The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule in May that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. The success of these standards is partly reliant on carbon capture and storage technologies.
The EPA may need to defend the viability of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) in order for their regulations to survive in federal courts, experts say.
CCUS technologies separate and capture carbon dioxide from industrial sources, treat it and transport it to long-term storage locations or use it to manufacture fuels or building materials. CCUS can capture more than 90% of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities.
While CCUS may sound like a miracle solution to climate change and reaching net-zero emissions, the technology still has its fair share of drawbacks.
CCUS technologies can be expensive to implement without government support. The cost of carbon dioxide capture for coal-fired power plants ranges from $20 to $132 per ton. While each fossil fuel-fired power plant’s individual carbon dioxide emissions vary, fossil fuels collectively emit 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year around the world, making them the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and primary driver of climate change. Furthermore, additional large-scale investment would be needed to make technologies such as Direct Air Capture — which extract carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere — viable.
“We cannot look to expensive and inefficient nascent technologies such as carbon capture and storage or hydrogen co-firing for gas plants to get us where we need to be,” said Pennsylvania resident and Climate Reality Project volunteer Richard Cole at an EPA public hearing.
While there are currently only 12 operating commercial CCUS facilities in the U.S., the government recently expanded the power of its 45Q tax bill to incentivize CCUS. The Inflation Reduction Act extended the deadline for starting construction of CCUS plants for tax credit eligibility until 2032, giving more time for technology to develop. Furthermore, it increased the amount of tax credits the government will give industries for each ton of carbon dioxide captured, making CCUS technologies more appealing.
Fluor is one of the leading companies developing and constructing carbon capture technologies. They built a CCUS facility for Shell Canada, a fossil fuel-fired plant, that began operation in 2015. According to Sunil Vyas, the technical director for CCUS at Fluor, the facility captured around 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, 90% of its total emissions.
While CCUS plays a large role in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, Vyas said that this technology must be complemented by other solutions. Because CCUS is a power-intensive process, Vyas emphasizes the importance of utilizing renewable energy as “one piece of the puzzle” with CCUS to reach net zero emissions. Some carbon capture technologies like Direct Air Capture would be able to capture more carbon dioxide than emitted if coupled with renewable energy sources.
“CCUS is a major part of the energy transition, but it’s not the whole thing,” said Vyas, “It’s one piece of a larger solution.”