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Will Climate Bill Transform the Carbon Capture Business?

Photo illustration: Intelligence.Photo: Getty Images

Many of the provisions of the $369 billion inflation cut bill being worked on by the Senate do exist, including tax credits for renewable energy programs that already power major cities and rebates for electric vehicles already on the road. related to supporting industries. But there is one key policy designed for the industry that has yet to materialize. The bill would include a full overhaul of the tax credit, known as 45Q, and in some cases triple the reward for companies removing the tax credit, providing a significant boost to early carbon capture programs. It contains. tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The goal of CO2 capture is straightforward. Extracting CO2 from industrial sources or directly from the air and storing it underground or converting it to a solid. So far, the technology has been too expensive to scale, costing as much as $600 per tonne of carbon. With more than 36.3 billion tonnes of emissions worldwide in 2021, the industry will need to bring its prices down significantly in order to scale up enough to impact future emissions reductions. Experts hope incentives like this bill — including credits from $50 to $180 per tonne for direct capture — will help kickstart commercial-scale carbon capture. To understand how this bill will affect the industry, I spoke to her Jenny Y. Yang, a chemist at the University of California, Irvine. He is researching ways to capture carbon dioxide through electricity.

2020 research found More than 80% of projects attempting to capture carbon dioxide on a commercial level have failed. What does it take to get to the point of success? Are failures just part of a larger goal?
Existing technology tends to be very expensive, which is not unexpected for new technology. But they are generally not very efficient. The biggest barrier so far has been the lack of incentives for it. The law provides these monetized incentives.

A program called 45Q was the first to offer incentives for carbon capture. Beyond 45Q, the new bill provides greater incentives and extends the deadline for infrastructure credits from 2025 to 2032. This is very important. Adopting technology takes time. A longer timeline allows us to include more new and promising infrastructure. So we are still building a lot of fossil fuel plants and having time to incorporate carbon capture would be more effective. cannot be expanded with

Could you describe the electrochemical carbon capture you are working on?
A good example of early stage technology. Much of the carbon capture that has been addressed so far uses thermal energy. Combining it with a fossil fuel plant makes some sense because there is waste heat that can be recovered to fuel the process.

However, if one wants to think about recovering or recovering air directly from a point source like cement production, which has no residual heat source to drive the process or reduce costs, it becomes very inefficient. What we are doing is using electrochemistry or electrochemical potential. Electricity The simplest way to describe it is to drive CO2 capture and concentration. It’s relatively new, but it has the potential to be significantly more efficient and cheaper in the sense that it doesn’t require heat. And when renewable energy gets cheaper, it gets cheaper too. It has a much higher upper bound in terms of cost and overall efficiency, but is still in its infancy compared to traditional methods, for example using pilot plants.

You need that investment. What we have now is not very good. Before you can put these things anywhere, you have to invest.

Will this bill affect research like yours?
Because we tend to do more basic research, it will in a sense encourage investment in potentially cheaper technologies. Because it creates a price for captured carbon and gives efficiency and overall process cost targets. Quite impactful in fact is that the DOE announced last year that it has a Carbon Negative Shot initiative, setting a price for captured carbon by 2030. My understanding is that the funding or initiative is distributed across the board, so this is also very effective. All departments, from basic science to pilot plant deployment, can apply for this funding.

This is very important because I’m not sure we all did our best basic science first. You may not have the best possible and you should apply what you have, but if in 10 years you have the potential to do something better, you should also invest in it .

The maximum credit is $180 per tonne of carbon for direct atmospheric capture. Why are legislators giving the technology the greatest incentive?
Much of the industrial recovery is considered carbon neutral. Because you’re just using a carbon source, you’re not emitting carbon. But eventually you will need direct air recovery. That makes it carbon negative and helps mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

People are very excited to catch the air directly. But if we have the energy to do that, we must first decarbonize, decarbonize. Once our infrastructure no longer emits carbon dioxide, we can consider capturing the air directly.

What did the United States do to promote carbon capture prior to this bill?
Considering the situation before 45Q, it is an improvement. It’s not perfect, but taking these steps is very important. Prior to 45Q, there were no incentives.

It’s hard, but think about how much you’re investing in your current industry. What we have invested in carbon capture pales in comparison. We just haven’t worked hard and we can’t do it without a carbon tax, carbon credits, or one of these incentives. If we could release CO2 freely into the atmosphere, why not keep doing what we are doing?

The lack of federal funding is tempting.we are already bet on this technology It helps us reach our emissions goals, but we haven’t really started to put a lot of money into it.
It’s techno-optimism. Someone will solve it and we will be saved. I’m concerned about that and working directly on air capture. I think it’s an important technology 20 years after decarbonization, but it’s not a salvation. It takes energy and money to do it. And we need to think about not emitting in the first place and how we can reduce CO2 emissions. I really like the investment in emissions reductions in this bill.

Do you think this bill will be a game changer for carbon capture? solar investment tax credit When it was introduced almost 20 years ago, it brought tremendous growth to the industry. I have never seen one of this size. Also, the fact that it came out of the blue, although it wasn’t what I was hoping for in the first place, is still a significant investment. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but we weren’t doing anything, were we? We were doing very little. It was 45Q. game changer The words may be too strong, but they definitely make a big difference. The potential for electrochemical trapping is very high. You can approach significantly higher efficiencies, you can work on a smaller scale, you don’t need heat, and with the price of renewable energy coming down, you can use surplus renewable energy to operate it or solar panels Of course, the caveat is that unlike other technologies, there are no plans to show that it actually works at scale. But the possibilities are significant.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.