Carbon capture and storage is a necessity
In the past year, investment in carbon capture and storage has increased significantly in the United States, underscoring the value of this technology in the suite of approaches being employed to move toward a more efficient energy future.
The environmental advantage of carbon capture and storage, known as CCS, is straightforward: Rather than emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change, it is captured and injected into storage reservoirs deep underground, isolated from groundwater and other geological resources.
Storing carbon in the subsurface is not a new concept; it has been done in the United States for about half a century. In that time, it has been recognized by the federal and numerous state governments as an essential tool to reduce emissions and meet climate goals. Today, 20 million of 45 million metric tons per year of all carbon capture capacity worldwide is in the United States, providing us a strategic and technological advantage.
Over the past decade, there have been several prominent efforts to utilize CCS at power generation facilities in the United States. While these efforts have contributed to a greater understanding of how to manage this technology at a large scale, as with many evolving technologies, several of the projects have struggled with regulatory and cost hurdles.
As with other energy technologies, policies and financial structures are evolving to enhance the applicability of this technology as a carbon management tool.
Since the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022, more than 50 CCS projects have been announced in the United States, spurred by an expanded tax for carbon sequestration, known as 45Q, for capturing carbon dioxide and safely storing it in the deep subsurface. The technology has been evolving over the last several decades to achieve better monitoring techniques and incorporate more effective safety and risk management plans.
According to an analysis by the Clean Air Task Force, the cost to utilize CCS for coal and natural gas plants ranges from $71 per ton to $88 per ton. The 45Q tax credit before the Inflation Reduction Act was $50, but the new $85 credit provides a clearer economic path for many projects.
In addition, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $18.9 billion in funding for carbon management, a significant investment that will create jobs, reduce emissions, and further advance U.S. leadership in this technology. Thanks to this federal policy support, CCS is now a practical solution to manage carbon emissions in states that have a fossil fuel-dominated power generation portfolio as well as industrial sources, including fertilizer, ethanol, cement and steel.
As with any pollution mitigation, adding controls on emissions adds costs to the products being created. But mischaracterizing CCS as uneconomical would create the risk of overlooking the role that this technology can play in the overall effort to manage emissions, including significant investments in our workforce and communities.
It is estimated that CCS deployment could create nearly 64,000 high-wage project jobs over a 15-year period and 43,000 ongoing operations jobs.
The success of CCS will be contingent on the industry’s commitment to effectively manage safety and environmental risks and to address community concerns. Importantly, robust and continuous stakeholder engagement is the key to successfully deploying CCS. The University of Illinois recently concluded that CCS be done “in full consultation with impacted communities to address community concerns.”
The energy transition will require pragmatic, results-driven solutions. The United States has a competitive advantage with carbon management technologies such as CCS, which are necessary to meet midcentury climate goals. Climate change is too complex of a problem for any option to be taken off the table, including the strategy of carbon capture and storage.
• John A. Rupp is clinical associate professor emeritus at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.