A methodology to constrain carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants using satellite observations of co-emitted nitrogen dioxide

Liu, Fei; Duncan, Bryan N.; Krotkov, Nickolay A.; Lamsal, Lok N.; Beirle, Steffen; Griffin, Debora; McLinden, Chris A.; Goldberg, Daniel L.; Lu, Zifeng

We present a method to infer CO2 emissions from individual power plants based on satellite observations of co-emitted nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which could serve as complementary verification of bottom-up inventories or be used to supplement these inventories. We demonstrate its utility on eight large and isolated US power plants, where accurate stack emission estimates of both gases are available for comparison. In the first step of our methodology, we infer nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from US power plants using Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) NO2 tropospheric vertical column densities (VCDs) averaged over the ozone season (May–September) and a “top-down” approach that we previously developed. Second, we determine the relationship between NOx and CO2 emissions based on the direct stack emissions measurements reported by continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS) programs, accounting for coal quality, boiler firing technology, NOx emission control device type, and any change in operating conditions. Third, we estimate CO2 emissions for power plants using the OMI-estimated NOx emissions and the CEMS NOx∕CO2 emission ratio. We find that the CO2 emissions estimated by our satellite-based method during 2005–2017 are in reasonable agreement with the US CEMS measurements, with a relative difference of 8 %±41 % (mean ± standard deviation). The broader implication of our methodology is that it has the potential to provide an additional constraint on CO2 emissions from power plants in regions of the world without reliable emissions accounting. We explore the feasibility by comparing the derived NOx∕CO2 emission ratios for the US with those from a bottom-up emission inventory for other countries and applying our methodology to a power plant in South Africa, where the satellite-based emission estimates show reasonable consistency with other independent estimates. Though our analysis is limited to a few power plants, we expect to be able to apply our method to more US (and world) power plants when multi-year data records become available from new OMI-like sensors with improved capabilities, such as the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI), and upcoming geostationary satellites, such as the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring Pollution (TEMPO) instrument.

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Liu, Fei / Duncan, Bryan N. / Krotkov, Nickolay A. / et al: A methodology to constrain carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants using satellite observations of co-emitted nitrogen dioxide. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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