UW researchers study the potential impact of bioenergy on water through carbon capture and sequestration

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LARAMIE, Wyo. (Release) – New research by scientists at the University of Wyoming examines water use when combining bioenergy production with carbon capture and sequestration, and calls for close coordination of technology , resources and policies in the transition to a future net zero carbon energy.

Haibo Zhai, Roy and Caryl Cline Chair in Engineering, Environment and Natural Resources and Associate Professor, and Zitao Wu, PhD. student in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, detail their research in an article entitled “Consumptive life cycle water use of biomass-to-power plant with carbon capture and sequestration”. It is scheduled to be published in December in Applied Energy, a reputable journal that provides a forum for information on energy innovation, research, development and demonstration.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration is a carbon removal technique in which organic matter is converted into heat, electricity, or liquid or gaseous fuels, the carbon emissions from this bioenergetic conversion being captured and stored in formations geological or integrated into sustainable products.

The technique has been viewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of the key negative emissions technologies that may be needed to limit global warming during this century. A strategic research program presented by the United States National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine also addressed the potential role of the technique in the transition to a net zero carbon future. However, large-scale deployment is likely to face challenges, such as concerns about water and land sustainability.

Zhai and Wu’s research reveals significant potential impacts on water from bioenergy production with carbon capture and sequestration.

“We have developed a bottom-up water life cycle assessment framework to address critical gaps in current knowledge: the lack of systematic characterization of water consumption for (the technique) and the lack of quantitative understanding of variability and uncertainty. in life cycle water consumption “, explains Wu.” This framework can be applied to systematically characterize the water consumption of biomass power plants with carbon capture and sequestration throughout a life cycle based on fuels, and to demonstrate its dependence on the type, location of production and approach to energy conversion of biomass. raw material.

Biomass can be converted into energy by burning it with coal or by burning only biomass.

“While the co-combustion of biomass and coal in power plants with carbon capture and sequestration can achieve net zero carbon emissions on a lifecycle basis, it can increase the overall use of fresh water,” mainly because a large amount of water is consumed for the production of biomass. “Says Zhai.” Dedicated biomass combustion with carbon capture can generate negative emissions, but dramatically increases lifecycle freshwater consumption by a factor of 55 or more, compared to full combustion. coal with carbon capture and sequestration. “

Because the large-scale deployment of the technique can pose a challenge to water sustainability, depending on the location, researchers see pronounced trade-offs in carbon mitigation and water use. Given the large potential impact on water resources, the use of the technique must be planned in a context of sustainability.

“When planning the large-scale deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, a rigorous multi-criteria decision analysis is strongly needed, which should take into account the trade-offs between climate and non-climate measures under regional constraints,” said Zhai said.

Location is important for the large-scale deployment of the technique, and bioenergy planning should take into account potential local constraints on natural resources, the researchers said. They plan to develop a regional assessment framework that integrates energy planning, carbon mitigation and water resource management under local resource constraints to support the development, harmonization and integration of technological strategies and energy policies for deep decarbonisation in the context of sustainability.

Prior to coming to UW in the fall of 2020, Zhai was Associate Professor of Engineering and Public Policy Research at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is now Assistant Associate Professor. At UW, he has developed a Computing Lab for Low Carbon Energy and Environmental Sustainability, which promotes a long-term view of the role of technology and policy in addressing the complex challenges of the world. energy, environment and natural resources.

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