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Baker Featured in NSF Highlight

Erin Baker

Research by Professor Erin Baker of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department was included as a recent NSF Highlight on the Research.gov website, posted by the National Science Foundation to spotlight outstanding research that it has funded. Baker’s highlight was entitled "The role of uncertainty in technology selection" and was based upon the following NSF Award: Collaborative Research: Choosing a Portfolio of Technology Policies in an Uncertain World. By formally modeling the uncertainties inherent when government invests in alternate energy technology, Gregory Nemet and Baker showed that in the case of carbon capture and storage (CCS), investing in a broad portfolio of technologies is superior to concentrating resources in one or a few options. CCS is potentially one of the most important energy technologies to address climate change. 

Read the NSF Highlight below:
 
The role of uncertainty in technology selection

How should public resources be allocated when investing in alternate energy technology? Should government concentrate their investments in the most promising technology or in a portfolio of technologies with uncertain futures, knowing that some may prove inferior options later on?

By formally modeling these uncertainties, Gregory Nemet and Erin Baker of the University of Massachusetts Amherst showed that in the case of carbon capture and storage (CCS), investing in a broad portfolio of technologies is superior to concentrating resources in one or a few options. CCS is potentially one of the most important energy technologies to address climate change. 

Nemet and Baker developed a cost model to characterize the future costs of seven types of CCS technologies applied to coal power plants. They found that likely future costs span a wide range and attributed this finding to uncertainty in future capital costs, discounting and energy penalty. 

The researchers also found that increasing public research and development funding leads to modest, but consistently lower, cost of capture across all technologies. They determined that the three most mature CCS technologies (pre-combustion, oxyfuel and post-combustion absorption) are most likely to set the minimum cost of CCS in 2025. But they also discovered that supporting research on all seven CCS technologies doubles the chances of achieving the targeted cost of reduced emissions, compared to investing only in the three technologies with the lowest expected costs. 

The results of this research will help governments and private industry effectively and efficiently analyze and evaluate the potential for CCS technologies. The framework also allows governments and firms to make choices about general investments in technology when future improvements in the technology are uncertain. (June 2014)