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Concept: Low-carbon economy


Decarbonization of electricity generation can support climate-change mitigation and presents an opportunity to address pollution resulting from fossil-fuel combustion. Generally, renewable technologies require higher initial investments in infrastructure than fossil-based power systems. To assess the tradeoffs of increased up-front emissions and reduced operational emissions, we present, to our knowledge, the first global, integrated life-cycle assessment (LCA) of long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable sources (i.e., photovoltaic and solar thermal, wind, and hydropower) and of carbon dioxide capture and storage for fossil power generation. We compare emissions causing particulate matter exposure, freshwater ecotoxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and climate change for the climate-change-mitigation (BLUE Map) and business-as-usual (Baseline) scenarios of the International Energy Agency up to 2050. We use a vintage stock model to conduct an LCA of newly installed capacity year-by-year for each region, thus accounting for changes in the energy mix used to manufacture future power plants. Under the Baseline scenario, emissions of air and water pollutants more than double whereas the low-carbon technologies introduced in the BLUE Map scenario allow a doubling of electricity supply while stabilizing or even reducing pollution. Material requirements per unit generation for low-carbon technologies can be higher than for conventional fossil generation: 11-40 times more copper for photovoltaic systems and 6-14 times more iron for wind power plants. However, only two years of current global copper and one year of iron production will suffice to build a low-carbon energy system capable of supplying the world’s electricity needs in 2050.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Iron, Renewable energy, Coal, Wind power, Electricity generation, Low-carbon economy


Isotopic studies have shown that many of the world’s coalbed natural gas plays are secondary biogenic in origin, suggesting a potential for gas regeneration through enhanced microbial activities. The generation of biogas through biostimulation and bioaugmentation is limited to the bioavailability of coal-derived compounds and is considered carbon positive. Here we show that plant-derived carbohydrates can be used as alternative substrates for gas generation by the indigenous coal seam microorganisms. The results suggest that coalbeds can act as natural geobioreactors to produce low carbon renewable natural gas, which can be considered carbon neutral, or perhaps even carbon negative depending on the amount of carbon sequestered within the coal. In addition, coal bioavailability is no longer a limiting factor. This approach has the potential of bridging the gap between fossil fuels and renewable energy by utilizing existing coalbed natural gas infrastructure to produce low carbon renewable natural gas and reducing global warming.Coalbeds produce natural gas, which has been observed to be enhanced by in situ microbes. Here, the authors add plant-derived carbohydrates (monosaccharides) to coal seams to be converted by indigenous microbes into natural gas, thus demonstrating a potential low carbon renewable natural gas resource.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Petroleum, Carbon, Natural gas, Methane, Fossil fuel, Coal, Low-carbon economy


This paper explores how the transition to a low-carbon society to mitigate climate change can be better supported by a diet change. As climate mitigation is not the focal goal of consumers who are buying or consuming food, the study highlighted the role of motivational and cognitive background factors, including possible spillover effects. Consumer samples in the Netherlands (n = 527) and the United States (n = 556) were asked to evaluate food-related and energy-related mitigation options in a design that included three food-related options with very different mitigation potentials (i.e. eating less meat, buying local and seasonal food, and buying organic food). They rated each option’s effectiveness and their willingness to adopt it. The outstanding effectiveness of the less meat option (as established by climate experts) was recognized by merely 12% of the Dutch and 6% of the American sample. Many more participants gave fairly positive effectiveness ratings and this was correlated with belief in human causation of climate change, personal importance of climate change, and being a moderate meat eater. Willingness to adopt the less meat option increased with its perceived effectiveness and, controlling for that, it was significantly related to various motivationally relevant factors. The local food option appealed to consumer segments with overlapping but partly different motivational orientations. It was concluded that a transition to a low carbon society can significantly benefit from a special focus on the food-related options to involve more consumers and to improve mitigation.

Concepts: Peak oil, Emissions trading, Low-carbon economy, Carbon neutrality, Low carbon diet


Fast growing and emerging economies face the dual challenge of sustainably expanding and improving their energy supply and reliability while at the same time reducing poverty. Critical to such transformation is to provide affordable and sustainable access to electricity. We use the capacity expansion model SWITCH to explore low carbon development pathways for the Kenyan power sector under a set of plausible scenarios for fast growing economies that include uncertainty in load projections, capital costs, operational performance, and technology and environmental policies. In addition to an aggressive and needed expansion of overall supply, the Kenyan power system presents a unique transition from one basal renewable resource - hydropower - to another based on geothermal and wind power for ~90% of total capacity. We find geothermal resource adoption is more sensitive to operational degradation than high capital costs, which suggests an emphasis on ongoing maintenance subsidies rather than upfront capital cost subsidies. We also find that a cost-effective and viable suite of solutions includes availability of storage, diesel engines, and transmission expansion to provide flexibility to enable up to 50% of wind power penetration. In an already low-carbon system, typical externality pricing for CO2 has little to no effect on technology choice. Consequently, a “zero carbon emissions” by 2030 scenario is possible with only moderate levelized cost increases of between $3 to $7/MWh with a number of social and reliability benefits. Our results suggest that fast growing and emerging economies could benefit by incentivizing anticipated strategic transmission expansion. Existing and new diesel and natural gas capacity can play an important role to provide flexibility and meet peak demand in specific hours without a significant increase in carbon emissions, although more research is required for other pollutant’s impacts.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Economics, Sustainability, Peak oil, Wind power, Economic development, Emissions trading, Low-carbon economy


These data and analyses support the research article “From technology pathways to policy roadmaps to enabling measures - A multi-model approach” Mulholland et al. (2017) [1]. This article uses 3 models - an optimization model of the Irish energy system (Irish TIMES), a simulation model of the Irish private transport sector (CarSTOCK), and a market share algorithm used to provide a behavior rich representation into the multi-modelling process. Each of these models are linked to provide a technology pathway, policy roadmap, and finally identify the enabling measures of the private transport sector in a low-carbon Ireland moving toward 2050. The article is organized in the same order, firstly providing the key modelling assumptions and operability of Irish TIMES, secondly for CarSTOCK, and finally for the market share algorithm. All data is supplied within this article.

Concepts: Data, The Key, Model, Transport, Ireland, Dublin, Private transport, Low-carbon economy


Cities are expected to play a major role in carbon emissions mitigation. A key step in decoupling carbon emissions from urban economy is to understand the impact of socioeconomic development on urban metabolism over time. Herein, we establish a system-based framework for modeling the variation of urban carbon metabolism through time by integrating a metabolic flow inventory, input-output model and network analysis. Using Beijing as a case study, we track the historical trajectory of carbon flows embodied in urban final consumption over 1985-2012. We find that while the tendency of increase in direct carbon emission continues within this time frame, consumption-based carbon footprint might have peaked around 2010. A significant transition in emission intensity and roles sectors play in transferring carbon over the period are important signs of decoupling urban development from carbonization. Further analysis of driving factors reveals a strong competition between efficiency gains and consumption level rise, showing a cumulative contribution of -584% and 494% to total carbon footprint, respectively. Projection into future pathway suggests there is still a great potential of carbon mitigation for the city, but a strong mitigation plan is required to achieve such decarbonization before 2030. By bridging temporal metabolic model and socioeconomic planning, this framework fills one of the main gaps between monitoring of urban metabolism and design of a low-carbon economy.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Coal, Kyoto Protocol, Emissions trading, Low-carbon economy, Low-carbon fuel standard, Low carbon diet, 2000-watt society


China has invested heavily on alternative energy, but the effectiveness of such energy sources at substituting the dominant coal-fired generation remains unknown. Here we analyse the displacement of fossil-fuel-generated electricity by alternative energy, primarily hydropower, and by trans-provincial imported electricity in China between 1995 and 2014 using two-way fixed-effects panel regression models. Nationwide, each unit of alternative energy displaces nearly one-quarter of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity, while each unit of imported electricity (regardless of the generation source) displaces ∼0.3 unit of fossil-fuel electricity generated locally. Results from the six regional grids indicate that significant displacement of fossil-fuel-generated electricity occurs once the share of alternative energy in the electricity supply mix exceeds ∼10%, which is accompanied by 10-50% rebound in the consumption of fossil-fuel-generated electricity. These findings indicate the need for a policy that integrates carbon taxation, alternative energy and energy efficiency to facilitate China’s transition towards a low-carbon economy.

Concepts: Regression analysis, Carbon, Fossil fuel, Renewable energy, Peak oil, Energy development, Energy economics, Low-carbon economy


This paper employs a three-stage approach to estimate low carbon economy efficiency in the largest twenty CO₂ emitting countries from 2000 to 2012. The approach includes the following three stages: (1) use of a data envelopment analysis (DEA) model with undesirable output to estimate the low carbon economy efficiency and calculate the input and output slacks; (2) use of a stochastic frontier approach to eliminate the impacts of external environment variables on these slacks; (3) re-estimation of the efficiency with adjusted inputs and outputs to reflect the capacity of the government to develop a low carbon economy. The results indicate that the low carbon economy efficiency performances in these countries had worsened during the studied period. The performances in the third stage are larger than that in the first stage. Moreover, in general, low carbon economy efficiency in Annex I countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is better than that in Non-Annex I countries. However, the gap of the average efficiency score between Annex I and Non-Annex I countries in the first stage is smaller than that in the third stage. It implies that the external environment variables show greater influence on Non-Annex I countries than that on Annex I countries. These external environment variables should be taken into account in the transnational negotiation of the responsibility of promoting CO₂ reductions. Most importantly, the developed countries (mostly in Annex I) should help the developing countries (mostly in Non-Annex I) to reduce carbon emission by opening or expanding the trade, such as encouraging the import and export of the energy-saving and sharing emission reduction technology.

Concepts: United Nations, Input, Output, Kyoto Protocol, Emissions trading, Input/output, Low-carbon economy, Low-carbon fuel standard


In the sectors of biofuel and renewable chemicals the big feedstock demand asks, first, to expand the spectrum of carbon sources beyond primary biomass, second, to establish circular processing chains and, third, to prioritize product sectors exclusively depending on carbon: chemicals and heavy-duty fuels. Large-volume production lines will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission significantly but also low-volume chemicals are indispensable in building ‘low-carbon’ industries. The foreseeable feedstock change initiates innovation, securing societal wealth in the industrialized world and creating employment in regions producing biomass. When raising the investments in rerouting to sustainable biofuel and chemicals today competitiveness with fossil-based fuel and chemicals is a strong issue. Many countries adopted comprehensive bioeconomy strategies to tackle this challenge. These public actions are mostly biased to biofuel but should give well-balanced attention to renewable chemicals as well.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Petroleum, Biofuel, Coal, Ethanol fuel, Greenhouse gas, Fuel, Low-carbon economy


The move to a low-carbon economy has generated renewed interest in microalgae for the production of biofuels with the potential mutual benefit of wastewater treatment. However, harvesting has been identified as a limiting factor to the economic viability of this process. This paper explores the harvesting of microalgae using high-pressure gas without the addition of coagulants. Coagulation of microalgae under high-pressure gas was found to be an efficient method to separate algae from suspension. The critical coagulation pressures (CCPs) for H(2) and CO(2) were determined to be 6.1 and 6.2 MPa, respectively. The CO(2)-induced decrease in solution pH positively influenced coagulation rates, without appearing to affect the CCP. This approach could be beneficial for the economic removal of microalgae from solution for the production of both biofuels and biomedical compounds without the addition of non-environmentally friendly chemicals.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Blood, Petroleum, Chemical compound, Pressure, Biofuel, Low-carbon economy