Imperial College London

Dr Paul Balcombe

Faculty of EngineeringDepartment of Chemical Engineering

Honorary Lecturer
 
 
 
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Contact

 

+44 (0)20 7594 6818p.balcombe

 
 
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Location

 

10-12 Prince's GardensSouth Kensington Campus

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Summary

 

Publications

Publication Type
Year
to

22 results found

Cooper J, Balcombe P, Hawkes A, 2021, The quantification of methane emissions and assessment of emissions data for the largest natural gas supply chains, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol: 320, Pages: 1-10, ISSN: 0959-6526

Methane emitted from natural gas supply chains are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but there is uncertainty on the magnitude of emissions, how they vary, and which key factors influence emissions. This study estimates the variation in emissions across the major natural gas supply chains, alongside an estimate of uncertainty which helps identify the areas at the greatest emissions ‘risk’. Based on the data, we estimate that 26.4 Mt CH4 (14.5–48.2 Mt CH4) was emitted by these supply chains in 2017. The risk assessment identified a significant proportion of countries to be at high risk of high emissions. However, there is a large dependency on Tier 1 emission factors, inferring a high degree of uncertainty and a risk of inaccurate emission accounting. When emissions are recalculated omitting Tier 1 data, emissions reduce by 47% to 3.8-fold, downstream and upstream respectively, across regions. More efforts in collecting robust and transparent primary data should be made, particularly in Non-Annex 1 countries, to improve our understanding of methane emissions.

Journal article

Balcombe P, Staffell I, Kerdan IG, Speirs JF, Brandon NP, Hawkes ADet al., 2021, How can LNG-fuelled ships meet decarbonisation targets? An environmental and economic analysis, Energy, Vol: 227, Pages: 1-12, ISSN: 0360-5442

International shipping faces strong challenges with new legally binding air quality regulations and a 50% decarbonisation target by 2050. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a widely used alternative to liquid fossil fuels, but methane emissions reduce its overall climate benefit. This study utilises new emissions measurements and supply-chain data to conduct a comprehensive environmental life cycle and cost assessment of LNG as a shipping fuel, compared to heavy fuel oil (HFO), marine diesel oil (MDO), methanol and prospective renewable fuels (hydrogen, ammonia, biogas and biomethanol). LNG gives improved air quality impacts, reduced fuel costs and moderate climate benefits compared to liquid fossil fuels, but with large variation across different LNG engine types. Methane slip from some engines is unacceptably high, whereas the best performing LNG engine offers up to 28% reduction in global warming potential when combined with the best-case LNG supply chain. Total methane emissions must be reduced to 0.8–1.6% to ensure climate benefit is realised across all timescales compared to current liquid fuels. However, it is no longer acceptable to merely match incumbent fuels; progress must be made towards decarbonisation targets. With methane emissions reduced to 0.5% of throughput, energy efficiency must increase 35% to meet a 50% decarbonisation target.

Journal article

Auger T, Truby J, Balcombe P, Staffell Iet al., 2021, The future of coal investment, trade, and stranded assets, Joule, Vol: 5, Pages: 1462-1484, ISSN: 2542-4351

Coal is at a crossroads, with divestment and phase-out in the West countered by the surging growth throughout Asia. Global energy scenarios suggest that coal consumption could halve over the next decade, but the business and geopolitical implications of this profound shift remain underexplored. We investigate coal markets to 2040 using a perfect competition techno-economic model. In a well-below-2°C scenario, Europe, North America, and Australia suffer from over-capacity, with one-third of today’s mines becoming stranded assets. New mines are needed to offset retirements, but a new commodity cycle in the 2030s can be avoided. Coal prices decline as only the most competitive mines survive, and trade volumes fall to give more insular national markets. Regions stand to gain or lose tens of billions of dollars per year from reducing import bills or export revenues. Understanding and preparing for these changes could ease the transition away from coal following 150 years of dominance.

Journal article

Speirs J, Balcombe P, Blomerus P, Stettler M, Achurra-Gonzalez P, Woo M, Ainalis D, Cooper J, Sharafian A, Merida W, Crow D, Giarola S, Shah N, Brandon N, Hawkes Aet al., 2020, Natural gas fuel and greenhouse gas emissions in trucks and ships, Progress in Energy, Vol: 2, Pages: 012002-012002

Journal article

Staffell I, Scamman D, Velazquez Abad A, Balcombe P, Dodds PE, Ekins P, Shah N, Ward KRet al., 2019, The role of hydrogen and fuel cells in the global energy system, Energy & Environmental Science, Vol: 12, Pages: 463-491, ISSN: 1754-5692

<p>Hydrogen has been ‘just around the corner’ for decades, but now offers serious alternatives for decarbonising global heat, power and transport.</p>

Journal article

Cooper J, Balcombe P, Hawkes A, 2019, Life cycle environmental impacts of natural gas drivetrains used in UK road freighting and impacts to UK emission targets, Science of the Total Environment, Vol: 674, Pages: 482-493, ISSN: 0048-9697

Using natural gas as a fuel in the road freight sector instead of diesel could cut greenhouse gas and air quality emissions but the switch alone is not enough to meet UK climate targets. A life cycle assessment (LCA) has been conducted comparing natural gas trucks to diesel, biodiesel, dimethyl ether and electric trucks on impacts to climate change, land use change, air quality, human health and resource depletion. This is the first LCA to consider a full suite of environmental impacts and is the first study to estimate what impact natural gas could have on reducing emissions form the UK freight sector. If LNG is used, climate change impacts could be up to 33% lower per km and up to 12% lower per kWh engine output. However, methane emissions will eliminate any benefits if they exceed 1.5–3.5% of throughput for typical fuel consumption. For non-climate impacts, natural gas exhibits lower emissions (11–66%) than diesel for all indicators. Thus, for natural gas climate benefits are modest. However, emissions of CO, methane and particulate matter are over air quality limits set for UK trucks. Of the other options, electric and biodiesel trucks perform best in climate change, but are the worst with respect to land use change (which could have significant impacts on overall climate change benefits), air quality, human toxicity and metals depletion indicators. Natural gas could help reduce the sector's emissions but deeper decarbonization options are required to meet 2030 climate targets, thus the window for beneficial utilisation is short.

Journal article

Crow DJG, Balcombe P, Brandon N, Hawkes ADet al., 2019, Assessing the impact of future greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production, Science of the Total Environment, Vol: 668, Pages: 1242-1258, ISSN: 0048-9697

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced by the extraction of natural gas are an important contributor to lifecycle emissions and account for a significant fraction of anthropogenic methane emissions in the USA. The timing as well as the magnitude of these emissions matters, as the short term climate warming impact of methane is up to 120 times that of CO 2 . This study uses estimates of CO 2 and methane emissions associated with different upstream operations to build a deterministic model of GHG emissions from conventional and unconventional gas fields as a function of time. By combining these emissions with a dynamic, techno-economic model of gas supply we assess their potential impact on the value of different types of project and identify stranded resources in various carbon price scenarios. We focus in particular on the effects of different emission metrics for methane, using the global warming potential (GWP) and the global temperature potential (GTP), with both fixed 20-year and 100-year CO 2 -equivalent values and in a time-dependent way based on a target year for climate stabilisation. We report a strong time dependence of emissions over the lifecycle of a typical field, and find that bringing forward the stabilisation year dramatically increases the importance of the methane contribution to these emissions. Using a commercial database of the remaining reserves of individual projects, we use our model to quantify future emissions resulting from the extraction of current US non-associated reserves. A carbon price of at least 400 USD/tonne CO 2 is effective in reducing cumulative GHGs by 30–60%, indicating that decarbonising the upstream component of the natural gas supply chain is achievable using carbon prices similar to those needed to decarbonise the energy system as a whole. Surprisingly, for large carbon prices, the choice of emission metric does not have a significant impact on cumulative emissions.

Journal article

Cooper J, Balcombe P, 2019, Life cycle environmental impacts of natural gas drivetrains used in road freighting, Procedia CIRP, Vol: 80, Pages: 334-339, ISSN: 2212-8271

Journal article

Balcombe P, Brierley J, Lewis C, Skatvedt L, Speirs J, Hawkes A, Staffell Iet al., 2019, How to decarbonise international shipping: Options for fuels, technologies and policies, Energy Conversion and Management, Vol: 182, Pages: 72-88, ISSN: 0196-8904

International shipping provides 80–90% of global trade, but strict environmental regulations around NOX, SOX and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are set to cause major technological shifts. The pathway to achieving the international target of 50% GHG reduction by 2050 is unclear, but numerous promising options exist. This study provides a holistic assessment of these options and their combined potential to decarbonise international shipping, from a technology, environmental and policy perspective. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is reaching mainstream and provides 20–30% CO2 reductions whilst minimising SOX and other emissions. Costs are favourable, but GHG benefits are reduced by methane slip, which varies across engine types. Biofuels, hydrogen, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) could all decarbonise much further, but each faces significant barriers around their economics, resource potentials and public acceptability. Regarding efficiency measures, considerable fuel and GHG savings could be attained by slow-steaming, ship design changes and utilising renewable resources. There is clearly no single route and a multifaceted response is required for deep decarbonisation. The scale of this challenge is explored by estimating the combined decarbonisation potential of multiple options. Achieving 50% decarbonisation with LNG or electric propulsion would likely require 4 or more complementary efficiency measures to be applied simultaneously. Broadly, larger GHG reductions require stronger policy and may differentiate between short- and long-term approaches. With LNG being economically feasible and offering moderate environmental benefits, this may have short-term promise with minor policy intervention. Longer term, deeper decarbonisation will require strong financial incentives. Lowest-cost policy options should be fuel- or technology-agnostic, internationally applied and will require action now to ensure targets are met by 2050.

Journal article

Speirs J, Balcombe P, Blomerus P, Stettler M, Brandon N, Hawkes Aet al., 2019, Can natural gas reduce emissions from transport?: Heavy goods vehicles and shipping

Report

Parkinson B, Balcombe P, Speirs JF, Hawkes AD, Hellgardt Ket al., 2019, Levelized cost of CO2 mitigation from hydrogen production routes, Energy and Environmental Science, Vol: 12, Pages: 19-40, ISSN: 1754-5692

Different technologies produce hydrogen with varying cost and carbon footprints over the entire resource supply chain and manufacturing steps. This paper examines the relative costs of carbon mitigation from a life cycle perspective for 12 different hydrogen production techniques using fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewable sources by technology substitution. Production costs and life cycle emissions are parameterized and re-estimated from currently available assessments to produce robust ranges to describe uncertainties for each technology. Hydrogen production routes are then compared using a combination of metrics, levelized cost of carbon mitigation and the proportional decarbonization benchmarked against steam methane reforming, to provide a clearer picture of the relative merits of various hydrogen production pathways, the limitations of technologies and the research challenges that need to be addressed for cost-effective decarbonization pathways. The results show that there is a trade-off between the cost of mitigation and the proportion of decarbonization achieved. The most cost-effective methods of decarbonization still utilize fossil feedstocks due to their low cost of extraction and processing, but only offer moderate decarbonisation levels due to previous underestimations of supply chain emissions contributions. Methane pyrolysis may be the most cost-effective short-term abatement solution, but its emissions reduction performance is heavily dependent on managing supply chain emissions whilst cost effectiveness is governed by the price of solid carbon. Renewable electrolytic routes offer significantly higher emissions reductions, but production routes are more complex than those that utilise naturally-occurring energy-dense fuels and hydrogen costs are high at modest renewable energy capacity factors. Nuclear routes are highly cost-effective mitigation options, but could suffer from regionally varied perceptions of safety and concerns regarding prolife

Journal article

Balcombe P, Speirs JF, Brandon NP, Hawkes ADet al., 2018, Methane emissions: choosing the right climate metric and time horizon, Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts, Vol: 20, Pages: 1323-1339, ISSN: 2050-7895

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas (GHG) than CO2, but it has a shorter atmospheric lifespan, thus its relative climate impact reduces significantly over time. Different GHGs are often conflated into a single metric to compare technologies and supply chains, such as the global warming potential (GWP). However, the use of GWP is criticised, regarding: (1) the need to select a timeframe; (2) its physical basis on radiative forcing; and (3) the fact that it measures the average forcing of a pulse over time rather than a sustained emission at a specific end-point in time. Many alternative metrics have been proposed which tackle different aspects of these limitations and this paper assesses them by their key attributes and limitations, with respect to methane emissions. A case study application of various metrics is produced and recommendations are made for the use of climate metrics for different categories of applications. Across metrics, CO2 equivalences for methane range from 4–199 gCO2eq./gCH4, although most estimates fall between 20 and 80 gCO2eq./gCH4. Therefore the selection of metric and time horizon for technology evaluations is likely to change the rank order of preference, as demonstrated herein with the use of natural gas as a shipping fuel versus alternatives. It is not advisable or conservative to use only a short time horizon, e.g. 20 years, which disregards the long-term impacts of CO2 emissions and is thus detrimental to achieving eventual climate stabilisation. Recommendations are made for the use of metrics in 3 categories of applications. Short-term emissions estimates of facilities or regions should be transparent and use a single metric and include the separated contribution from each GHG. Multi-year technology assessments should use both short and long term static metrics (e.g. GWP) to test robustness of results. Longer term energy assessments or decarbonisation pathways must use both short and long-term metrics and where this has a lar

Journal article

Balcombe P, Speirs J, Johnson E, Martin J, Brandon N, Hawkes Aet al., 2018, The carbon credentials of hydrogen gas networks and supply chains, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol: 91, Pages: 1077-1088, ISSN: 1364-0321

Projections of decarbonisation pathways have typically involved reducing dependence on natural gas grids via greater electrification of heat using heat pumps or even electric heaters. However, many technical, economic and consumer barriers to electrification of heat persist. The gas network holds value in relation to flexibility of operation, requiring simpler control and enabling less expensive storage. There may be value in retaining and repurposing gas infrastructure where there are feasible routes to decarbonisation. This study quantifies and analyses the decarbonisation potential associated with the conversion of gas grids to deliver hydrogen, focusing on supply chains. Routes to produce hydrogen for gas grids are categorised as: reforming natural gas with (or without) carbon capture and storage (CCS); gasification of coal with (or without) CCS; gasification of biomass with (or without) CCS; electrolysis using low carbon electricity. The overall range of greenhouse gas emissions across routes is extremely large, from − 371 to 642 gCO 2 eq/kW h H2 . Therefore, when including supply chain emissions, hydrogen can have a range of carbon intensities and cannot be assumed to be low carbon. Emissions estimates for natural gas reforming with CCS lie in the range of 23–150 g/kW h H2 , with CCS typically reducing CO 2 emissions by 75%. Hydrogen from electrolysis ranges from 24 to 178 gCO 2 eq/kW h H2 for renewable electricity sources, where wind electricity results in the lowest CO 2 emissions. Solar PV electricity typically exhibits higher emissions and varies significantly by geographical region. The emissions from upstream supply chains is a major contributor to total emissions and varies considerably across different routes to hydrogen. Biomass gasification is characterised by very large negative emissions in the supply chain and very large positive emissions in the gasification process. Therefore, improvements in total emissions are large if even small i

Journal article

Speirs JF, balcombe P, johnson E, martin J, brandon N, hawkes Aet al., 2018, A Greener Gas Grid: What Are the Options?, Energy Policy, Vol: 118, Pages: 291-297, ISSN: 0301-4215

There is an ongoing debate over future decarbonisation of gas networks using biomethane, and increasingly hydrogen, in gas network infrastructure. Some emerging research presents gas network decarbonisation options as a tractable alternative to ‘all-electric’ scenarios that use electric appliances to deliver the traditional gas services such as heating and cooking. However, there is some uncertainty as to the technical feasibility, cost and carbon emissions of gas network decarbonisation options. In response to this debate the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College London has conducted a rigorous systematic review of the evidence surrounding gas network decarbonisation options. The study focuses on the technologies used to generate biomethane and hydrogen, and examines the technical potentials, economic costs and emissions associated with the full supply chains involved. The following summarises the main findings of this research. The report concludes that there are a number of options that could significantly decarbonise the gas network, and doing so would provide energy system flexibility utilising existing assets. However, these options will be more expensive than the existing gas system, and the GHG intensity of these options may vary significantly. In addition, more research is required, particularly in relation to the capabilities of existing pipework to transport hydrogen safely.

Journal article

Balcombe P, Brandon NP, Hawkes AD, 2017, Characterising the distribution of methane and carbon dioxide emissions from the natural gas supply chain, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol: 172, Pages: 2019-2032, ISSN: 0959-6526

Methane and CO2 emissions from the natural gas supply chain have been shown to vary widely butthere is little understanding about the distribution of emissions across supply chain routes,processes, regions and operational practises. This study defines the distribution of total methaneand CO2 emissions from the natural gas supply chain, identifying the contribution from each stageand quantifying the effect of key parameters on emissions. The study uses recent high-resolutionemissions measurements with estimates of parameter distributions to build a probabilistic emissionsmodel for a variety of technological supply chain scenarios. The distribution of emissions resemblesa log-log-logistic distribution for most supply chain scenarios, indicating an extremely heavy tailedskew: median estimates which represent typical facilities are modest at 18 – 24 g CO2 eq./ MJ HHV,but mean estimates which account for the heavy tail are 22 – 107 g CO2 eq./ MJ HHV. To place thesevalues into context, emissions associated with natural gas combustion (e.g. for heat) areapproximately 55 g CO2/ MJ HHV. Thus, some supply chain scenarios are major contributors to totalgreenhouse gas emissions from natural gas. For methane-only emissions, median estimates are 0.8 –2.2% of total methane production, with mean emissions of 1.6 - 5.5%. The heavy tail distribution isthe signature of the disproportionately large emitting equipment known as super-emitters, whichappear at all stages of the supply chain. The study analyses the impact of different technologicaloptions and identifies a set of best technological option (BTO) scenarios. This suggests thatemissions-minimising technology can reduce supply chain emissions significantly, with this studyestimating median emissions of 0.9% of production. However, even with the emissions-minimisingtechnologies, evidence suggests that the influence of the super-emitters remains. Therefore,emissions-minimising technology is only part of the soluti

Journal article

Speirs J, Balcombe P, Johnson E, Martin J, Brandon N, Hawkes Aet al., 2017, A Greener Gas Grid: What Are the Options?, A greener gas grid: what are the options?

Report

Balcombe P, Anderson K, Speirs J, Brandon N, Hawkes Aet al., 2016, The natural gas supply chain: the importance of methane and carbon dioxide emissions, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, Vol: 5, Pages: 3-20, ISSN: 2168-0485

Natural gas is typically considered to be the cleaner-burning fossil fuel that could play an important role within a restricted carbon budget. While natural gas emits less CO2 when burned than other fossil fuels, its main constituent is methane, which has a much stronger climate forcing impact than CO2 in the short term. Estimates of methane emissions in the natural gas supply chain have been the subject of much controversy, due to uncertainties associated with estimation methods, data quality, and assumptions used. This Perspective presents a comprehensive compilation of estimated CO2 and methane emissions across the global natural gas supply chain, with the aim of providing a balanced insight for academia, industry, and policy makers by summarizing the reported data, locating the areas of major uncertainty, and identifying where further work is needed to reduce or remove this uncertainty. Overall, the range of documented estimates of methane emissions across the supply chain is vast among an aggregation of different geological formations, technologies, plant age, gas composition, and regional regulation, not to mention differences in estimation methods. Estimates of combined methane and CO2 emissions ranged from 2 to 42 g CO2 eq/MJ HHV, while methane-only emissions ranged from 0.2% to 10% of produced methane. The methane emissions at the extraction stage are the most contentious issue, with limited data available but potentially large impacts associated with well completions for unconventional gas, liquids unloading, and also the transmission stage. From the range of literature estimates, a constrained range of emissions was estimated that reflects the most recent and reliable estimates: total supply chain GHG emissions were estimated to be between 3.6 and 42.4 g CO2 eq/MJ HHV, with a central estimate of 10.5. The presence of “super emitters”, a small number of facilities or equipment that cause extremely high emissions, is found across all supply chai

Journal article

Balcombe P, Anderson K, Speirs J, Brandon N, Hawkes Aet al., 2015, Methane and CO2 emissions from the natural gas supply chain: an evidence assessment, Publisher: Sustainable Gas Institute

Report

Balcombe P, Rigby D, Azapagic A, 2015, Energy self-sufficiency, grid demand variability and consumer costs: Integrating solar PV, Stirling engine CHP and battery storage, Applied Energy, Vol: 155, Pages: 393-408, ISSN: 0306-2619

Global uptake of solar PV has risen significantly over the past four years, motivated by increased economic feasibility and the desire for electricity self-sufficiency. However, significant uptake of solar PV could cause grid balancing issues. A system comprising Stirling engine combined heat and power, solar PV and battery storage (SECHP-PV-battery) may further improve self-sufficiency, satisfying both heat and electricity demand as well as mitigating potential negative grid effects. This paper presents the results of a simulation of 30 households with different energy demand profiles using this system, in order to determine: the degree of household electricity self-sufficiency achieved; resultant grid demand profiles; and the consumer economic costs and benefits. The results indicate that, even though PV and SECHP collectively produced 30% more electricity than the average demand of 3300. kWh/yr, households still had to import 28% of their electricity demand from the grid with a 6. kWh battery. This work shows that SECHP is much more effective in increasing self-sufficiency than PV, with the households consuming on average 49% of electricity generated (not including battery contribution), compared to 28% for PV. The addition of a 6. kWh battery to PV and SECHP improves the grid demand profile by 28% in terms of grid demand ramp-up requirement and 40% for ramp-downs. However, the variability of the grid demand profile is still greater than for the conventional system comprising a standard gas boiler and electricity from the grid. These moderate improvements must be weighed against the consumer cost: with current incentives, the system is only financially beneficial for households with high electricity demand (<4300. kWh/yr). A capital grant of 24% of the installed cost of the whole micro-generation system is required to make the system financially viable for households with an average electricity demand (3300. kWh/yr).

Journal article

Balcombe P, Rigby D, Azapagic A, 2015, Environmental impacts of microgeneration: Integrating solar PV, Stirling engine CHP and battery storage, APPLIED ENERGY, Vol: 139, Pages: 245-259, ISSN: 0306-2619

Journal article

Balcombe P, Rigby D, Azapagic A, 2014, Investigating the importance of motivations and barriers related to microgeneration uptake in the UK, APPLIED ENERGY, Vol: 130, Pages: 403-418, ISSN: 0306-2619

Journal article

Balcombe P, Rigby D, Azapagica A, 2013, Motivations and barriers associated with adopting microgeneration energy technologies in the UK, RENEWABLE & SUSTAINABLE ENERGY REVIEWS, Vol: 22, Pages: 655-666, ISSN: 1364-0321

Journal article

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