Life cycle emissions and cost of producing electricity from coal, natural gas, and wood pellets in Ontario, Canada.Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Jan 01; 44(1):538-44.ES
The use of coal is responsible for (1)/(5) of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Substitution of coal with biomass fuels is one of a limited set of near-term options to significantly reduce these emissions. We investigate, on a life cycle basis, 100% wood pellet firing and cofiring with coal in two coal generating stations (GS) in Ontario, Canada. GHG and criteria air pollutant emissions are compared with current coal and hypothetical natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) facilities. 100% pellet utilization provides the greatest GHG benefit on a kilowatt-hour basis, reducing emissions by 91% and 78% relative to coal and NGCC systems, respectively. Compared to coal, using 100% pellets reduces NO(x) emissions by 40-47% and SO(x) emissions by 76-81%. At $160/metric ton of pellets and $7/GJ natural gas, either cofiring or NGCC provides the most cost-effective GHG mitigation ($70 and $47/metric ton of CO2 equivalent, respectively). The differences in coal price, electricity generation cost, and emissions at the two GS are responsible for the different options being preferred. A sensitivity analysis on fuel costs reveals considerable overlap in results for all options. A lower pellet price ($100/metric ton) results in a mitigation cost of $34/metric ton of CO2 equivalent for 10% cofiring at one of the GS. The study results suggest that biomass utilization in coal GS should be considered for its potential to cost-effectively mitigate GHGs from coal-based electricity in the near term.