President Biden’s Early climate efforts Priority public action: rejoin the Paris Agreement, purchase clean energy and cars, and remove fossil fuel subsidies. But the government’s strategy to push the country to achieve net zero emissions also relies heavily on a more sensitive area: capturing or removing large amounts of carbon dioxide that causes global warming.
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy added “and carbon management” to its name. Signaling Traditionally, the agency’s apparent transformation has focused on developing more efficient methods to extract fossil fuels and convert them into energy. Now, the office has approximately 750 federal employees and a budget of nearly $1 billion. Its core goal is to develop better and cheaper methods to clean up the climate-polluting industry.
New priorities include: advancing technologies and processes to prevent carbon dioxide from escaping from factories and power plants, removing it from the atmosphere, converting it into new products and storing them permanently.
office Place Several researchers Focus these issues on leadership roles, including the appointment of Shuchi Talati as chief of staff.She will oversee many changes in the agency Jennifer Wilcox, Chief Deputy Assistant Secretary. Talati was previously Deputy Director of Policy for Carbon 180, a supporter of carbon removal and recycling, and a researcher for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
President Biden’s agenda is also $1 trillion infrastructure bill, The Senate has passed.It Provide billions of dollars Development Direct air capture plant A pipe that can suck carbon dioxide out of the air, a pipe that moves it, and a place where it can be buried deep underground in geological formations.
Many in the climate movement believe that carbon capture distracts from the core mission of eliminating fossil fuels as quickly as possible.And the field is riddled with failures, including various DOE-supported Idiot Like nearly 2 billion dollars FutureGen Clean Coal Project.
But studies have found that eliminating emissions and preventing dangerous warming without carbon capture and removal will be more difficult and expensive, especially in heavy industries where there are few other options.And quantity Successful business project It is growing globally, reducing emissions from steel, hydrogen and fertilizer plants.
In the next 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 strives to accelerate progress in this field.
The subsequent interview has been slightly edited for space and clarity.
Why is it important to change or expand the mission of your office?
When it comes to climate goals, especially net zero emissions, carbon management can play an increasingly important role. This means not only dealing with our ongoing emissions, but also recognizing that for every fossil fuel we burn, we must manage the carbon that comes with it.
Ensuring that these two establish contact in the name of our office is important to how the office works and how it is viewed. Because we don’t want to do any fossil fuel work that has nothing to do with mitigating the environmental impact associated with it.
How does the Department of Energy view carbon capture and storage as particularly suitable for broader efforts to accelerate decarbonization and combat climate change?
Where we can transition to renewable energy, we hope to make these choices. But where we can’t do it, CCS [carbon capture and storage] Plays a very important role. For industries such as cement, we know that CCS is absolutely necessary to capture these emissions.
We can not only capture the emissions of the actual energy required, but also the emissions released during the production process. There is no other mechanism to prevent the production of carbon dioxide in the process. CCS is just a very versatile method that can capture emissions from many of these difficult-to-decarbonize industries.
Speaking of the power industry, especially natural gas, there are many natural gas power plants that plan to retire after 2035, which is after us 100% clean power targetThis means that more than 200 GW will continue to operate on natural gas. Therefore, to keep it clean, CCS is indeed the only option.
I also want to say that for natural gas, we have never really demonstrated this technology before. Therefore, if we really want to understand the real cost and the real face of commercialization, we first need to invest in demonstration. This is indeed what our office can do.
Many climate activists believe that supporting carbon capture is similar to granting a social permit for the fossil fuel industry to continue operating. When you hear people raise these concerns, how do you respond?
I understand where many of these criticisms come from. This is not an industry that is necessarily straightforward. And I think the fact that it is combined with the fossil fuel industry is really challenging, and this is a problem we are trying to solve.
But I think when it comes to the promised infrastructure we have, especially in the industrial sector — it’s not necessarily about the fossil fuel industry, but about creating products that we know we will continue to need, such as concrete — we must Consider what this means for emissions and reach zero. There really is no other choice.
The role of our office, and the role of the federal government, is to ensure that we do this correctly, create a responsible industry, and establish environmental protection measures around this technology that may not have existed in the past.
You mentioned the role that carbon capture might play in a natural gas plant that will continue to operate for decades. However, do you expect that carbon capture will play a role in the construction of new power generation energy in the future?
To be honest, I think it really depends on the market and how private companies view their investments.
We only support reduced fossil fuels, so when constructing new natural gas, our support is very dependent on the existence of CCS infrastructure. I think one of the very important components is also reliable storage.At present, a large amount of carbon dioxide is used to improve oil recovery [freeing up remaining oil from wells] And we want to make sure that we are helping to build a durable storage infrastructure around geological reservoirs and long-term storage around CO2-to-to-products, such as building materials.
Even if this is an effective tool for certain elements of cement plants or existing natural gas plants, there are still reasons to worry about possible deception here. Emissions may be more than the company says, whether from the plant itself or from the extraction site, or because the carbon storage site is not operating as efficiently as hoped. How do we ensure that the industry does these things in a reliable way?
I think this is the role of our office, and I think this is the role of the current government. I totally agree. I think we need to ensure that reliable storage is indeed effective.We have experience in storing carbon dioxide in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, but we do not have so much experience in saline aquifers [permeable rocks filled with salt water].
We need to do demonstration projects.We need to have [monitoring, reporting, and verification] We trust, powerful, and the ability to work on a large scale. This requires government investment and real dedicated capacity.
I also think that our infrastructure has leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain. So this is actually one of our priorities in our upcoming budget: reducing methane.
This means changing the way our office used to work. We hope to shift the conversation to the extraction that is taking place to minimize the impact on the environment.
The infrastructure bill being advanced includes funding for direct air capture plants. What role does the Department of Energy believe that removing carbon directly from the air will play in tackling climate change?
Incredibly, this is the largest decarbonization investment in history. We recognize the need to focus demonstration funding for direct air capture. This fact is definitely a world first.So [the Department of Energy] It plays a very important role in helping to invest in these early technologies, demonstrating them, and truly being able to help private companies take advantage of the incredible work they have done in this field.
In terms of direct air capture, these demonstrations are very expensive. And 3.5 billion US dollars is actually not as much as most people think.
We are very excited about this technology.But I think there are others that deserve equal attention, such as Enhanced mineralization [developing ways to accelerate the natural process by which certain types of minerals capture carbon dioxide].
When we talk about engineered carbon removal, I think the enhanced mineralization has not yet been fully exposed to the sun. [Direct-air capture] It’s the first thing that comes to mind-we want to change this.Enhanced mineralization Incredible scalability.
Your attention to expanding the scale of carbon removal Potential restriction Are we capable of doing it?
This is a very important question.
Where we can reduce emissions in other ways, carbon dioxide removal should not be used. For the company, this means reducing emissions through energy efficiency, electrification or any other means. Avoiding emissions in the first place is always a top priority. Always. Because it will be cheaper, it will be more efficient to do so. Carbon removal is difficult. It is expensive. And the industry does not yet have a scale.