May 20, 2019

Backers Say Carbon Capture Needs More Than Just Research Funds | Bloomberg

A bipartisan push to boost federal research dollars for carbon capture and removal is a welcome step, but it’s not enough to bring it to market and get it into widespread use, supporters say.

Advocates, including a former Energy Department official and representatives from fossil fuel companies, say the new bill would benefit carbon capture technologies by increasing and expanding federal dollars for research, demonstration, and deployment. But they also urged senators during a May 16 hearing Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to work on additional policies to help carbon capture technology. 

Those include ensuring bipartisan tax credits for carbon capture passed in 2018 are implemented with flexibility, building out carbon dioxide pipeline infrastructure, and amending Energy Department loans as they apply to carbon capture projects.

Carbon capture separates the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the emissions of power plants and other industrial facilities so it can be stored or used, rather than released into the atmosphere where it causes global warming. The technology has been slow to commercialize due to high costs.

“It’s really about finance now,” Julio Friedmann, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy, told senators. Friedmann previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary for the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy.

“These projects can’t be financed readily, and that’s where the policy support will prove most important,” Friedmann said.

Research Funding

The Senate energy panel’s leaders—Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairman, and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the ranking member—recently introduced a bill to authorize millions of dollars for new carbon capture research programs at the Energy Department.

The Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology (EFFECT) Act (S. 1201) has gained the support of one other Democrat, Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), and two Republicans, Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and John Hoeven (N.D.), since it was introduced April 11. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also sponsored the bill when it was introduced.

The senators’ bill would aim to bring those upfront costs down by driving more innovation and research.

The legislation would create three programs: one focused on coal and natural gas carbon capture technology, another on ways to use captured carbon, and a third on boosting carbon removal directly from the atmosphere.

“We’ve got to put our money where our mouths are and enact strong policies that will help commercialize these technologies in the near term,” Manchin said.

Pipeline Infrastructure

Some witnesses at the hearing—including Steven Winberg, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for fossil energy—stressed the need for a substantial build-out of carbon dioxide pipelines to support carbon capture.

Large-scale carbon dioxide transportation networks are needed, and they could “act as the foundation for a CO2 economy,” said Richard Jackson, senior vice president of operations support for Occidental Petroleum Corp. The company has invested heavily in carbon capture technologies paired with enhanced oil recovery.

Several witnesses pointed to another bipartisan bill, which the Senate environment committee approved April 10, that would in part streamline construction of carbon dioxide pipelines.

Administration Review

As for the research funding bill, the Trump administration is still reviewing it and hasn’t taken a position yet, Winberg told senators.

Winberg touted the Energy Department’s ongoing work on carbon capture technologies, and said the department’s goal is to cut the cost of capture in half by 2030.

The Energy Department is also researching methods to store carbon and removal technologies such as direct air capture, Winberg said. Direct air capture technology separates carbon dioxide directly from ambient air.

The “low-hanging fruit is capturing the CO2 at the source,” Winberg said, noting the concentration of carbon coming from a coal-fired power plant is much greater than from the atmosphere.

Direct air capture “can be utilized geographically broadly” but it is expensive, he added; The Energy Department is working on technologies to bring that cost down.


By:  Abby Smith