If we’re going to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees above preindustrial levels, as laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s going to take a lot more than a transition to carbon-neutral energy sources such as wind and solar. It’s going to require carbon-negative technologies, including energy sources that actually reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
While most climate researchers and activists agree that carbon-negative solutions will be needed to meet the goal set in Paris, so far most of these solutions have been viewed as impractical in the near term, especially for large, coal-reliant countries like China.
Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Harvard-China Project on Energy, Economy and Environment, in collaboration with colleagues from Tsinghua University in Beijing and other institutions in China, Australia, and the U.S., have analyzed technical and economic viability for China to move toward carbon-negative electric power generation.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This paper is making a bold suggestion that not only can China move toward negative carbon power, but that it can do so in an economically competitive way,” said Michael McElroy, the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies at Harvard and a senior co-author of the paper.
“The system we describe not only offers a carbon-negative alternative to generate electricity in the long run, but also brings significant near-term co-benefit to reducing air pollution in China,” said Xi Lu, associate professor in the School of Environment at Tsinghua University and first author of the paper. Lu is also a former SEAS graduate student and postdoctoral fellow.
The strategy McElroy, Lu, and their colleagues lay out involves the combination of two forms of green energy: coal-bioenergy gasification and carbon capture and storage.