Emerging Technologies Will need to be Available and Extensively Utilized if Global Warming Target Levels Stand a Chance of Being Achieved

If the international community ultimately sets sufficiently aggressive emission requirements in order to minimize the worst consequences of climate change, affordable, practical low-carbon technologies would need to be commercially available within the next ten years. Of particular importance would be Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies, advanced nuclear generators, low-cost renewable generation with energy storage capability, efficient buildings and low-emission vehicles. Also, given the importance of methane and N.O emissions (see Figures 10 and 11), the international community must agree on emission reductions for these pollutants as soon as possible as well. For methane, leakage from oil. gas and coal operations are particularly important. Agriculture operations are important sources for CO,, methane and N,0.

Figure 11, derived from IEA (2016), quantifies the amount of CO, that would have to be mitigated by technology, by sector, between now and 2050 in order to have a chance of limiting warming to 2 °C. As can be seen, all sectors requir e major CO, reductions.

Tables 2 to 5 have been generated with the aim of summarizing for key technologies by sector: The current state of the art, issues that could limit near term utilization and research, development and demonstration priorities.

Note that for Table 2 a column has been added which quantifies what IEA (2016) has determined would be the potential mitigation impact of each power generation technology, in terms of Gt of CO, mitigated between now and 2050. It is worth noting that, in recent years, solar and wind technologies have seen their capital costs reduced substantially along with cost reductions in storage technologies needed if these technologies can continue to generate power when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn't blow. On the other hand, CCS technology development has stumbled. Princiotta (2017) summarized the state of the art of CCS technology as of 2016 and concluded that, despite an active demonstration program initiated 10 years ago, 43 projects har e been shut down due to overruns yielding unacceptably high costs, degradation of power plant efficiency and serious capture and storage technical difficulties. Such technology is particularly important for relatively new coal and natural gas-fired power generators.

Cumulative Gt CO, reductions needed by sector per technology in 2050 in order to limit warming to 2 °C

Figure 11. Cumulative Gt CO, reductions needed by sector per technology in 2050 in order to limit warming to 2 °C.


IEA2050 carbon emission reduction, Gt; 2 °C goal

Current state of the art


Technology RD&D needs

Carbon Capture and Storage


Early commercialization for coal with many demos having cost overrun and operating issues

High capital costs, 20-30% conversion efficiency degradation, complexity and potential reliability concerns; Underground Storage: Cost, safety, efficacy and permanency issues

High: Demos on next generation technology on a variety of units burning coals & natural gas; enhanced Underground Storage program with long term demos evaluating large number of geological formations

Solar-Photovoltaic and Concentrating (renewable)


First generation commercial

Solar resource intermittent and variable, although costs have been reduced further efficiency/cost reductions needed

High: Research needed to develop and demo cells with higher efficiency, and lower capital costs; develop/commercialize affordable storage technology

Wind Power (renewable)


Commercial (on-shore)

Costs very dependent on strength of wind source, large turbines visually obtrusive, intermittent power source

Medium: Higher efficiencies, off-shore demonstrations. Affordable storage technology

Nuclear Power- advanced & next generation


Commercial BWR, PWR; Developmental: Generation III+ and IV: e g., Pebble Bed Modular Reactor

Deployment taigeted by 2030 with a focus on lower cost, mimmal waste, enhanced safety and resistance to proliferation

High: Demonstrations ofkey advanced technologies with complimentary research on important issues; commercialization of fusion technology could be transformational, might be possible, mid to late century

Biomass as fuel gasified or co-fired with coal (renewable)


Early Commercial

Important to assess true renewability of biomass source, limited to 20% when co-fired with coal

Medium: Biomass/IGCC would enhance efficiency and CO, benefit; also, genetic engineering to enhance biomass plantations

Fuel Switching coal to gas


Commercial (w/o CCS)

Effectiveness of CCS on natural gas generators; CH4 emissions during hydro fracturing could reduce GHG reduction benefit

High: Hydro fracturing environmental mgt., CCS demos needed, especially in tlieU.S.

Smart Grids

Not calculated, but supports renewables

Early Commercial, with active research focused on next generation technologies

Telecommunications cost high, security concerns and questions regarding consumer acceptance/ participation

High: Enhanced smart grid modeling, reduce telecommunication cost component, demonstrate effectiveness in maximizing solar and wind power production in overall mix

Table 3. Mobile source technologies.


IEA number of light duty vehicles in 2050, millions

Current state of the art


Technology RD&D needs

Electric & Hybrid Gasoline and Diesel


Early commercial

For electric plugs-in, mileage (battery) limitations; charging durations and high purchase prices; benefits greater if power from low-carbon sources

High: Battery improvements in storage capability, cost and lifetimes important

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle



Fuel cell costs and fuel cell stack life; also, H, production and need for fueling infrastructure

High: Breakthrough R.D&D needed to develop competitive, long lived fuel cell stack; viable H, production and storage, with a focus on safety, needed

Ethanol from cellulosic biomass sources, e.g., wood



Important to assess true renewability of biomass source; inability to convert wide range of biomass sources with competitive production costs

High: Breakthrough RD&D needed to develop economical technology capable of generating large quantities; especially critical for the aircraft industry

Biodiesel & other fuels from biomass; thermo chemical processes



Important to assess true renewability of biomass source; inability to convert wide range of biomass sources with competitive production costs

High: Breakthrough RD&D needed to develop economical technology capable of generating large quantities; especially critical for the aircraft industry


Current state of the art


RD&D needs

CO) Capture and Storage (TEA ETP 2015 projects 1.6 Gt mitigation in 2050)

Early development

Applicability limited to large energy-intensive industries, including fuel transformation processes; key questions: Cost, safety, efficacy

High: Major program with long term demos evaluating large number of geological formations to evaluate efficacy, cost and safety

Motor Systems


For most industries not a major cost; lack of expertise for some industries

Medium: Lower costs and higher efficiencies desirable

Enhanced energy efficiency: Existing basic material processes


Developing countries can have low energy efficiency due to lack of incentive and/or expertise


Steam systems (required for many industries)


For most industries not a major cost; lack of expertise for some industries


Materials/Product Efficiency

First generation: commercial

Little incentive to minimize the CO, “content” of matenals and products; life cycle analyses required

Medium: Conduct life cycle analyses of key matenals and products with the aim of minimizing CO, “content”

Cogeneration (combined heat and power)


Lumted by electric grid access that would allow the ability to feed electricity back to grid; also high capital costs


Enhanced energy efficiency: Ness' basic material processes

Developmental to Near- commercial depending on industry

New, innovative production processes require major RD&D and would need reasonable payback to replace more C intensive processes

Medtum/High: Develop and demonstrate less carbon intensive production processes for key industries

Fuel Substitution in Basic Materials Production


Natiual gas substitution for oil and coal can be expensive


Feedstock Substitution in key industries


Biomass and bioplastics can substitute for petroleum feedstocks and products; however, cost high and availability low

Medium: Develop affordable substitute feedstocks and products based on biomass

Table 5. Building technologies.


IEA 2050 carbon emission reduction, Gt;

2 °C goal

Current state of the art


Technology RD&D priority and needs

Enhanced energy mgt. and high efficiency building envelope: Insulation, sealants, windows, etc.



Lack of incentive, high initial costs, long buildmg lifetime

Low/medium priority: Incremental improvements to lower cost and enhance performance

High efficiency building heating and cooling, including heat pumps



Lack of incentive, high initial costs

Low/medium priority: Incremental improvements to lower cost and enhance performance

Solar heating and cooling





High initial costs, availability of low- cost efficient biomass heatmg systems

Medium: Focus on development of advanced biomass stoves and solar heating technology in developing countries

since it is unlikely that such plants would be prematurely retired in favor of renewable or nuclear plants. The current generation of nuclear power generation is commercially available but is burdened with high capital costs, waste disposal issues and serious safety concerns. The March 2011 Fukushima Daichi nuclear disaster, caused by a severe tsunami, has been responsible for several countries reconsidering their commitment to future nuclear reactor construction.

Table 3 lists the key mobile source technologies projected to play an important emission reduction role between now and 2050. Included is a column based on IEA (2016) which projects the number of light duty vehicles on the road in 2050 for key low-carbon technologies. As can be seen, electric and hybrid electric gasoline and diesel vehicles are projected to be the most important. Then cost and, therefore, then market penetration will be heavily dependent on the costs and performance characteristics of the vehicle storage batteries. Also projected to be important are fuel cell vehicles. These vehicles are in the early stages of commercialization. Fuel cells generate electricity to power the motor, generally using oxygen from the ah' and compressed hydrogen. They are generally classified as zero emission vehicles since the only effluent is water. However, it is important to account for any carbon emissions that would be associated with the production of hydr ogen. Biomass fueled vehicles are at early stages of development, but har e the potential to be significant low-carbon mobile source options.

Table 4 summarizes key industrial low-carbon technologies. The technology with the greatest change chance of making the greatest impact in this sector is carbon capture and storage. This technology would be applicable to major industrial sources of CO„ including cement, iron and steel, oil refining and pulp and paper operations. Unfortunately, as discussed in the power generation discussion above, serious cost, reliability and permanent storage issues. Clearly, an enhanced research, development and demonstration program utilizing the next generation CCS technologies is required.

Table 5 lists key low-carbon building technologies. Emission reduction in this sector depends less on the development of new technology and more on providing incentives to promote the use of state-of- the-art technology for retrofitting existing buildings and incorporating in new buildings. For this reason, priority for research, development and demonstration programs is lower than in the power, mobile source and industrial sectors.

Technology RD&D is Woefully Inadequate

Given the need for dramatic emission reductions required in all economic sectors, it is essential that global RD&D expenditures are adequate to ensure the availability of high performing low-cost technologies in the near term. Figure 12 summarizes IEA (2011) analysis of actual versus needed global energy technology

IE A analysis comparing actual low-carbon technology RD&D versus required spending, $ billions

Figure 12. IE A analysis comparing actual low-carbon technology RD&D versus required spending, $ billions.

RD&D annual funding for key technologies consistent with reducing global emissions 50% by 2050. This analysis concludes that actual expenditures are a small fraction of what is required. The total required funding is estimated at $40-$90 billion per year, whereas actual spending for these key technologies is estimated to be only $10 billion annually. Although substantial, the S30-S80 billion annual funding gap is minuscule compared to the $1.7 trillion global military spending in 2017 (CNBC, 2018).

Geoengineering Options should be Studied

As previously discussed, meeting the global community’s goal of limiting wanning to 1.5-2 °C will be a monumental challenge. Given the massive and radical infrastructure change that will be needed in the near tenn, meeting such a target may not be possible. It has been suggested that geoengineering options could, at least in theory, buy us time to make the necessary infrastmcture/technology changes to dramatically reduce global GHG emissions. They have been described as both a delaying tactic or as a possible “last resort” action to limit catastrophic climate change. Geoengineering measures attempt to compensate for GHG emissions via two fundamentally distinct approaches: (1) changing Earth’s solar radiation balance by increasing reflectivity and (2) removing CO, from the atmosphere. Figure 13 mentions several of the most discussed geoengineering concepts in both categories. Table 6 compares the characteristics of these two concepts.

Note that two scenarios in Figures 9 and 10 assumed availability of commercial Direct Air Capture Technologies to compliment emission reduction efforts. DAC is sometimes referred to as the negative CO, emissions option. However, this approach, as well as all the options mentioned in Figure 13, are only

Solar radiation management and atmospheric CO, removal geoengmeenng concepts

Figure 13. Solar radiation management and atmospheric CO, removal geoengmeenng concepts.

Table 6. Comparing solar radiation and atmospheric CO, removal concepts.


Carbon dioxide removal proposals

Solar radiation management proposals

Do they directly address the cause of GHG- mduced climate change?

Yes: Such techniques act as negative CO, emitters

No: They utilize reflection of incoming solar radiation to compensate for heat added by GHGs; would not mitigate ocean acidification by CO,

Can they mtoduce novel risks?


Yes: Effects on stratspheric ozone levels and deleterious meterological impacts possible

How expensive?

Generally at least as expensive as emission reduction techniques

Although costs are very preliminary they appeal' relatively low re. emission control

How fast would results be realized?

Would take decades to realize significant results

Although still at conceptual stage, results could be realized within several years after installation

What level of international cooperation would be required?

Major cooperation involving multi- trillion USS financial commitments needed

Less cooperation needed re. financial commitments but potential societal risks suggest international agreement before implementation needed

Key feasibility questions

Are the processes effective and affordable?

Are the processes effective with acceptable risks?

at a conceptual stage with serious performance, environmental impact and economic issues. Nevertheless, it is the author’s view that, given the magnitude of the mitigation challenge, such approaches warrant serious feasibility evaluations, as soon as possible.


Humanity has dug itself a very deep hole. To limit the damage, it will take a concerted international effort, building on the 2015 Paris Accord, to aggressively reduce emissions in all sectors as soon as possible. Low-carbon technologies will of necessity play a crucial role in this process. It is the goal of this book to provide an assessment of the status and prospects of key low-carbon technologies.


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