Publication Abstracts

Kharecha et al. 2010

Kharecha, P.A., C.F. Kutscher, J.E. Hansen, and E. Mazria, 2010: Options for near-term phaseout of CO2 emissions from coal use in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol., 44, no. 11, 4050-4062, doi:10.1021/es903884a.

The global climate problem becomes tractable if CO2 emissions from coal use are phased out rapidly and emissions from unconventional fossil fuels (e.g., oil shale and tar sands) are prohibited. This paper outlines technology options for phasing out coal emissions in the United States by ~2030. We focus on coal for physical and practical reasons, and on the U.S. because it is most responsible for accumulated fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere today, specifically targeting electricity production, which is the primary use of coal. While we recognize that coal emissions must be phased out globally, we believe U.S. leadership is essential.

A major challenge for reducing U.S. emissions is that coal provides the largest proportion of base load power, i.e., power satisfying minimum electricity demand. Because this demand is relatively constant and coal has a high carbon intensity, utility carbon emissions are largely due to coal. The current U.S. electric grid incorporates little renewable power, most of which is not base load power. However, this can readily be changed within the next 2-3 decades. Eliminating coal emissions also requires improved efficiency, a "smart grid", additional energy storage, and advanced nuclear power. Any further coal usage must be accompanied by carbon capture and storage (CCS).

We suggest that near-term emphasis should be on efficiency measures and substitution of coal-fired power by renewables and third-generation nuclear plants, since these technologies have been successfully demonstrated at the relevant (commercial) scale. Beyond 2030, these measures can be supplemented by CCS at power plants and, as needed, successfully demonstrated fourth-generation reactors.

We conclude that U.S. coal emissions could be phased out by 2030 using existing technologies or ones that could be commercially competitive with coal within about a decade. Elimination of fossil fuel subsidies and a substantial rising price on carbon emissions are the root requirements for a clean, emissions-free future.