An evaluation of greenhouse gas mitigation options for coal-fired power plants in the US Great Lakes States

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We assessed options for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in the US Great Lakes States, a region heavily dependent on coal-fired power plants. A proposed 600 MW power plant in northern Lower Michigan, USA provided context for our evaluation. Options to offset fossil CO2 emissions by 20% included biomass fuel substitution from (1) forest residuals, (2) short-rotation woody crops, or (3) switchgrass; (4) biologic sequestration in forest plantations; and (5) geologic sequestration using CO2 capture. Review of timber product output data, land cover data, and expected energy crop productivity on idle agriculture land within 120 km of the plant revealed that biomass from forestry residuals has the potential to offset 6% and from energy crops 27% of the annual fossil fuel requirement. Furthermore, annual forest harvest in the region is only 26% of growth and the surplus represents a large opportunity for forest products and bioenergy applications. We used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to compare mitigation options, using fossil energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions per unit electricity generation as criteria. LCA results revealed that co-firing with forestry residuals is the most attractive option and geologic sequestration is the least attractive option, based on the two criteria. Biologic sequestration is intermediate but likely infeasible because of very large land area requirements. Our study revealed that biomass feedstock potentials from land and forest resources are not limiting mitigation activities, but the most practical approach is likely a combination of options that optimize additional social, environmental and economic criteria.

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© 2010 Elsevier Ltd. Publisher’s version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biombioe.2009.10.013

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Biomass and Bioenergy