A direct air capture project site outside Reykjavik, Iceland. Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
As the risks of climate change mount, the U.S. continues to lag behind other parts of the world, especially Europe, in funding R&D for carbon management and other innovative technologies.
The big picture: Government leadership could help fund early-stage research and spur private sector investment in a potentially $1 trillion market. Congress is aiming to advance this goal through several new bills — including the Senate's EFFECT Act, which would establish a Department of Energy program to use carbon dioxide as a resource for profitable products.
Background: Diverse solutions to reduce, reverse and remove carbon dioxide emissions will be critical to avert the most catastrophic effects of atmospheric warming.
- Carbon removal technologies fall into 2 camps: natural (carbon sinks, afforestation, soil enhancement) and engineered.
- Among engineered solutions, direct air capture removes carbon dioxide from the ambient atmosphere, whereas carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) either repurposes fossil fuel plant emissions — as concrete, plastics or even fuel — or stores them so they will not enter the atmosphere.
Details: The EFFECT Act could provide over $100 million in funding and support for CCUS technologies in 2020 alone.
- It would also allocate multi-year funding for direct air capture R&D, including a $15 million prize competition, and support implementation of carbon storage validation and testing at emissions-heavy natural gas and industrial plants.
- Under the bill, DOE would work with the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine on a study of barriers to and opportunities around commercializing carbon dioxide.
- Further support for carbon removal technologies could come from the USE IT Act and the 45Q tax incentive, a Trump administration policy that provides tax credits of up to $50 for each ton of CO2 captured via CCUS.
Yes, but: The funding outlined in the EFFECT Act falls substantially short of levels called for in a recent National Academies report.
- This support sends an important signal to industry and investors, but more incentives are needed to develop markets for CO2 –based products through public procurement mandates.
What to watch: The EFFECT Act has passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and earned bipartisan and bicameral support (the House has a similar version). It could move forward alongside or as part of other energy legislation in the fall.
- Even still, carbon management is just one part of the portfolio of climate solutions, which encompasses energy efficiency, renewable development and other technologies.
Volker Sick is director of the Global CO2 Initiative at the University of Michigan.