Jun 27, 2019

Under investor pressure, Exxon gets into carbon removal technology

ExxonMobil is looking to scale up zany-sounding technology that takes carbon dioxide emissions out of the sky by partnering with one of the few companies in the world pursuing that tech.

Driving the news: Exxon, the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, announced Thursday it signed a joint development agreement to advance technology capturing CO2 with Global Thermostat, a startup co-founded in 2010 by a former Exxon scientist, Peter Eisenberger.

The big picture: Publicly traded oil companies, including Chevron and Occidental Petroleum, are pursuing this type of technology because they’re facing pressure from shareholders to pursue strategies more in line with a world that is drastically reducing CO2 emissions. This technology, costly and unproven on a massive scale, is a way to do that without getting off oil and gas that producers have made big profits on for decades.

One level deeper: Global Thermostat has focused so far on technology removing CO2 from the sky long after it was emitted, which many experts say is increasingly essential to adequately address climate change. Vijay Swarup, Exxon’s vice president of research and development, says the tech may also be used to capture CO2 from the smokestacks of a power plant or industrial facility.

Where it stands: Exxon is not buying a stake in Global Thermostat, like the venture arms of Occidental and Chevron have with Carbon Engineering, another company pursuing similar technology. Instead, Exxon will work alongside Global Thermostat on research, with an eye toward possibly building a plant.

  • Exxon didn’t disclose how much money it’s putting toward this effort.
  • “We think we can make a bigger impact through joint development and understanding the pathway to scale,” Swarup said in an interview on Wednesday.

What they’re saying: “We don’t know how much money is going into this, but I do not read this announcement as greenwashing,” said Julio Friedmann, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “This is not an attempt to look like you’re doing something instead of doing something. This is an attempt to understand whether this technology class is a viable option for the future.”

  • Friedmann, a former Obama-era Energy Department official, worked at Exxon in the late 1990s, but is not advising any companies involved, he said.

The other side: Some environmental activists dismiss this technology, arguing it’s just another way for producers to keep drilling for oil and gas as opposed to moving toward cleaner forms like wind and solar.

  • Swarup said all energy resources are needed but also didn’t dispute the notion this tech would allow Exxon to continue its current business.
  • “What we want to do is continue to be a large scale energy provider, and carbon capture will enable that,” Swarup said. “And if you’re able to provide scalable energy without changing the carbon footprint I cannot imagine that is a bad thing.”

Go deeper: The Washington Post’s Steve Mufson recently visited a Global Thermostat facility in Alabama

Go deeper

Concern over coronavirus spread: Italy, South Korea and Iran report more cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The number of novel coronavirus cases in South Korea, Italy and Iran jumped on Sunday as infections in mainland China continued to grow, the latest figures show.

The big picture: As South Korea and Italy stepped up emergency measures amid rising case numbers, World Health Organization officials expressed concern about infections with no clear link to China. COVID-19 has killed at least 2,619 people and infected almost 80,000 others, with all but 27 deaths occurring in mainland China.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

Sanders reveals free childcare plan for preschoolers

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally on Saturday in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders announced on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday a new plan to guarantee free child care and pre-kindergarten to all American children from infancy to age four.

Details: In the wide-ranging interview, Sanders told Anderson Cooper he planned to pay for universal childcare with a wealth tax. "It's taxes on billionaires," he said.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden places second in Nevada caucuses, ahead of Pete Buttigieg

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden a Nevada Caucus watch party in Las Vegas on Saturday. Photo: Ronda Churchill/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden secured second place in the Nevada Democratic caucuses with former Southbend Mayor Pete Buttigieg third, according to NBC News projections Sunday.

Why it matters: It's a boost for Biden, who's widely tipped to be endorsed by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday, ahead of this week's South Carolina primary.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy