Why carbon capture is a critical part of Biden’s climate plans

that of President Biden first climate efforts Priority popular actions: adherence to the Paris Agreement, purchase of clean energy and vehicles, and elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. But the administration’s strategies to drive the nation towards net zero emissions also rely heavily, if less obviously, on a more delicate area: capturing or eliminating huge amounts of carbon dioxide that causes global warming. .

In July, the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy added “and carbon management” to its name, signage a distinct shift from an agency traditionally focused on developing more efficient ways to extract fossil fuels and convert them into energy. Now, the office’s central goal, backed by around 750 federal employees and a budget of nearly $ 1 billion, is to develop better and cheaper ways to clean up climate-polluting industries.

Shuchi Talati, Chief of Staff in the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.


New priorities include: advancing technologies and techniques that can prevent CO2 from escaping factories and power plants, remove it from the atmosphere, turn it into new products and store it forever.

Office put several researchers focused on these issues in leadership roles, including the appointment of Shuchi Talati as chief of staff. She will oversee many of the changes within the agency alongside Jennifer wilcox, the Deputy Principal Under-Secretary. Talati was previously deputy policy director of Carbon 180, an advocate of carbon disposal and recycling, and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

President Biden’s agenda is also played out in the A trillion dollar infrastructure bill, which the Senate has already adopted. This provides billions of dollars develop direct air collection systems which can suck CO2 from the air, from pipelines to move it, and from sites where it may be buried in deep geological formations.

Many members of the climate movement argue that carbon capture is a distraction from the primary mission of phasing out fossil fuels as quickly as possible. And the field is littered with failures, including a variety of programs supported by the Department of Energy. boondoggles like the nearly $ 2 billion FutureGen Clean Coal Project.

But research shows that it will be much more difficult and costly to eliminate emissions and avoid dangerous levels of warming without carbon capture and removal, especially in heavy industries where there are few other options. And the number of successful business projects is expanding worldwide, reducing emissions from steel, hydrogen and fertilizer factories.

In the following interview, I asked Talati what role carbon capture should play in our response to climate change and how the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management is working to accelerate progress on the ground.

The following interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

Why was it important to change or expand the mandate of your office?

When it comes to climate goals, especially net zero, carbon management has an increasingly important role to play. This means not only dealing with our continued emissions, but recognizing that for each type of fossil fuel burned, we must manage the resulting carbon.

Making sure these two were logged in with our office name is important to how that office does its job and how it is viewed. Because we don’t want to do any work on fossil fuels that is not related to the mitigation of the environmental impacts associated with it.

How does the Ministry of Energy see carbon capture and storage as a specific part of the larger effort to accelerate decarbonization and tackle climate change?

Where we can shift to renewables, we want to make those choices. But where we can’t, CCS [carbon capture and storage] has a really important role to play. With industries like cement, we know that CCS is absolutely essential to capture these emissions.

We can capture not only the emissions of the actual energy that is needed, but the emissions released during the production process, where there are no other mechanisms to prevent this CO2. CCS is just one incredibly versatile way to capture emissions from many of these hard-to-decarbonize sectors.

When it comes to the electricity industry, when it comes to natural gas, in particular, there are a lot of natural gas power plants that are not expected to retire until 2035, i.e. after our 100% clean electricity target. This represents more than 200 gigawatts which will continue to operate on natural gas. So to keep it clean, CCS is really the only option.

I also want to say that for natural gas, we have never really demonstrated this technology before. So if we really want to understand the real costs and what the commercialization will actually look like, we have to invest in the demonstration first. This is really what our office could do.

Supporting carbon capture is seen by many climate activists as tantamount to giving the fossil fuel industry a social license to keep operating. How do you react when you hear people raising these concerns?

I understand where a lot of this criticism is coming from. This industry has not necessarily been straightforward. And I think the fact that it’s coupled with the fossil fuel industry is really a challenge, and it’s something we’re grappling with.

But I think in terms of the committed infrastructure that we have, and particularly in the industrial sector – where it’s not necessarily the fossil fuel industry, but the creation of products that we know that we will continue to need, like concrete – we have to think about what that means for emissions and get to zero. There really are no other options.

The role of our office, and the role of the federal government, is to make sure that we do this right and create a responsible industry and put environmental protections in place around this technology that may not have existed in the past. the past.

You mentioned the role that carbon capture can play for natural gas plants that will continue to operate for decades. But do you think carbon capture will play a role in building new power generation energy in the future?

Honestly, I think it really depends on the market and how private companies view their investments.

We only support reduced fossil fuels, so when it comes to building new natural gas, our support depends a lot on whether or not this CCS infrastructure is present. And I think a very important part of that, too, is reliable storage. Currently, a lot of CO2 is used for improved oil recovery [freeing up remaining oil from wells] and we want to make sure that we help build sustainable storage infrastructure, around geological reservoirs and around CO2 products that have long-term storage, such as building materials.

While this can be an effective tool for cement plants or for some parts of existing natural gas plants, there is still a reasonable fear that there could be tampering here. These emissions could escape more than companies say, either from the factories themselves or from the extraction sites, or because the carbon storage sites are not functioning as efficiently as hoped. How do we make sure the industry is doing these things reliably?

I think that’s the role of our office, and I think that’s the role of this administration. I totally agree. I think we need to make sure that the reliable storage is actually working. We have experience with how CO2 was stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, but we do not have as much experience with saline aquifers. [permeable rocks filled with salt water].

We need to do demonstration projects. We must have [monitoring, reporting, and verification] capabilities that we trust, that are robust and that work at scale. And that requires investment from government and really dedicated capacity.

I also think our infrastructure is leaking throughout the natural gas supply chain. So this is actually one of the priorities that we have included in our next budget: reducing methane.

It means changing the way our office has often worked in the past. We want to shift the conversation to have the least possible impact on the environment of the mining that occurs.

The proposed infrastructure bill includes funding for direct air collection plants. What role does the Ministry of Energy see as direct carbon removal from the air in efforts to combat climate change?

It’s incredibly exciting that this is the biggest investment in carbon elimination in history. Our recognition of the need for targeted demonstration funds for direct aerial capture is the first of its kind globally. And so [the Department of Energy] plays a very important role in helping to invest in these early technologies, demonstrate them and really be able to help private companies take advantage of the incredible work that they have done in this space.

When it comes to capturing the air directly, these demonstrations are incredibly expensive. And $ 3.5 billion doesn’t go as far as most people think.

We are incredibly excited about this technology. But there are others that I think deserve equal attention, like enhanced mineralization [developing ways to accelerate the natural process by which certain types of minerals capture carbon dioxide].

When we talk about artificial carbon removal, I think the enhanced mineralization hasn’t quite had its time in the sun yet. [Direct-air capture] is the first thing that comes to mind and we want to change that. The enhanced mineralization has incredible scalability.

What do you think about the tension, or if there is tension, between increasing the removal of carbon, but also being aware of the potential limits on our ability to do so?

This is an extremely important question.

Removal of carbon dioxide should not be applied in cases where we can reduce emissions by other means. For companies, this means reducing their emissions through energy efficiency, electrification or other means. Avoiding emissions first is always the priority. Always. Because it’s going to be cheaper, it’s going to be more efficient to do it. Removing carbon is difficult. It’s expensive. And the industry does not yet exist on a large scale.

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