ICNE Research Thrusts

Initiative for a Carbon Negative Economy

Research Thrusts

The following areas are being investigated in the Initiative for a Carbon Negative Economy:

Carbon fixation through high yielding biomass

Carbon fixation, the process of extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is accomplished by natural or artificial photosynthesis. The goal of this thrust area is to identify opportunities for maximizing net carbon fixation into harvestable biomass and to minimize the economic and energetic costs of producing, harvesting and transporting biomass to processing sites. The approach to research into carbon fixation has two distinct elements: production of cellulosic biomass and production of lipid-rich biomass.

The cellulosic biomass approach includes evaluation of high-yielding plant species that are amenable to reduced tillage, which decreases oxidation of soil C, and development of systems for incorporating biochar into the soil. The approach to lipid-rich biomass production includes identification and characterization of suitable sources of photosynthetically derived biomass, as well as the maximization of net photosynthetic carbon fixation into suitable biomass on a land area basis.

Leads: Prof. Ken Moore, Department of Agronomy, who specializes in cellulosic biomass production, and Prof. Martin Spalding, Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology, an expert in photosynthetic carbon metabolism of microalgae.

Carbon negative energy for fuels and power

The area of carbon negative fuels explores processes for converting fixed carbon into useful energy and carbon sequestration products. Its goal is to develop an economical approach for thermochemically converting lignocellulosic and lipid feedstocks into intermediates that can be subsequently upgraded to products including electric power, fuels and chemicals.

Leads: Prof. Robert Brown, Department of Mechanical Engineering, is well-known for his work in thermochemical conversion of carbonaceous feedstocks, including gasification and pyrolysis, which are two of the most promising technologies for implementing a carbon negative economy. Prof. Brent Shanks, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, is an expert in the catalytic conversion of biocrude derived from pyrolysis into transportation fuels.

Carbon sequestration through carbon dioxide disposal and/or land application of biochar

Carbon sequestration includes both the conventional approach of sequestering carbon dioxide into geological formations or deep ocean waters and the recently proposed land burial of biochar produced from thermochemical processing of biomass. The approach to research in this area includes identifying opportunities for synergistic carbon sequestration and optimizing systems to enhance economic and environmental outcomes.

Lead: Prof. David Laird, Department of Agronomy, a leading authority on biochar applications.

Carbon policy & economics

Carbon policy & economics evaluates the costs and policy implications of a carbon negative economy through a cost-benefit approach. This approach includes two key components that constitute an economic feasibility study:

  1. Technoeconomic analysis for both the carbon negative and alternative emission reduction pathways.
    • Drawing on these analyses, the best pathways is determined from the perspective of society.
    • This approach would ultimately include the effects of externalities, whether positive or negative.
  2. Identification of policies that would make this achievable if markets by themselves cannot.
    • This would also investigate an ensuing market response, both direct and indirect, to any policy driven outcome.

Lead: Prof. Dermot Hayes, Department of Economics, who is performing some of the first economic analyses on biochar.