New "Net Zero America" Study Shows Key Role For Biomass
A new study entitled "Net Zero America" confirms the critical role that biomass technology will play in the transition to a net zero economy. The research, published by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, outlines in unprecedented detail multiple technological pathways to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 in the United States. The study considers multiple pathways to the net zero goal and sorts the requirements of these pathways into six pillars of technological progress and commercial investment. Bioenergy is situated as one of the pillars of the green economy alongside more heavily publicized sectors such as wind and solar electricity or electric vehicles (pg.7). The study finds that hundreds of new biomass conversion facilities and hundreds of millions of tons of biomass feedstock production are required to ensure this sector contributes as required for a net-zero economy (pg. 8).
The study finds that biomass plays a critical role in a net zero future because it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows and so combustion of biomass derived fuels is carbon neutral. There are three major use-cases for biomass. First, as a carbon neutral transportation fuel for vehicles which have not yet or cannot be electrified. Second, as a carbon neutral fuel for electricity production. Third, because biomass can be converted into hydrogen fuel while simultaneously sequestering its carbon component, it creates net-negative emissions hydrogen fuel for use in the wider economy (pg. 200).
Different scenarios result in different biomass utilization rates, but all scenarios show a requirement for significant investment into the sector. For example, on the low-end of biomass supply and utilization, investment into bioconversion infrastructure is modeled at $750 B by 2050 (pg.208); in high biomass utilization scenarios investment reaches $1.4 T by 2050 (pg.217).
The level of technical detail and focus on realistic commercial considerations ensures the research will be highly actionable for policy makers and investment managers. In a news release published alongside the study, John Holdren, former science advisor to President Obama and former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is quoted discussing the policy making implications of the study: “Everybody seriously interested in the crucial question of this country’s energy-climate future—not least the new Biden-Harris administration—needs to understand the findings of this extraordinary study." The findings' academic results should enable the biomass sector to effectively advocate for beneficial regulatory and tax policy in the coming years at the federal and state level. Investment groups should likewise position themselves to contribute capital to the sector in order to take advantage of this increasing momentum.
News release: https://www.princeton.edu/news/2020/12/15/big-affordable-effort-needed-america-reach-net-zero-emissions-2050-princeton-study