Building a Carbon Dioxide Removal Supply Curve (2017)

Client Organization: 
University of Michigan Energy Institute
Project Location : 
Ann Arbor, MI
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives
The objective of this Opus project is to compile a supply curve (which could also be called a cost curve or supply function) describing the costs of and removal potential for different carbon dioxide removal (CDR) programs and technologies. This supply curve would plot the estimated costs of specific CDR activities against estimated carbon removal potential. Such supply curves provide concise representations of an environmental cost/benefit analysis and would look similar to the supply curves created by the McKinsey Company for a range of GHG mitigation mechanisms. While some have made preliminary attempts to create a CDR supply curve, this project will create a more thoroughly researched iteration.

Along with producing a supply curve, the team will be expected to describe in qualitative terms the benefits, risks and implementation issues associated with various CDR approaches, and make suggestions for future research accordingly. 

What distinguishes CDR from other climate protection strategies is that the aim is not to reduce excess GHG emissions towards zero in order to achieve a "carbon neutral" state. Instead, the goal is to increase the rate of negative emissions, i.e., going "beyond carbon neutral." A well-known example of CDR is reforestation, which by itself can increase the negative emissions rate for some decades but not necessarily permanently. Other examples include changes in agricultural practices to reduce soil carbon loss, modified land management practices, and biomass-fueled power generation with carbon capture and sequestration.

Social Benefit and Significance
Global climate change is a defining challenge of the 21st century and efforts to address it have many dimensions. The University of Michigan Energy Institute is leading a major new research initiative
known as Beyond Carbon Neutral that seeks to develop technologies, programs, and policies to increase the deployment of CDR as part of climate change mitigation. CDR has the potential to be a scalable nearterm carbon mitigation measure as well as an important mechanism for achieving a long-term transition to a carbon-balanced energy system. Because of the limited research to date on CDR technologies and policies, there is little information for researchers, investors, and policymakers on the economic costs of different CDR approaches. This Opus project will make a significant contribution to filling this knowledge gap.

Specific Activities & Duration
Students will review research from multiple disciplines, including economics, geography, science and technology studies, political science, and more. Over the course of 16 months, the team will need to
compile a thorough understanding of the literature and apply a range of techniques to compare between CDR approaches. Specifically, the team will need to apply skills in terrestrial ecology, energy, climate and natural resource policy, environmental economics, landscape architecture, environmental informatics (GIS) or other disciplines related to science-based environmental management.

Below is a rough project timeline:
Months 1-4: Literature review and synthesis
Months 5-8: Technical and economic analysis
Months 9-12: Societal and policy analysis
Months 13-16: Prepare final report and presentation

Integrative Approach
The activities described in this project require cross-disciplinary thinking and analysis. As with most issues related to climate change, an integration of the physical and social sciences is required to identify and implement potential solutions. This project will require students to understand the biogeochemical mechanisms that enable CDR, integrate that knowledge with the institutional, market and policy drivers that make some approaches more viable than others, and identify the factors that may impede or support the implementation and effectiveness of specific CDR options.

The project will require students with the skills listed below, and require those students to work closely together to produce a report that will enhance understanding and increase the potential for adoption of CDR into the climate mitigation portfolio.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Environmental Informatics
Sustainable Systems
Landscape Architecture
Role for each program area: 

All students should have strong research, analytic writing and teamwork skills.

Conservation ecology team members will be expected to apply their expertise in the physical, chemical, and biological properties of ecosystems that may be suitable for CDR. In particular, students will be
expected to apply their knowledge of climate change, forest ecosystem management, land use, and agricultural practices.

Environmental policy and planning team members will be expected to analyze the policy context(s) into which different CDR technologies could be applied. There is potential application of CDR technologies across a range of jurisdictions (U.S. states and internationally), and the team will need a broad familiarity with the climate policy and economic conditions of given regions.

Environmental informatics team members will be expected to assist in developing spatial representations of landscapes that may be appropriate for CDR activities. This would include spatial and representational understanding of forested landscapes, deforested landscapes, agricultural landscapes, and perhaps more. 

Sustainable systems team members will be expected to apply their knowledge of the energy system to relevant CDR approaches. Students will focus on policy issues related to potential CDR applications,
analyzing the types of policy frameworks that can make CDR implementation more or less viable in regional energy systems and policy environments.

Landscape architecture team members will be expected to apply their knowledge of land use to identify potential opportunities for CDR deployment in a variety of settings, including green design, landscape ecology, and ecological restoration. Students will also have the opportunity to identify potential policy mechanisms that could enhance CDR deployment at various scales.

Team Size:
An ideal team will have 4-6 members including students with skills terrestrial ecology, energy, climate
and natural resource policy, environmental economics, landscape architecture, environmental informatics,
or other disciplines related to science-based environmental management.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

This project will allow students to apply their knowledge, investigate an important under-researched area, and apply their communications skills through a final report and oral presentation to the Energy Institute and other faculty and students interested in CDR. The students will also have the opportunity to network at a series of events and research projects that the Energy Institute will launch in the coming 6-12 months in conjunction with the Beyond Carbon Neutral initiative. The team will engage with internal and external experts and stakeholders on relevant topics, providing additional networking opportunities.

Funding Sources: 

External funding is not currently available but may be developed as part of broader U-M Energy Institute program development efforts underway for the Beyond Carbon Neutral initiative.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

The project team will have two key deliverables:

  1. A written report displaying the final supply curve, along with a written qualitative analysis of the issues surrounding various carbon dioxide removal options.
  2. An oral presentation delivered to the Energy Institute and other faculty and students describing the supply curve and related key findings.

The Energy Institute's Beyond Carbon Neutral initiative will bring together a range of faculty at the university to research technologies, policies, social attitudes, and other issues related to the removal of
carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a strategy to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. 

The research conducted by the SNRE team will serve as an important foundation for informing economic and policy analysis of CDR strategies to be further developed as part of this initiative. A high-quality Opus report will be shared widely with interested faculty, fellow researchers, and other interested parties. We encourage work of journal publication quality that can be shared with academic and environmental policy audiences worldwide.

Contact full name: 
Daniel Raimi
Job title: 
Research Specialist
Ann Arbor
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Rosina Bierbaum and Daniel Raimi
Contact Phone: 
(734) 615-9060
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
U-M faculty member
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Carissa De Young, MS Environmental Justice 
  • Katelyn Johnson, MS Behavior, Education and Communication/Sustainable Systems 
  • Derek Martin, MS Sustainable Systems
  • Andrew Stolberg, MS Sustainable Systems 
  • Xilin Zhang, MS Sustainable Systems 
Lecturer, Ford School of Public Policy; Research Specialist, UM Energy Institute
Project Status: 
Past Project