Options for Near-Term Phaseout of CO2 Emissions From Coal Use in the United States

A paper by Pushker A. Kharecha, Charles Kutscher, James E. Hansen, and Edward Mazria outlines technology options for phasing out coal emissions in the U.S. by 2030

NASA/NREL/Architecture 2030 – 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 End is Near . . . But We Get To Choose the Ending

That’s the conclusion of a team of researchers from NASA, NREL, Architecture 2030, and Columbia University. Architecture 2030 joined together with this remarkable team of scientists and engineers to tackle the critical question, “Can CO2-emitting coal be phased out by 2030?” We’re happy to report the answer is a resounding yes! This is particularly good news because the alternative ending is rather dire.

To quote from the team’s paper, Options for Near-Term Phaseout of CO2 Emissions from Coal Use in the United States, which will be published in the June print edition of the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology:

“The only practical way to preserve a planet resembling that of the Holocene [i.e. the world as we know it],  …is to rapidly phase out coal emissions…”

This sets up an immediate choice. We can phase out coal CO2 emissions by 2030 and keep the planet we have or we can continue with ‘business as usual’ and hope for the best in one of the craziest games of risk the world has ever known. Which ending will we choose?

Architecture 2030, along with its colleagues on the team, is advocating for phasing out coal CO2 emissions by 2030. One, because we think this ‘game of risk’ simply isn’t worth the risk, and two, because the U.S. already has everything it needs to get the job done. We don’t have to wait on ‘clean coal’ technology, technically known as carbon capture and sequestration (CSS), which is decades away and may not be proven economically or technologically feasible. We can phase out coal emissions with existing know-how and off-the-shelf technologies.

The key to success is the Building Sector, which is the largest consumer of the electricity produced by coal, guzzling over 75% of it each year. Fortunately, building has a long history replete with the very know-how and technologies needed to achieve the necessary emissions reductions.

Bringing the coal-generated energy consumption of the Building Sector under control through existing energy reduction measures provides such a significant reduction in CO2 emissions that other technologies, such as renewables, can readily provide the additional reductions needed to achieve a complete phase out of CO2-emitting coal by 2030.

So, the end is near. This is great news…if we choose the right ending.

 Download the Published Paper (pdf)

For the key parts of the Building Sector section, see pages 4051, 4052, and S3.

For questions regarding the Building Sector, contact: info@architecture2030.org. For all other questions, contact the corresponding author, Pushker A. Kharecha.


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