Using space-based observations a case study show how carbon dioxide emissions and reductions can be tracked at the source of a large European coal-fired power plant.
A recent series of Earth-observing missions from NASA allowed researchers to monitor and quantify carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from several facilities, using Earth’s fifth-largest coal-fired power plant as a test case. In the experiment, the research team used data collected by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) 2 and 3 spacecraft to document the CO2 emissions.
Between 2017 and 2022, the emissions from southwestern power plants were tracked and analyzed by satellite overpasses between several points. Based on their findings, it became apparent that changes in carbon dioxide levels were consistent with hourly changes in energy production. Scheduled upgrades (for maintenance and decommissioning) and temporary shutdowns cut the plant’s overall emissions, of which scientists were also able to deduce.
Space-based observations provide researchers with insights regarding regional carbon dioxide emission patterns.
The OCO-2 satellite was launched in 2014 to map natural and anthropogenic carbon dioxide on scales ranging from regions to continents. Analyzing satellite measurements, the instrument detects the amounts of carbon dioxide by measuring the intensity of the sunlight reflected off Earth’s surface and absorbed by carbon dioxide in the column of air from ground level to the satellite. OCO-2’s spectrometers are tuned to detect the specific signature of CO2 gas.
Spare components from that mission were used to create OCO-3, an instrument that has flown on the International Space Station since 2019. OCO-3 was designed with a mapping mode that can make multiple sweeping observations as the space station passes over an area, allowing researchers to create detailed mini-maps from a city-scale area of interest.
Nearly two dozen detectors on the OCO-3 were not designed specifically for emissions detection from individual facilities such as Bełchatów Power Station, so new findings are a pleasant surprise, as stated by Abhishek Chatterjee, project manager for the OCO-3 mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We’re improving our methods to gather more information from the data than anticipated, and the community is gradually refining the way these instruments operate. It’s just lately that we have begun studying that we can understand a lot more about anthropogenic emissions than we expected.” Said – Abhishek Chatterjee.
Tracking Carbon Emissions Into The Future
Emissions from large facilities such as power plants and refineries account for about 50% of global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. Bełchatów Power Station, in operation since 1988, has the largest lignite-fired power plant in the world, with an original capacity of 5,102 megawatts. Brown coal typically contributes to higher emissions per megawatt produced than anthracite coal. The Polish government has drafted plans to shut down the plant by the end of 2036.
Senior researcher at Environment and Climate Change Canada and the study’s lead author Ray Nassar noted that most carbon dioxide emission reports are created from estimates or data collected at the land surface. After discussing the calculated figure of foundational greenhouse gas emissions, scientists calculate the quantity of fossil fuels that were purchased. They do not produce atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements for such figures.
“The finer details about exactly when and where emissions occur are often not available,” Nassar speaks about what greater documentation of carbon dioxide emissions easily allows with carbon-dioxide monitoring and metrics. This can help know the outcomes of carbon-dioxide policies. Using related technology with OCO-2 and OCO-3, our strategy can be applied to other types of power plants or modified for city or country carbon dioxide emission percentages.
The mapping modes of OCO-3 make the monitoring of CO2 point-source emissions more robust the findings of the NASA data.
NASA has extended the missions on the space station for the next few years, and the instrument will remain on board, in addition to the greenhouse gas monitor, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT).
JPL is working on OCO-3 as a pathfinder for the next generation of space missions. OCO-2 and OCO-3 are overseen by Caltech.
More Information: NASA space mission locates source of CO2 emissions on Earth. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/nasa-space-missions-pinpoint-sources-of-co2-emissions-on-earth .