Opportunities for carbon capture in California

California has demonstrated leadership in setting ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The state’s target: Reduce emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

While California is reducing emissions and expanding clean energy through many means, including a cap-and-trade program, the state appears to be underestimating the effectiveness and readiness of carbon capture technology and how it could help California reach its goal.

In consensus comments on the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) draft 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update, a diverse group of nonprofits (including C2ES); environmental groups; and oil, gas, and ethanol companies outlined the current state of carbon capture deployment, the technology’s benefits, and how California could address roadblocks that may be hindering its deployment.

State of technology

Carbon capture technology has been deployed in U.S. commercial-scale industrial facilities since the early 1970s, including at natural gas processing plants and fertilizer production plants. The comment letter lists more than a dozen notable U.S. projects.

Most recently, Archer Daniels Midland’s Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage project – the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture project on ethanol — began operations in April. More than 1 million tons of CO2 will be captured and stored in Mount Simon sandstone. Carbon capture on biofuels could one day lead to negative emissions, since bioenergy crops absorb greenhouse gases as they grow.   

Earlier this year, NRG finished – on time and under budget – the first American retrofit of a coal-fired power plant with carbon capture technology and the largest of its kind in the world. 

The NRG Petra Nova project near Houston, Texas, is capturing about 1.6 million tons of CO2 annually for use in enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR). Studies have documented the net benefit to the climate of CO2-EOR using manmade CO2.

Carbon capture benefits

Carbon capture plays an important role in reducing emissions at a lower cost than other scenarios modelled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the industrial sector, the International Energy Agency (IEA) concluded there are no practical alternatives to the use of carbon capture technology to achieve deep decarbonization.

Accelerating carbon capture deployment also could have co-benefits for environmental justice because carbon capture retrofits are often accompanied by improvements to promote efficiency and reduce sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Next generation technologies could do even more:

  • NET Power’s Allam Cycle technology, which is being tested at the 50-megawatt scale, could generate power from natural gas with near zero CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions, while also eliminating the need to use water for cooling.
  • The Lake Charles Methanol project in Louisiana, which recently received a conditional commitment for a Department of Energy loan guarantee, would capture CO2 from a process that converts waste petcoke from refining into methanol, hydrogen, and other chemicals, eliminating harmful emissions.
  • FuelCell Energy’s technology isolates carbon emissions from power plants, while simultaneously producing power. The fuel cells also eliminate 70 percent of the plant’s nitrogen oxide emissions.

What California can do

California has certainly taken positive steps on carbon capture. As noted in our comments, a major step forward is CARB’s progress toward drafting and adopting a Quantification Methodology (QM) for determining how to account for emissions reductions from carbon capture and storage. The concept paper was released April 17.

Looking forward, the pace of carbon capture deployment in California may be determined largely by legal, regulatory and policy considerations. Among the recommendations for CARB in our consensus comments were:

  • Identify carbon capture on the menu of CO2 reduction strategies not only for industrial sources, but also in the power sector, and identify a range of emission reductions that could come from carbon capture deployment in those sectors. ?
  • Consider and update the recommendations of the CCS Review Panel to identify steps needed to ensure that carbon capture could be implemented by 2025.
  • In addition to developing a regulatory monitoring, reporting, verification, and implementation methodology, identify any barriers in current regulatory programs that impede carbon capture deployment.  
  • Identify the potential for synergies between carbon capture and the reduction of other emissions (toxics and criteria pollutants) at large point sources and recommend additional work to analyze these synergies.
  • Consider whether the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard should be revised so that carbon capture is not required to take place onsite at the crude oil production facility.  The highest priority should be for the CO2 to be transported to and injected at a site with suitable geological characteristics for safe storage.
  • Consider allowing credit for CO2 emissions captured outside of crude oil production facilities if it leads to a lower-carbon energy input into the fuel supply chain of the crude oil.

California should be commended for its leadership in setting an ambitious emissions-cutting goal and charting a path toward reaching it. California can also lead by addressing key policy and regulatory questions to ensure that carbon capture is part of its overall plan.  

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Comments, posted here, were from: California Resources Corporation, Chevron, Clean Air Task Force, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Conestoga Energy, EBR Development LLC, 8 Rivers, Global CCS Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Occidental Petroleum, Shell, Steyer-Taylor Center, and White Energy.