OPINION / Courtesy of Charles Harvey and Kurt House
Another Carbon Sequestration Setback
NRG Energy Inc. just sold its 50 percent stake in the world’s largest carbon capture plant for only about $3.6 million, less than a half-percent of the Texas project’s roughly $1 billion construction costs. The sale leaves JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. as the sole owner of the 240-MW coal-fired Petra Nova power plant.
S&P Market Intelligence described the deal as “a setback for supporters of carbon-capture projects at existing fossil fuel plants.” It is far more.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sank $195 million into the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant, hoping to demonstrate the potential for the technology to counteract greenhouse gas emissions of coal plants. The NRG fire sale of its half of the project is a declaration that the taxpayer investment was a technological failure and a financial loss.
The U.S. government needs to ask hard questions about investing more taxpayer dollars in CCS for coal plants. The CCS technology used in the Petra Nova project was not new. The DOE called it “proven.” But it did not work as well as promised. Other CCS projects attempted at power plants have failed...
Every Dollar Spent on This Climate Technology Is a Waste
By Charles Harvey and Kurt House
Dr. Harvey is a professor of environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. House is the chief executive officer of KoBold Metals, a metals exploration company.
(Re: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology: The debate over the efficacy and appropriateness of CCS continues here... Dr. Harvey and Kurt House make a clean energy advocates' case, one day after the U.S. President signs historic new climate legislation)
The technology called carbon capture and storage is aptly named. It is supposed to capture carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources and pump them deep underground. It was a big winner in the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress last week and signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday.
What the technology, known as C.C.S., also does is allow for the continued production of oil and natural gas at a time when the world should be ending its dependence on fossil fuels.
The Inflation Reduction Act does more to cut fossil fuel use and fight climate change than any previous legislation by expanding renewable energy, electric cars, heat pumps and more. But the law also contains a counterproductive waste of money, backed by the fossil fuel industry, to subsidize C.C.S.
Fifteen years ago, before the cost of renewable energy plummeted, carbon capture seemed like a good idea. We should know: When we began a start-up 14 years ago — the first privately funded company to make use of C.C.S. in the United States — the idea was that the technology could compete as a way to produce carbon-free electricity by capturing the carbon dioxide emissions emitted from power plants and burying them. But now it’s clear that we were wrong, and that every dollar invested in renewable energy — instead of C.C.S. power — will eliminate far more carbon emissions.
Even so, this technology has broad political support, including from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, an ally of the coal industry, because it enables the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels while also preventing the resulting carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Industry campaigns such as “Clean Coal” have also promoted the technology as something that could ramp up quickly to bridge the gap to the deployment of large-scale renewable energy. But by promoting C.C.S., the fossil fuel industry is slowing the transition away from fossil fuels.
Under the Inflation Reduction Act, facilities using this technology will be eligible for generous tax credits provided they break ground by the end of 2032 — an extension of the current deadline of 2025. Those benefits come on top of $12 billion in government investments in C.C.S., as well as in technology that would pull carbon dioxide directly from the air, which were included in the infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last fall.
C.C.S. is seen as a solution to the emissions problem for a range of industries, from electricity generating plants powered by fossil fuel to industrial facilities that produce cement, steel, iron, chemicals and fertilizer.
Where C.C.S. has been most widely used in the United States and elsewhere, however, is in the production of oil and natural gas. Here’s how: Natural gas processing facilities separate carbon dioxide from methane to purify the methane for sale. These facilities then sometimes pipe the “captured” carbon dioxide to what are known as enhanced oil recovery projects, where it is injected into oil fields to extract additional oil that would otherwise be trapped underground.
Of the 12 commercial C.C.S. projects in operation in 2021, more than 90 percent were engaged in enhanced oil recovery, using carbon dioxide emitted from natural gas processing facilities or from fertilizer, hydrogen or ethanol plants, according to an industry report. That is why we consider these ventures oil or natural gas projects, or both, masquerading as climate change solutions.
The projects are responsible for most of the carbon dioxide now sequestered underground in the United States. Four projects that do both enhanced oil recovery and natural gas processing account for two-thirds to three-quarters of all estimated carbon sequestered in the United States, with two plants storing the most. But the net effect is hardly climate friendly. This process produces more natural gas and oil, increases carbon dioxide emissions and transfers carbon dioxide that was naturally locked away underground in one place to another one elsewhere.
In an effort to capture and store carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel-burning power plants, the Department of Energy has allocated billions of dollars for failed C.C.S. demonstration projects. The bankruptcy of many of these hugely subsidized undertakings makes plain the failure of C.C.S. to reduce emissions economically.
The Kemper Power Project in Mississippi spent $7.5 billion on a coal C.C.S. plant before giving up on C.C.S. in 2017 and shifting to a gas-powered plant without C.C.S. The plant was partially demolished in October 2021, less than six weeks before President Biden signed the infrastructure bill with its billions of taxpayer money for C.C.S.: good money thrown after bad. The FutureGen project in Illinois started as a low-emission coal-fired power plant in 2003 with federal funds, but ultimately failed as a result of rising costs.
The Texas Clean Energy and Hydrogen Energy California C.C.S. projects were allocated over a half- billion dollars collectively, then dissolved. The list goes on, with at least 15 projects burning billions of dollars of public money without sequestering any meaningful amount of carbon dioxide. Petra Nova, apparently the only recent commercial-scale power project to inject carbon dioxide underground in the United States (for enhanced oil recovery), shut down in 2020 despite hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits.
These projects failed because renewable electricity generation outcompetes C.C.S. Renewable power now is cheaper than coal-fired power without C.C.S. Add the cost of the energy required to couple C.C.S. with fossil fuel power and it becomes hopelessly uncompetitive. We can only guess how much more the full costs of C.C.S. would exceed renewable power because, after decades of promotion and many billions of dollars spent, we still have next to no real-world data about the costs of running, maintaining and monitoring large C.C.S. projects.
These C.C.S. projects are subsidized by Section 45Q of the federal tax code, which now offers companies a tax credit for each metric ton of carbon dioxide injected into the ground. Those enhanced oil recovery subsidies would rise under the new law, to $60 per ton from $35. The legislation also significantly broadens the number of facilities eligible for tax credits. And they will be able to claim the tax credit through a tax refund. The 45Q program is nominally a program to fight climate change. But since nearly all carbon dioxide injections subsidized by 45Q are for enhanced oil recovery, the 45Q program is actually an oil production subsidy.
The Internal Revenue Service does not provide information about who gets the credits. But we do know that it issued more than $1 billion of these credits as of 2020.
These subsidies create a perverse incentive, because for companies to qualify for the subsidies, carbon dioxide must be produced, then captured and buried. This incentive handicaps technologies that reduce carbon dioxide production in the first place, tilting the playing field against promising innovations that avoid fossil fuels in the steel, fertilizer and cement industries while locking in long-term oil and gas use.
Industry campaigns for C.C.S. also have shifted their decades-long disinformation fight: Instead of spreading doubt about climate science, the industry now spreads false confidence about how we can continue to burn fossil fuels while efficiently cutting emissions. For example, Exxon Mobil advertises that it has “cumulatively captured more carbon dioxide than any other company — 120 million metric tons.”
What Exxon Mobil doesn’t say is that this carbon dioxide was already sequestered underground before it “captured” it while producing natural gas and then injected it back into the ground to produce more oil. These advertising campaigns lend support to government programs to directly subsidize C.C.S.
Solving climate change requires resources; misappropriating these resources makes solving the problem harder. We have no time to waste. We need to stop subsidizing oil extraction and carbon dioxide production in the name of fighting climate change and stop burning billions in taxpayer money on white elephant projects. Clean power from carbon capture and sequestration died with the success of renewable energy; it’s time to bury this technology deep underground.
We may be approaching a legal tipping point for fossil fuel companies and the spin masters that work for them
By Sharon Y Eubanks
Via The Guardian / July 5, 2022
~ (N)ot a single existing CCS project is viable, and no company is investing at a rate likely to make future ones viable. It’s an old bait-and-switch, as it mirrors how tobacco companies promoted various smokeless alternatives for decades...
In 2005, I was the lead counsel on behalf of the US in one of the biggest corporate accountability legal actions ever filed. That trial proved that the tobacco industry knew it was selling and marketing a harmful product, that it had funded denial of public health science, and had used deceptive advertising and PR to protect assets instead of protecting consumers.
Today, the fossil fuel industry finds itself in the same precarious legal position as the tobacco industry did in the late 1990s. The behaviour and goals of the tobacco and petroleum industries are pretty similar – and there are many similarities in their liabilities.
Both industries lied to the public and regulators about what they knew about the harms of their products. Both lied about when they knew it. And like the tobacco industry while I was in public service, the deceptive advertising and PR of the fossil fuel industry is now under intense legal scrutiny.
And the tide is beginning to turn. More than 1,800 lawsuits have been filed over climate liability worldwide. Many of these concern the misleading fake science that the industry purposely distributed to the public for decades, denying that its product was the leading cause of global climate change. Exxon knew the reality of climate change in the late 1970s and then later invested in telling the public it was not happening. The French giant Total knew and similarly funded efforts to mislead the public at around the same time.
You can see echoes of the tobacco strategy in each of the memos from corporate scientists studying the climate at fossil fuel companies. Since the 1950s, tobacco companies have been certain of the health impacts of their products. Still, they spent the next 40 years developing public affairs strategies that downplayed the problem and sought to make their products more habit-forming. They did it through additives and marketing to children. At the same time, fossil fuel companies strive to keep us hooked by fighting regulations to move us towards low-carbon transportation and fearmongering about the climate transition.
They also both funnelled money into promoting fake science. The American Petroleum Institute and Exxon injected large grants into the climate denial research of astrophysicist Willie Soon, in the same way that tobacco companies propped up misleading health research from well-compensated friendly scientists. The full extent of this work may never be known, as both industries often ran their grants through nonprofit intermediaries that hid the source of their cash – and in some cases, as with the Heartland Institute, both industries used the same intermediaries.
The most significant legal cases facing fossil fuel companies today focus on ongoing deceptive marketing in the form of “greenwashing”. This is different from green marketing – companies that have genuinely sustainable products are, and should remain, free to market them accurately. But the oil industry is not a sustainable business – on average, less than 1% of its capital expenditures goes into low carbon projects – and free speech laws do not stop corporations making false statements...
The oil and gas industry is now touting the promise of carbon capture and storage projects as a way to avoid reducing emissions. But not a single existing CCS project is viable, and no company is investing at a rate likely to make future ones viable. It’s an old bait-and-switch, as it mirrors how tobacco companies promoted various smokeless alternatives for decades...
A legal tipping point may be soon approaching for fossil fuel companies and the spin masters that work for them. As with our case against tobacco, too many lives will be lost before these cases are resolved. But accountability is coming soon, and the implications will be vast.
Read the Full Article at the Guardian
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Types of carbon sequestration
MIT research -- https://sequestration.mit.edu/
Carbon sequestration is a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It complements two other major approaches for greenhouse gas reduction, namely improving energy efficiency and increasing use of non-carbon energy sources. Interest has been increasing in the carbon sequestration option because it is very compatible with the large energy production and delivery infrastructure now in place. All three approaches will need to make significant contributions in order to meet the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that is the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) conference, 2014, large scale projects and warnings / http://www.technologyreview.com/news/531531/carbon-sequestration-too-little-too-late/
Large-scale projects bring numerous problematic aspects and large-scale geoengineering has extensive potential for 'erring'.
The alternative is in widespread smaller-scale natural 'geo-projects' to reduce carbon emissions, including via sequestration.
Green Policies and Practices to Address Climate Change with Biology, Soil Improvement, Photosynthesis
On an small scale, how can we address the carbon issues of climate change. Among many approaches, one green practice, is achieved through smart agriculture and has potential to provide effective carbon sequestration.
"Carbon farming" is a name for the practice of carbon sequestration, a type of'geoengineering' appropriate at the local level where, for example, farmers and market gardeners can make a difference, a 'humus' difference. Carbon farming can act to sequester CO2 in the soil (as opposed to large, petro-chemical industrial agriculture practices.)
A shift to agricultural practices that are sustainable and act to reduce carbon emissions is a direction where 'alternative agriculture' addresses climate change.
"Although too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a pollutant, carbon is a valuable resource in the soil"
Start your research by taking a look at the writing of Maynard Kaufman, Michigan, US.
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More on alternative agriculture to reduce carbon in the atmosphere
It is time for the conversation about climate change to shift from problems to solutions.
For too long we have learned how serious this problem is, how it contributes to the loss of biodiversity or even, some assert, to the extinction of human life on earth.
The net result of this focus on the problem of climate change is that people have become hopeless and fatalistic while carbon emissions continue to rise. Many people can recognize the scientific truth about climate change on an intellectual level and still deny it on an emotional level because it is too overwhelming. Such split consciousness leads to confusion and paralysis.
The solution to climate change is to reduce carbon emissions and to get the excess carbon dioxide out of the air. Part of this task is political; we need policies, such as a tax on carbon, that could curtail the burning of fossil fuels, which causes most of global warming. Even this is daunting at a time when large energy corporations seem to control policies. But much carbon dioxide, as much as a third or more of the total, also escaped from the soil because of deforestation and agricultural practices. Can this carbon dioxide be sequestered back into the soil and stored in plants? This is the question explored in this paper.
It is possible to sequester carbon in natural ways that are beneficial to life on the planet. Once we understand this we can move from hopelessness to hopefulness. This is especially true if many of us can actually participate in solutions to global warming. Rising prices for energy and food are already pressuring social changes as new attitudes about food raising emerge. Unused land in many cities opens possibilities for urban gardening, and rising unemployment opens the need and time to do so. Also evident is new interest in a back-to-the-land movement motivated by rising food prices. In view of such trends, this paper disagrees with many writers about climate change who simply assume that our future will be shaped by business as usual with increasing emissions of carbon dioxide.
It will be helpful, as we look at ways to sequester carbon dioxide, to have a clear understanding of how it is emitted. The burning of fossil fuels has already been mentioned, and it is certainly a major factor. Deforestation is also recognized as a cause of global warming, along with agricultural practices such as plowing. The amounts here are much more difficult to quantify than carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, and where hard data is not available some scientific writers seem to avoid the issue. This would be a serious error, because if we fail to see that carbon is in soil, how it escaped from the soil, and how it could be sequestered back into the soil, we miss an important opportunity...
FROM ORGANIC FARMING TO CARBON SEQUESTRATION
This happens naturally in photosynthesis as sunshine uses carbon dioxide in the air to make plants grow and provides oxygen in the process. As the plants decompose and their organic matter is worked into the soil, some carbon is sequestered. But this requires a living soil, in which the soil micro-organisms and larger organisms, such as earthworms, have not been damaged by chemicals.
Most of the details in the preceding paragraphs were based on my many years of experience as a part-time organic farmer who was also an Environmental Studies professor trying to understand what he was doing. The emphasis on organic matter in the soil (carbon), and its loss after hundreds of years of plowing, has also been reviewed by Albert Bates in The Biochar Revolution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change. He reports that soil scientist Rattan Lal at Ohio State University found that, with better carbon management practices, soils in the continental US could soak up 330 million tons of carbon each year, more than the emissions from cars, and improve food production by 12%.
Several books on the details of carbon offsets have been published recently. One that supports carbon sequestration in soils and forests is Harnessing Farms and Forests in the Low Carbon Economy: How to Create, Measure, and Verify Greenhouse Gas Offsets and it was edited by Zach Willey and Bill Chameides. This book was intended to help those whose business causes carbon emissions to purchase carbon credits or offsets from land owners who can sequester carbon. Some trading like this already happens in other countries. If a “cap and trade” program is mandated in the US a book like this will be indispensable.
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Agricultural Practices and Carbon Sequestration Fact Sheet / Union of Concerned Scientists
Maximizing Soil Carbon Sequestration: Carbon Farming and Rotational Grazing
While the potential for trees to store carbon is well-known, fewer people are aware of soil carbon sequestration. It is possible that rotational grazing practices can not only support the carbon holding capacity of soils, but also combine raising livestock with the emerging field of carbon farming.
Carbon Sequester in Agriculture: Tags:
Perennial food crops
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Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies are intended to reduce CO2 emissions from new and existing coal- and gas-fired power plants and large industrial sources.
CCS 'three-step processes' include:
~ Capture of CO2 from power plants or industrial processes
~ Transport of the captured and compressed CO2 (usually in pipelines).
~ Underground injection and geologic sequestration (also referred to as storage) of the CO2 into deep underground rock formations. These formations are often a mile or more beneath the surface and consist of porous rock that holds the CO2. Overlying these formations are impermeable, non-porous layers of rock that trap the CO2 and prevent it from migrating upward.
The figure below illustrates the general CCS process and shows a typical depth at which CO2 would be injected. Watch the following videos to learn more about how CCS works:
Where can captured carbon dioxide be stored?
After capture, carbon dioxide (CO2) is compressed and then transported to a site where it is injected underground for permanent storage (also known as "sequestration"). CO2 is commonly transported by pipeline, but it can also be transported by train, truck, or ship. Geologic formations suitable for sequestration include depleted oil and gas fields, deep coal seams, and saline formations. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that anywhere from 1,800 to 20,000 billion metric tons of CO2 could be stored underground in the United States. That is equivalent to 600 to 6,700 years of current level emissions from large stationary sources in the United States.
Overview of Geologic Storage Potential in the United States (Source: U.S. Department of Energy, NATCARB)
Potential sequestration sites must undergo appropriate site characterization to ensure that the site can safely and securely store CO2. After being transported to the sequestration site, the compressed CO2 is injected deep underground into solid, but porous rock, such as sandstone, shale, dolomite, basalt, or deep coal seams. Suitable formations for CO2 sequestration are located under one or more layers of cap rock, which trap the CO2 and prevent upward migration. These sites are then rigorously monitored to ensure that the CO2 remains permanently underground. The safety and security of CO2 geologic sequestration is a priority for EPA.
and... no, 'they' are not saying no, no, no...