Air and Climate Change Research
- Environmental Issue or Problem
- Research Approach
- Long Term Goals and APGs
“Taking action on climate change” is EPA’s top priority. Taking action requires that we develop approaches to manage the risks associated with climate change, from adapting to changes in the climate to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The focus of NRMRL’s climate change research is to develop data and modeling tools to inform EPA and others about the technologies and practices that will be needed to keep the impacts of climate change to a minimum.
Addressing climate change is a tremendous risk management challenge. Approaches that have been identified for reducing GHG emissions involve large-scale changes to technologies for generating electricity, providing transportation, and powering industry, businesses, and homes. As these technology changes are made, we will see changes in environmental impacts. In many cases, these changes are highly beneficial –improving vehicle fuel efficiency will result in both reduced emissions of GHGs and other pollutants, and so will help improve or maintain air quality. However, there is also the potential for adverse and unintended consequences that are caused by these technological changes. Our interests are to identify what some of these adverse consequences might be and determine how to make sure that these changes take place in ways that are as sustainable as possible.
To better understand how these changes will occur within the complex U.S. energy system, NRMRL conducts research to develop and evaluate possible scenarios of current and future technologies needed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We focus on the energy system because many of the approaches to reducing GHG emissions are related to how we produce and use energy.
The second major part of our research is focused on more detailed technical assessments of energy and GHG reduction technologies. This aspect of our research evaluates technologies to understand their practicality and effectiveness, as well as the implications for changes in air pollution and other environmental impacts that might occur as these technologies are put into everyday use. Technologies that are not cost-effective, widely applicable, or need major improvements to be commercially viable may play a role in addressing climate change in the future, but cannot be relied upon in the near term. NRMRL researchers are working with experts in industry, government, and academic institutions to collect and evaluate the extent to which GHG mitigation technologies are ready for use, and where additional research is needed before they can be used in a meaningful way.
The key environmental issue with climate change is the increase in global temperatures. Although the fundamental goal of our research is to enable the reduction of GHG emissions and minimize the global temperature increase, our focus is not on the science that links GHG emissions to changes in global temperature.
NRMRL’s risk management efforts are instead focused on providing the information that EPA and others need to develop effective strategies for reducing GHG emissions and adapting to a changed climate, and to understand and minimize any adverse impacts of those strategies. Even as the climate changes, and as technologies and practices change in response, we must continue to ensure that we are maintaining and improving the environment to protect the quality of our air, water, land, and ultimately human and ecosystem health.
NRMRL’s climate change and technology assessment research takes a two-pronged approach to understanding the role of technologies in addressing climate change. The two approaches are complementary, and evaluate technologies in detail as well as from the perspective of how they will be used as part of the interconnected system of technologies and practices for producing and using energy.
At the detailed technology level, we work with experts from the utility and other industries, the Department of Energy, and the academic community to understand the potential for technologies, such as carbon capture systems, to reduce emissions of GHGs, with a particular emphasis on carbon dioxide (CO2). Our technology assessment research involves collection and evaluation of detailed information on technology performance, applicability, availability, and cost. We evaluate technologies that are in commercial use and some that are still being evaluated for feasibility. The data from these evaluations are consolidated and analyzed to develop insights into the potential for these technologies to make a meaningful difference at national and international scales.
We also evaluate the potential for technologies to result in reductions of GHG emissions and other environmental impacts by evaluating technologies at a national scale. NRMRL researchers have developed a database of energy technologies for use in the MARKet ALlocation (MARKAL) model, which models the U.S. energy system and enables researchers to study how changes in technologies might impact how energy is produced and used, and the implications those changes have for air pollutant and GHG emissions.
- EPA Office of Air and Radiation
- EPA Office of International Affairs
- EPA Regional Offices
- State Agencies: California Air Resources Board, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
- Other Federal Agencies: Department of Energy
John Masters, Communications
U.S. EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Air Pollution Prevention and Control Division
Mail Code: E343-02
Research Triangle Park, NC 27711
For a copy of the MARKAL database
Climate Change and Technology Assessment research projects are charged with developing the data and modeling tools required to evaluate scenarios of future technology change. Below are the specific projects being conducted:
- Providing information on emissions from future technologies will be used as input to a larger ORD program planned to assess the implications of climate change on air quality
- Increasing emphasis on decision support tools
- Helping evaluate air quality adaptation options, Greenhouse Gas (GHG), and criteria pollutants co-benefits of specific technologies
- Applying MARKAL to understand consumption and production of energy in the agricultural sector under alternative long-run climate and energy scenarios
- Using MARKAL to evaluate the potential of innovative energy technologies to reduce GHG emissions
- Improving the representation of the industrial sector in MARKAL
- Improving the representation of state and regional renewable portfolio standards and renewable energy technology resources in MARKAL
- Advancing regional and state-level decision support of technology and policy evaluations to achieve multiple environmental benefits
- Evaluating tipping points for maximizing energy efficiency and GHG reductions for materials and waste management
- Assessing the retrofitability of GHG mitigation technologies for coal-fired power plants
- Characterizing emissions under simulated oxygen-rich combustion conditions
- Developing of a database of GHG mitigation technologies
- Issues associated with waste glycerol combustion for biodiesel production
- Environmental consequences of biomass fast pyrolysis for biocrude production
- Evaluating of GHG source measurement methods
U.S. EPA. (2009). " Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone (An Interim Report of the U.S. EPA Global Change Research Program)." Publication No. EPA/600/R-07/094F.