions, Loughlin, Yelverton, and their EPA colleague Rebecca Dodder focused on a breakthrough analysis of utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV). Their calculations suggest, for instance, that an 80% drop in the price of photovoltaics would lower the cost of cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in half by $270 billion—potentially making it a technology breakthrough.

The research team plans to use this approach to evaluate and compare the breakthrough potential of additional energy technologies. In their paper, they and their coauthors write:

Fortunately, as a society, we have shown a great ability to innovate. Technology breakthroughs have led to putting humans on the moon and to downsizing electronics so that the smart phones in our pockets are more powerful than the supercomputers of several decades ago. Similar breakthroughs in low- and zero-carbon energy technologies will be needed to meet GHG mitigation goals identified as being necessary by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. This need raises important questions, such as ‘What constitutes a breakthrough?’ and ‘Where would breakthroughs be achieved most readily and most cost effectively?

Together, EPA researchers Loughlin, Yelverton, Dodder and their partners are working to answer those questions, and help provide the science and tools needed to address global climate change.

Learn More

EPA Climate Change Research

EPA Climate Change Methods, Models, Tools, and Databases

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    April 26, 2013

    Social Impact : Multilateral Incident…..!

    Who was paid the impacts of smogs in Singapore and Malaysia due to forest fire at Sumatra ? Could The U.S. should receive the immigrants who save their life from climate change disasters in their countries ? Like a fiction movie,people shall go to”bright-sky country”. Why not?

    • Asteroid Miner permalink
      June 26, 2014

      “Why not?”
      Do you mean you would rather die here than at home? Moving won’t help. Agriculture will still collapse in about 40 years and the human population will crash. IF there are survivors, they could be in Singapore, Malaysia or Sumatra. There is no way to predict the result of a crash of civilization.

      There is no way to predict how many survivors there will be, if any, but I would bet on stone age people living somewhere very far away from the US. Another good bet might be Antarctica. Mars is too dead already. In previous crashes, 1 out of 10000 [ten thousand] survived, on average. But previous crashes were not global. The crash in the 2050s will probably be to extinction.

      There is no “Bright Sky Country.” That is mythology.

      The forest fire in Sumatra was the fault of the government of Sumatra. I had nothing to do with it, so don’t insult me. There are already too many people here, and many are unemployed and poor. Climate change disasters ARE happening in the US. US food production is already impacted by Global Warming.

      The only thing for you to do is to change the laws of your own country. Get your electricity from nuclear. Leave your forests alone. Quit having children. Get a degree in physics or climate science. Quit dreaming.

  2. Endre Simonyi permalink
    June 30, 2013

    I demonstrated live at COALASIA 2012 (New-Delhi, India) that I can produce coal with a reagent from potash, limestone and soda water in room temperature, under atmospheric pressure, in water, in a glas tube without having to resort to an external energy resource and catalyst. That is what caused all that great interest and the expression of surprise and enthusiasm on the faces of the audience
    and got gratulation from other speakers of the conference.

    I can repeat my lecture and demonstration anytime and anywhere.

    This chemical reaction could be the base of the first real renewable
    fossil technology of the world. And the energy of the regeneration of
    the reagent will be produce with solar thermal energy therefore this
    is the only real method to solve the carbon dioxide part of the
    greenhouse effect.

    The newest result of me was to produce graphene from mined coal. I can demonstrate one spectacular key step of this process, too.

    Yours sincerely,
    Dr Endre Simonyi.

  3. Asteroid Miner permalink
    June 26, 2014

    If we don’t act immediately and take draconian action, we humans could be extinct by 2060. This is not a joke.

    Please read:  “Drought Under Global Warming: a Review” by Aiguo Dai

    This was made with data on the extent of deserts from 1870 to present. The usual General Circulation [computer] Models [GCMs] were not used. Since the sensitivity was not used, the sensitivity is irrelevant. Civilization still collapses near or shortly after mid-century this century.

    See the maps of drought in the 2060s on page 15.

    “Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series”  by Barton Paul Levenson, not yet published. Under BAU [Business As Usual], agriculture and civilization will collapse some time between 2050 and 2055 due to drought/desertification caused by GW [Global Warming].

    Reference: “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. When agriculture collapses, civilization collapses.   Fagan and Diamond told the stories of something like 2 dozen previous very small civilizations. Most of the collapses were caused by fraction of a degree climate changes. In some cases, all of that group died. On the average, 1 out of 10,000 survived.  We humans could go EXTINCT in the 2050s. The 1 out of 10,000 survived because he wandered in the direction of food. If the collapse is global, there is no right direction.

    We must take extreme action now. Cut CO2 production 40% by the end of 2019. [How to do this:  Replace all coal fired power plants with factory built nuclear. Renewables do not work except for niche markets.]   Continuing to make CO2 is the greatest imaginable GENOCIDE.   We have to act NOW. Acting in 2049 will not work.   Nature just doesn’t work that way. All fossil fuel fired power plants must be shut down and replaced with nuclear. With factory built nuclear power plants, we can still get it done by the end of 2019.

  4. Asteroid Miner permalink
    June 26, 2014

    What the coal companies know that most people don’t:
As long as you keep messing around with wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, the coal industry is safe. There is no way wind, solar, geothermal and wave power can replace coal, and they know it. 
If you quit being afraid of nuclear, the coal industry is doomed. Every time you argue in favor of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, or against nuclear, King Coal is happy. ONLY nuclear power can put coal out of business. Nuclear power HAS put coal out of business in France. France uses 30 year old American technology. 
So here is the deal: Keep being afraid of all things nuclear and die when [not if] civilization collapses or when Homo “Sapiens” goes extinct. OR: Get over your paranoia and kick the coal habit and live. Which do you choose? Nuclear is the safe path and we have factory built nuclear power plants now. A nuclear power plant can be installed in weeks.

    The “Green” party is making the coal industry very happy in Germany by closing nuclear power plants. Fossil fuels are the only alternative to nuclear. The “Green” party is effectively in favor of more Global Warming. The “Green” party is causing more CO2production.

    We have already done the research. Wind “works” 20% of the time. Solar works 15% of the time. For intermitents to work, we must have energy storage for a week or room temperature superconductors. We have neither. The battery for the US, if it were possible, would cost half a quadrillion dollars.

    “Using” wind and solar is really using fossil fuels because wind and solar are so intermittent that you wind up using fossil fuels 60 to 85% of the time.

    Batteries are not included with renewables. It is not possible to make enough energy storage to make renewables work. Wind and solar are too intermittent. In most places, wind covers 20% of the time and solar covers 15% of the time, sometimes overlapping.

    “The rechargable battery, which at 2,000 square metres is bigger than a football pitch and weighs 1,300 tonnes, was manufactured by power components specialist ABB to provide electricity to Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city, in the event of a blackout.
    Stored in a warehouse near the city, where temperatures plunge to -51 degrees Centigrade in winter, the battery will provide 40 megawatts of power – enough for around 12,000 people – for up to seven minutes.”

    Fairbanks, Alaska paid $35 Million for a battery to backup the local power supply.

    Wind: There are rare places where wind works locally, but to power, for example, all of Europe, all of Europe and all of Asia has to be linked into one very expensive grid. You need the nameplate power times 4 spread over 12 time zones to get reliable power. The line losses are huge unless you have a superconducting grid, and superconductors now available require liquid nitrogen cooling.

    MOLTEN SALTS (60% NaNO3 + 40% KNO3)
    How much do you need to power the whole planet for a week? Is there that much available? Where are we going to put it? How much does it cost?

    What BNC said: You can’t build a big enough battery because you run out of battery material. My estimates for a battery for the US Alone run from $400 Trillion to $600 Trillion. IF you don’t run out of materials and IF the price doesn’t go up because you are running out of materials.

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