The innovative tech to generate renewable energy and carbon capture

Bioenergy is renewable energy produced from natural sources capable of replacing fossil energy. When combined with geothermal, it can potentially supercharge renewable electricity and create a carbon sink.

UC Engineering Ph.D. student Karan Titus has shown that combined geothermal and bioenergy plants could remove a million tonnes of CO2 each year.

The work is still in its early stages. According to Titus, it could be a promising step as the world economies continue major plans for decarbonization.

His doctoral co-supervisor, UC Civil and Natural Resources Engineering Senior Lecturer Dr. David Dempsey, says: “Aotearoa New Zealand decarbonize its electricity sector by 2050 and reach a zero-emissions economy by 2050, as set out in the 2019 Zero Carbon Act.”

This project focuses on not only reducing CO2 emissions from geothermal but also removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground. Carbon sequestration is a critical component of most international climate agreements, as the process is known.

Traditional carbon sequestration is still very challenging. The deep injection wells require tens of millions of dollars, and the buoyant gas tries to escape upwards.

Titus said, “Geothermal systems solve both these problems. The wells have already been drilled, and we can dissolve CO2 into water that has to be recovered anyway. This new approach is already being trialled in Iceland, another country with significant geothermal resources. ”

Titus has investigated a new technology called Geothermal-BECCS (Bioenergy and Carbon Capture & Sequestration) that sees forestry waste burned to generate electricity. It captures the CO2 from the atmosphere and injects it underground. Together, bioenergy and geothermal energy can combine to create more electricity than geothermal alone.

Titus’s co-supervisor, UC Civil Systems Engineering Lecturer Dr. Rebecca Peer, they said, “Karan’s work targets some key issues for Aotearoa’s future energy system. Providing a reliable path for electricity generation that has very powerful emissions and sets a great example for the rest of the world. ”

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