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
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Rosina Bierbaum and Daniel Raimi
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 
Project Status: 
Past Project