Carbon Capture Coalition Carbon Management 101 Virtual Media Briefing Summary
August 31, 2022 | Blog
In May, the Carbon Capture Coalition hosted a virtual briefing with leaders from across the energy, environmental, and industrial sectors who provided an overview of the growing number of projects, industries and supporters for deploying the carbon management value chain economywide – including carbon capture, removal, utilization, transport and storage. Coming from a diverse set of viewpoints, the speakers repeatedly echoed the need to scale up carbon management technologies to meet midcentury climate goals, maintain high-wage and family-sustaining jobs, and safeguard domestic energy and industrial capacity.
“Here in the U.S. we’ll need to deploy a critical mass of carbon capture, direct air capture, carbon-reuse projects, and related CO2 transport and storage infrastructure over the next decade. It’s a pretty big challenge,” declared Shannon Heyck-Williams, the Lead Climate and Energy Policy Advisor for the National Wildlife Federation at the briefing. Heyck-Williams noted the imperative to deploy carbon management infrastructure at scale and called on policymakers to “pursue a three-pronged approach to get to net-zero, of capturing and managing emissions from industry and power generation, offsetting remaining emissions from hard to decarbonize sectors, and removing legacy emissions from the atmosphere.”
Alongside Heyck-Williams, the panel included five other members of the Carbon Capture Coalition who reflect the diversity of sectors that make up the membership of the Carbon Capture Coalition, a unique bipartisan partnership between industry, conservation and environmental non-profits and unions. In addition, Coalition staff provided an overview of the current state-of-play for carbon management at the federal level and explained the technology’s role in accomplishing climate goals, decarbonizing the American economy, providing high-paying jobs to workers, and fostering domestic energy and industrial production.
As the panelists highlighted, carbon management technologies are a crucial tool to both reach economywide net-zero emissions by midcentury and meet ambitious but necessary midcentury climate goals. Representing the world’s scientific community, both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have consistently reaffirmed the need for hundreds of gigatons of CO2 removal to combat legacy emissions and limit warming to well below 2˚C
Jessie Stolark, the Public Policy & Member Relations Manager for the Carbon Capture Coalition, opened the briefing by providing an overview of the Coalition’s work on carbon management policy and some historical context of the Coalition more broadly. She noted that economywide deployment of carbon management technologies are crucial not only to meeting midcentury climate goals but will also allow for the strengthening domestic energy and industrial production, while simultaneously expanding a high-wage job base that families and communities depend upon. Stolark also closed the briefing touching briefly on the federal policy landscape for carbon management, expounding on the importance of the federal Section 45Q tax credit in then-pending climate and energy legislation (Inflation Reduction Act of 2022), as well as the recent investments in carbon management in the 2021-enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).
This blog post provides highlights from Coalition members’ remarks and discussion along with a link to the full event recording below:
Lead Climate and Energy Policy Advisor, National Wildlife Federation
In her remarks, Heyck-Williams placed carbon management within the context of broader midcentury climate goals with a focus on the role these technologies will play in decarbonizing the industrial sector. She pointed out the international consensus around the importance of decarbonizing our economy and explained that recent IPCC and IEA reports highlight the need for hundreds of gigatons of cumulative emissions reductions from industrial and power plant carbon capture facilities by 2100. She remarked, “in the U.S., we’ll need to deploy a critical mass of carbon capture, direct air capture, and carbon reuse products, and related CO2 transport and storage infrastructure over the next decade.” To accomplish this, Heyck-Williams argued for a three-pronged approach:
- Capturing and managing emissions from industry and power generation,
- Offsetting the remaining emissions from industry and hard to decarbonize sectors, and,
- Removing legacy emissions from the atmosphere through both technological means and natural approaches.
These captured emissions would need to then be transported for storage in secure geologic formations or for reuse in practical, useful products. While there is still progress needed, Heyck-Williams pointed out that the BIL is providing robust federal policy support to help boost vital CO2 transport infrastructure. She closed her remarks by calling for these technologies to be deployed equitably, pointing out that early science is showing that many carbon capture technologies also remove other pollutants which have historically harmed affected communities.
Technology and Markets Director, Clean Air Task Force
Thompson opened his remarks by talking about the current state of carbon capture and storage technologies in the United States, as well as opportunities for scaling the technology going forward. He highlighted the indispensable nature of the 45Q tax credit for carbon management projects, explaining that carbon capture is currently economically viable due to these tax credits. As he put it, if the credit value is high enough, “projects get built, and if they aren’t, they just stay on the drawing board.” As Thompson explained, it is not a question of whether the technology works, as it has a proven track-record for more than 50 years. Carbon capture is already cost effective in many industries on a cost-per-ton basis at current credit values, according to Thompson, and would see even greater success and deployment of these technologies with further expansions to the 45Q program, which were subsequently enacted in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Current 45Q incentive levels, enacted by the 2018 FUTURE Act have further enabled project deployment specifically in low-cost sources with the hardest-to-abate sectors falling behind. As Thompson explained, the cost of the technology can vary by source, using the examples of ethanol, which comes with a combined capture and sequestration cost of $37 to $55 per metric ton, compared to capture and storage at gas plants, which costs around $79 to $88 per metric ton. While the credit values enacted as part of the 2018 FUTURE Act ($50 per metric ton) already allow for some projects in low-cost areas like ethanol, ammonia, and gas processing, we will see increased deployment of projects in higher cost of capture industries (including cement, steel, and hydrogen) with increased credit values enacted as part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Thompson closed his remarks by discussing the necessity for expanded pipeline infrastructure to properly utilize and sequester captured CO2. He explained that the U.S. has built over 5,000 miles of pipeline infrastructure since the 1970s, which has moved over 500 million tons of CO2 over that same period. As Thompson outlined, this is a well-established commercial endeavor with an impeccable safety record far surpassing the safety record of other types of pipelines that carry fossil fuels. He explained that to meet decarbonization goals, this web of CO2 pipelines will need to expand by around 20,000 to 30,000 miles. The SCALE Act, included as part of the BIL, provides a framework for expanding this network, Thompson stated, but more will need to be done to grow this critical infrastructure.
Vice President, Business Development, Carbon Capture Inc.
Loria focused her remarks on the future of direct air capture technology, highlighting its indispensability to achieving international climate goals of staying below 1.5 ˚C warming of global surface temperatures. Direct air capture (DAC), the process of using technology to separate CO2 from the atmosphere, is recommended as a necessary technology by both the IPCC and the IEA. As she explained, both scientific organizations have indicated that the world has already emitted too many cumulative carbon emissions to stay below that target even if carbon emissions ceased immediately, making this technology indispensable to both addressing hard-to-abate emissions and removing legacy emissions from the atmosphere.
Loria went on to explain that the industry has seen widescale corporate and stakeholder buy-in, with organizations and corporations working with DAC companies to ensure that they can scale up quickly while keeping costs down. In Loria’s view this is the best way to lower the cost of the process, as widespread commercial deployment of this technology will cause it to be more cost effective in the future. While the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law granted $4.5 billion to four regional DAC hubs, those facilities will not be able to be constructed and placed in service until later in the decade. As Loria explained, this deployment must be accelerated, as leading companies and corporate buyers agree that we must deploy the technology now if we want to fulfil the Department of Energy’s Carbon Negative Shot target of $100 per ton of carbon captured through direct air capture.
The $180 per ton credit value for direct air capture technologies as provided in the recently-enacted Inflation Reduction Act, combined with the BIL’s DAC hubs, will allow the first generation of commercial DAC facilities to break ground. The further development of other green energy technologies will also serve to lower the price of direct air capture, Loria said, as certain forms such as concentrated nuclear, solar, and geothermal energy are particularly useful in providing the heat and energy necessary for DAC technologies to operate cleanly.
Loria also went into the current status of the deployment of direct air technologies. She explained that while carbon capture can be seen by some as a futuristic solution, “these are things that are already happening today, so this isn’t a technology of the future, it’s a technology of today.” There are already nineteen facilities capturing CO2 directly from the air globally, with many more projects in the pipeline. Loria touched on one of these facilities, the Orca facility, which was opened in Iceland last year and currently has capacity to store 4,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. While this is not the level of capture needed to meet midcentury climate objectives, these facilities have the potential to scale up, with Loria using the example of a facility being piloted by Carbon Capture Inc. with the geologic sequestration potential to reach 5 megatons of annual CO2 capture within five years. Currently, DAC project development is centered in areas of appropriate geologic storage, but Loria argued that to achieve the multi-gigaton levels required to reach midcentury climate goals, it will require supportive CO2 transport infrastructure to move captured CO2 from DAC hubs to areas with high-sequestration potential.
Staff Geoscientist, Clean Air Task Force
Grove focused his remarks on the status of carbon storage technologies in the U.S., and their importance to meeting decarbonization goals. As he explained, geologic storage provides a means of safely and permanently storing captured CO2 deep within the earth’s subsurface, “essentially returning carbon to where it came from.” This process typically occurs either in oil and gas bearing formations, such as depleted oil wells, or in saline aquifers, referred to as saline storage, and may also occur in other appropriate geologic formations.
As Grove pointed out, saline storage represents the vast majority of storage potential both in the U.S. and globally and is a rapidly upscaling technology. This process injects captured CO2 deep into the earth, typically about a mile deep, using a reservoir rock to take in and store injected carbon, and an impermeable top layer called a cap rock which traps CO2 and prevents its escape. Geologic storage is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, with significant monitoring, reporting, and verification to ensure secure storage of the CO2 and protect sources of underground drinking water. Grove further explained that this is a safe and well-established process, with risks being exceedingly low at properly characterized sites, and continuing to decline post-injection. To this point, Grove highlighted the quarter billion metric tons of CO2 emissions that have been successfully stored in secure saline formations since the 1970s.
Grove concluded by outlining the future of carbon storage. While there is a public perception that CO2 storage projects target enhanced oil recovery and serve to perpetuate the production of fossil fuels, this is no longer the case, according to Grove. He highlighted a Clean Air Task Force report which has tracked announced storage projects since the FUTURE Act’s monumental reforms to the 45Q tax credit in 2018, which found that nearly 70 percent of the more than 120 publicly announced capture or direct air capture projects have targeted saline storage. In Grove’s view, this trend towards saline storage is not only due to higher tax credits for such projects but is also compounded by the larger natural sequestration opportunity that saline storage presents. As he argued, the U.S.’s massive potential for CO2 storage represents a significant long-scale climate solution, as domestic saline storage capacity is estimated to represent over 1,000 years’ worth of US carbon emissions. Tapping into this CO2 storage potential will be of paramount importance to meeting midcentury climate goals, as “scaling up the development and permitting of saline storage is going to be really key to achieving industrial deep decarbonization.”
Vice President, Public Policy, LanzaTech
In his remarks, Dower highlighted the process of carbon utilization, discussing the ways that captured CO2 and its precursor carbon monoxide (CO) can be used to make useful commercial products. As he explained, utilization companies like LanzaTech recycle captured CO2 through gas fermentation, to create products that will continue to require carbon as their basic building blocks even in a net-zero future. This recycled carbon can be diverted into low-carbon fuels, chemicals, materials, and other products. Besides creating useful goods, Dower argued that this process can benefit communities disproportionately affected by pollution by capturing carbon-rich gasses which would typically pollute the atmosphere and diverting them to useful purposes. Dower also pointed out that the carbon utilization market is expected to expand wildly, as estimates for the market’s future range from tens of billions of dollars by 2030, to an over $1 trillion dollar market by 2050.
While Dower pointed out that CO2 storage is still necessary to store large amounts of captured carbon to meet midcentury climate goals, storage and utilization are complimentary processes which are not in competition. Even with storage, utilization still serves a crucial role in decarbonizing, as Dower explained that, currently, “there’s a good proportion of oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids that are going into non-fuel needs.” For carbon-based consumer goods like plastics and polyesters, recycling captured carbon is a low-emission, cost-effective way to create a circular economy and prevent waste. As he pointed out, this has led to increased interest in the technology from Congress, the Biden Administration, and investors, as they have come to understand how crucial carbon utilization is to accomplishing a net-zero future.
Marketing Manager, LIUNA Minnesota and North Dakota
In Pranis’ remarks, he highlighted the importance of ensuring that the transition towards a net-zero future is equitable to workers, and highlighted carbon management’s unique potential to provide high paying jobs in a low-emissions future. He touched on a fundamental problem with decarbonization, explaining that the industries currently associated with high levels of direct or indirect carbon emissions have historically been a source of high-quality jobs, carrying with them middle-class wages and benefits.
In Pranis’ view, it is imperative to “make sure that the clean-energy-economy jobs of the future are as good and as available to local workers as jobs in the conventional energy economy have been.” The Carbon management industries provide a unique opportunity for these workers by both allowing policymakers to address climate change, while simultaneously allowing current high-emission industries to remain competitive and continue to employ people in a low-carbon world.
As Pranis argued, other green energy industries like solar and wind are going to be major employers but are only a partial solution, as they cannot supply the breadth of skilled jobs present in the current energy economy. Carbon management can bridge the gap by not only maintaining current jobs, but by also creating new skilled high-paying jobs in retrofitting facilities and creating new carbon management infrastructure projects which can employ workers displaced from other industries.