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.  

 

Measuring and managing climate change impacts through financial reporting

carney bloomberg photo

Photo courtesy of Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and task force chairman Michael Bloomberg at the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures recommendations report launch.

Most large companies recognize the risks climate change poses to their facilities, operations, and supply and distribution chains. And many of these companies are letting their stakeholders know how climate risks and opportunities will affect their bottom line.

Currently, much of this information is made public through voluntary reporting to non-profit organizations, in corporate sustainability reports, and, for publicly-traded companies, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In our research on company strategies to manage climate risks and opportunities, we have found that the quality of reporting and level of detail varies extensively from company to company, and sector to sector.

Reflecting the growing importance of climate change as a material set of risks for companies to manage, finance ministers from 20 major economies asked the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to review the financial implications of climate change. The G-20 Finance Ministers established the FSB after the 2008 financial crisis to monitor and make recommendations on the global financial system. The FSB convened an industry-led task force  to develop voluntary recommendations to better, and more consistently, integrate into financial filings the risks and opportunities posed by physical climate impacts and the transition to a lower carbon economy. 

In a speech, “The Tragedy of the Horizon,” describing the impetus for creating the FSB task force, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said: “We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix.”

In December 2016, the task force, chaired by Michael Bloomberg, released recommendations focused on four areas of climate-related financial disclosure:  governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets. 

C2ES commends the task force on its efforts to shine a light on the risks we are already facing from climate change, and to enhance the transparency we need to better understand and address them over the long term. 

In our comments submitted on the recommendations, we suggested that the task force:

  • Provide additional guidance on the timeframes companies would use for conducting scenario analysis of their business models and portfolios. For example, if a company is reviewing an investment with a short time horizon, a scenario running out to 2050 or longer might not be helpful.
  • Provide additional guidance for companies on how to select the appropriate scenario tools to assess climate risks.
  • Provide additional guidance on how mainstream financial filings can interact with corporate sustainability reports in a consistent way given that financial data and sustainability data have different levels of precision and timelines.
  • Consider how implementation of the recommendations could involve a “maturity model” that would allow companies to self-assess their progress, benchmark against peers, and influence executive decision-making. An example of this type of model is the Electric Power Research Institute’s Electric Power Sustainability Maturity Model.
  • Provide additional implementation guidance for sectors that the recommendations currently do not reference specifically, such as for information technology, telecommunications, health care, consumer products, and professional services.  Translating climate risks and opportunities into material financial impacts on income statements and balance sheets requires sector-specific guidance. As a starting point, the recommendations provide sector-specific guidance for sectors with high greenhouse gas emissions and energy and water use. Climate-related financial disclosures will be more helpful if they are adopted economy-wide so additional sector-specific guidance may be useful.
  • Engage with stakeholders to identify ways to promote consistency across voluntary reporting regimes to reduce the burden on data preparers.

Many companies will be interested in demonstrating to investors and stakeholders that they are reviewing their corporate sustainability reports and environmental, social, and governance disclosures in line with the task force’s recommendations. An iterative process for enhancing climate-related financial disclosure will likely be needed to make this possible.

We believe the task force recommendations will help ensure that companies take a long view and avoid the “tragedy of the horizon.”

 

How about using that captured carbon?

carbon shoes

These "shoes without a footprint" were made from carbon that was captured from power production.

Photo courtesy NRG

Imagine if the carbon dioxide (CO2) that emerges from smokestacks at coal- and natural gas-fired power plants and steel and cement facilities could actually be used for something.

Some innovators are imagining just that.

For even more creative ideas, just look at the semi-finalists for the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon X Prize.

Research teams from around the world submitted ideas for using CO2 in building materials, paint, fertilizers, plastics, and even toothpaste. Other ideas include CO2-based fuels and carbon nanotubes that could be used to make environmentally sustainable lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries. The prize will be awarded in 2020 after the top ideas are tested in real-world conditions.

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is contributing to a changing climate that is bringing more frequent and intense heat waves, downpours, and drought and rising sea levels. Capturing CO2 from power plants and industrial sources will help reduce these harmful emissions.

In the U.S., we have been capturing CO2 from manmade sources such as commercial-scale natural gas processing plants since the early 1970s. We can offset the costs of capturing and storing carbon dioxide and increase the number of carbon capture projects if we put the CO2 to work.

One way this is already being done is with carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR), where pressurized CO2 is pumped into already developed oil fields to get out more of the oil. CO2-EOR boosts domestic energy production, makes use of already developed oil fields, and stores carbon dioxide underground.

C2ES co-convenes a coalition of industry, labor, and environmental groups encouraging greater deployment of carbon capture technology for CO2-EOR. There’s bipartisan support for incentivizing technologies to capture carbon dioxide from manmade sources and put it to use in marketable ways.

The U.S. produces 300,000 barrels per day, or nearly 3.5 percent of our annual domestic oil production, through CO2-EOR. But we’re mostly using CO2 that isn’t from manmade sources.

For every barrel of oil produced using manmade CO2, there is a net CO2 storage of 0.19 metric tons even considering the emissions from the oil, according to the International Energy Agency and Clean Air Task Force. In other words, EOR using power plant CO2 results in a 63 percent net reduction of the total injected volume of CO2 or a 37 percent reduction in the life cycle emissions from oil.

At the end of 2016, NRG completed construction on Petra Nova, the first American retrofit of a coal-fired power plant to capture CO2 emissions, which are then used for EOR. The Texas project was on schedule and on budget. It’s capturing more than 90 percent of the CO2 from a 240 MW slipstream of flue gas from an existing coal unit at the WA Parish plant. It’s now the largest project of its kind in the world.

Finding more ways to turn carbon dioxide from an energy and industrial sector waste product to a useful commodity could spur the development of new technologies and products while limiting climate-altering pollutants. There’s promise, but also scientific, regulatory, and market challenges.

The Global CO2 Initiative, which advocates a mix of policy, research funding, collaboration, and infrastructure improvements to accelerate commercial deployment, estimates that the size of the global CO2 non-EOR utilization market could be as large as $700 billion by 2030. Aside from EOR, we could be using 7 billion metric tons of CO2 per year for fuels, concrete, polymers and more. That’s about 15 percent of current global CO2 emissions.

The new administration and new Congress need to consider how best to incentivize continued research, development, and commercial-scale application of CO2 utilization. With the right policy incentives, the U.S. can take a leadership role in this vital technology.

How the first US offshore wind project holds lessons for carbon capture

Top: Siemens 2.3 MW Offshore Wind Turbines, courtesy Siemens Press.

Bottom: The ADA-ES 1 MWe pilot unit, courtesy US Department of Energy.

This fall, America’s first offshore wind farm will come online off the coast of Rhode Island, launching a new industry with the potential to create clean energy jobs in manufacturing and in the marine trades, attract private investment to New England, and reduce carbon emissions.

In Europe, the number of offshore wind farms grew from zero to 84 in just a few decades. What lessons can we draw from the growth of offshore wind that could help advance carbon capture technology?

State Leadership

New energy technologies often need both state and federal support to be deployed commercially. Rhode Island has been a leader in supporting offshore wind. In 2010, its legislature authorized a state utility to enter into an offtake agreement for offshore wind power. This year, Massachusetts did the same, and New York announced a new Offshore Wind blueprint.

Rhode Island also brought stakeholders together to create an Oceanic Special Area Management Plan outlining multiple uses for the marine environment. These efforts laid the groundwork for Deepwater Wind to develop the Block Island Wind Farm, a 30 MW, five-turbine project that can provide power for most of Block Island’s 1,051 residents.

Similar state policies could help deploy more carbon capture technology as well. A handful of states have clean energy standards that include carbon capture technology, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Utah. This year, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock highlighted carbon capture in his state’s Energy Future Blueprint. Other states could follow this model.

Both the Western Governors’ Association and the Southern States Energy Board have issued resolutions supporting carbon capture technology as did the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners

Financing Support

National policies and early financing support played a role in the success of offshore wind projects in Europe. A report by the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute noted that European nations included offshore wind in national energy policies and established feed-in tariffs to provide incentives for deployment.

Multilateral development banks like the European Investment Bank played a leadership role by lending to early offshore wind projects, paving the way for commercial banks to follow. Once these major factors were in place, then technology development, the establishment of standardized contract structures, and maintaining a certain level of deal flow helped drive efficiencies that brought down costs.

When it comes to financing carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) in the U.S., we have some pieces of the puzzle in place. There is already a basic federal and state regulatory framework for underground storage of CO2, for example.

Still, financing policies are needed to enable investment in carbon capture projects. We should extend and expand commercial deployment incentives like tax credits and open up the use of master limited partnerships and private activity bonds to carbon capture, among other things.     

Regional Approach

A third lesson to draw from offshore wind is that to create new domestic industries, it helps to take a regional approach. Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced funding for a multi-state effort for offshore wind in the Northeast to develop a regional supply chain.  

DOE is taking a similar approach with CCUS and launched seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships to characterize CO2 storage potential in the U.S. and to conduct small and large-scale CO2 storage injection tests. Millions of tons of CO2 have already been stored for decades in West Texas as part of enhanced oil recovery operations. The regional partnerships characterized the potential for more CO2 storage in deep oil-, gas-, coal-, and saline-bearing formations as illustrated in the Carbon Storage Atlas. To date, the partnerships have safely and permanently injected more than 10 million metric tons of CO2 in these types of formations.    

Investing seriously in carbon capture technology has economic benefits including for electrical workers, boilermakers, the building trades, and steelworkers. A new CO2 commodity industry could be created to reuse CO2 to make other products.

Carbon capture also has environmental benefits, helping us address emissions from industrial plants, which are the source of 21 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and from coal and natural gas power plants, which currently supply two-thirds of U.S. electricity.

This fall, as we celebrate the beginning of the new offshore wind industry in the U.S., let’s keep thinking big about what is possible with carbon capture technology. With sufficient financial and policy support, we can create skilled jobs, attract private investment, and lower CO2 emissions.  

Putting carbon capture technology in context

 

Photos by Dennis Schroeder / NREL, Iberdrola Renewables, Inc., U.S. Department of Energy

Wind and solar power were once considered expensive and were not widely deployed. Today, skeptics say the same about technology to capture, use and store carbon dioxide emissions (CCUS or carbon capture).

So what lessons can we draw from the experience of the wind and solar industries as they’ve become more mainstream to facilitate a faster and broader deployment of carbon capture technology?

Wind Energy

The cost of wind energy has declined by more than 60 percent since 2009 and average nameplate capacity increased 180 percent between 1998-99 to 2015. These improvements have led to an installed wind capacity of 74,821 MW in the United States, enough electricity to power nearly 20 million average U.S. homes every year.  

These wind energy milestones in cost reduction, performance improvements, and scale of deployment were supported by the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal deployment incentive. It’s reasonable to assume that the PTC would have been even more successful if it had been maintained consistently instead of experiencing periods of uncertainty regarding its fate, leading to boom-and-bust wind power development cycles.

Ongoing federal research and development (R&D) also spurred improved wind industry technology. For example, in 2007, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory initiated the Gearbox Reliability Collaborative in response to industry-wide technology challenges. That research led to improved gearbox designs, reducing the overall cost of wind energy and showing how collaborative industry efforts and federal support for R&D can resolve performance challenges.  

Solar Energy

Solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies experienced similar dramatic cost declines due to economies of scale and improved manufacturing and performance. The cost of utility-scale solar has fallen more than 54 percent since 2011. The efficiency of all PV cells steadily improved between 1975 and 2010, supported by multi-decade R&D programs like the Department of Energy’s Thin Film PV Partnership.

These cost declines and performance improvements were facilitated by the Investment Tax Credit, another federal deployment-focused incentive, and the Section 1603 Treasury program, a federal loan guarantee mechanism to support project financing. Strong state policies like the California Renewables Portfolio Standard enabled developers to enter into above-market power purchase agreements. The experience of utility-scale solar PV demonstrates that overlapping policies are essential to achieve financing for first-of-a-kind projects.

Lessons for carbon capture

We can draw three key conclusions from wind and solar energy’s experience:

  • Stable, long-term deployment incentives that build on previous public and private investments in technology research, development and demonstration (RD&D) are essential to facilitate a large volume of projects;
  • As more projects are deployed, costs are reduced through economies of scale, learning from experience, and technological innovation;
  • Ongoing government support for RD&D can deliver cost reductions by supporting innovation and overcoming performance challenges.

In contrast to wind and solar, the U.S. lacks an effective federal incentive for commercial deployment of CCUS—despite being a world leader in public and private RD&D for early stage technology demonstration. Fifteen commercial-scale CCUS projects are operating globally; eight of those are in the United States. But that’s not nearly enough to meet our mid-century climate goals.

Carbon capture can be used at coal- or natural gas-fired power plants, which are baseload generation resources. It’s also the only way to reduce carbon emissions from some industrial plants, such as facilities producing chemicals, steel, and cement.  Also, over the long-term, we’ll need to integrate biomass energy systems with carbon capture (BECCS). Combining the capture of photosynthetic carbon from biomass with CCUS can enable negative emissions.

While first-of-a-kind, commercial-scale CCUS projects are expensive, we know that as more projects come online, they will become cheaper. SaskPower estimates it could cut costs by up to 30 percent on the next unit to be retrofitted following its current experience operating the world’s first commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant carbon capture project. Developers are exploring novel approaches, including the Exxon and Fuel Cell Energy partnership and the Exelon-supported NET Power project, that have the potential to reduce costs still further. 

It’s essential to extend and expand tax incentives for carbon capture, update state laws to include CCUS technology in clean energy standards, and fund continued carbon capture  RD&D, among other things, if we are going to reach our emissions-cutting goals.