When you plot the forecasts for actual emissions, net emissions, and carbon removal in a “well-below 2C” world, an interesting picture emerges. And it looks an awful lot like an elephant.
The Farm Bill is an important federal policy vehicle for supporting the development and deployment of a portfolio of land- and technology-based carbon removal strategies. With the 2018 Farm Bill heading for conference to iron out some (major) differences between the House and Senate versions, we thought now would be a good time to take a peek under the hood of each bill to see what each version has in store regarding pathways to carbon removal.
Roughly every five years, the United States Congress is responsible for passing an updated Farm Bill in order to authorize technical assistance and cost sharing programs for producers and nutritional assistance programs for food insecure households. With the 2014 Farm Bill expiring this fall, both the House and the Senate have drafted new editions of the bill. This year, the Senate Bill has much broader bipartisan support, given that the Senate bill passed with 86 votes while the House Bill only passed by a margin of two votes.
While media coverage of both bills has focused heavily on reduced funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the introduction of novel conservation and energy programs in the Senate bill could yield significant benefits for our producers' wallets and the climate. While the 2018 House Farm Bill would combine the Conservation Stewardship and Environmental Quality Incentives Programs, reducing conservation spending by roughly $800 million over a decade, the Senate Farm Bill would allocate roughly $100 million from each program to new conservation programs, maintaining current conservation spending. Among other important changes, the Senate bill quintuples the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority’s funding to $50 million over five years, earmarks funding for research and education on carbon utilization, introduces a soil health pilot program, and creates a biogas opportunities task force. Each of these programs demonstrates an innovative policy approach and offers concurrent opportunities for research and piloting of carbon removal solutions, with ongoing opportunities to increase funding in future farm bills.
Testing the Tools
Consider the advanced research amendments recommended by Senator Bennet. The Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority pilot program (AGARDA) now offers $50 million over five years for research on technologies intended to “enhanced management strategies, including novel chemical, biological, or cultural approaches; or diagnostic or surveillance technology.” Projects under this umbrella could include the much needed improvement of LiDAR, remote sensing, and soil sensor technologies that are vital to monitoring and quantifying carbon stocks in biomass and soils. The research tools and novel management strategies identified in this section could easily include soil amendments and management techniques intended to enhance and secure soil carbon storage, especially since these practices build resilience with regard to imminent climate volatility.
Substantiating the Substrate
Within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Soil Health Pilot Program incentivizes farmers to improve overall soil health. This pilot program is also supported by the Soil Health and Income Protection Program, which offers farmers financial incentives to restore degraded soils through practices such as cover cropping. Producers and climate action advocates alike could achieve a significant policy victory here, as the Senate bill not only incentivizes farmers to increase soil carbon, but also establishes protocols for measuring carbon levels in soil. Thus, the pilot program will provide incentives to early adopters that implement carbon building practices, while also building quantification and verification protocols from their results, informed by the most recent technological improvements from AGARDA. Together, these programs could encourage widespread adoption for practices such as compost addition and conservation tillage, while also enhancing the financial incentives and compliance standards. If implemented as intended, technologies funded by AGARDA could reduce the cost and improve the ease and resolution of monitoring and verification technologies necessary to calculate EQIP and soil health payments. Moreover, it is likely that geographically distributed pilot projects will spread knowledge on carbon storing practices and incentives offered.
Digesting the Dilemma
But the carbon removal opportunities in the Senate Farm Bill also extend beyond soil health incentives and monitoring technologies. Senator Bennet’s Amendment to include a $10 million carbon utilization education program takes language directly from the Carbon Utilization Act of 2018 and provides funding for qualified organizations to educate the public and producers on the economic and emissions benefits of carbon sequestration and utilization. The Senate Bill’s Energy Title also offers support for carbontech, by educating current and prospective biogas producers about opportunities to aggregate organic wastes from multiple sources into a single biogas system, which ultimately yields both energy and fertilizer. The carbon utilization program is coincided with the creation of the Interagency Biogas Opportunities Task Force to accelerate biogas research and investment. Similar to the relationship between AGARDA and soil health programs discussed above, the education programs will support early adopters, while the task force can refine and improve the core technology.
While by no means sufficient to unlock large-scale carbon removal in rural sectors of the US economy, the Senate bill’s multiple pilot programs could have significant impacts on how farmers, researchers, and the public interact with the carbon removal field going forward. AGARDA has the potential to accelerate research on key carbon removal technologies for the land sector, in ways that farmers participating in the soil health pilot program could benefit from. Collectively, the carbon utilization education program, AGARDA, and the Interagency Biogas Opportunities Task Force will be crucial to disseminating information and technologies from federally funded research, connecting novel tools and innovative producers. Ultimately, the Senate Farm Bill represents a small-but-significant step forward in the push for carbon removal’s inclusion in public policy.
Note: updated July 8th to reflect that the carbon utilization education program is for $10M, not $1M as originally noted.
Day two of the Negative CO2 Conference in Sweden featured lots of exciting and interesting presentations on carbon removal. Read about our key takeaways below, or you can catch up on day one.
A huge new synthesis of academic literature on carbon removal is now available.
Sabine Fuss presented work that she and her team at the Mercator Institute in Berlin just published at www.co2removal.org. There are some great summary figures -- one of my favorites is a figure showing various cost and scale estimates for leading carbon removal solution options. The wide range of cost and scale potential is a main reason behind one of Sabine’s key conclusions from the literature synthesis, which is that there is no clear silver bullet solution. Instead, we should pursue a broad and flexible portfolio of research, development, and demonstration for a variety of carbon removal solutions (until the error bars on cost and scale shrink).
Real incentives for carbon removal project exist today.
Roger Aines showed how the US is starting to create meaningful incentives for early carbon removal projects. The key policy Roger discussed is the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is a cap-and-trade policy for the transportation sector in CA (rule applies to any fuel sold -- not necessarily made -- in CA). The carbon credits in this market are trading at >$150/t CO2. Couple that with the tax credit for carbon storage (priced at $35-50/t), and carbon removal technologies may soon have a large market to access.
Other quick hits:
Can Scandanavia lead the way on bioenergy+CCS via paper and pulp manufacturing? Quite possibly, says Ragnhild Skagestad of SINTEF. Sweden has 10 paper mills w >1 Million tCO2/yr biogenic CO2 emissions available for capture, while Finland has 9 mills of similar size.
Thanks to Chris Jones from Georgia Tech for sharing this DAC article re: new methods from Oak Ridge!
Other DAC news: Eric Ping at Global Thermostat shares the company's plan to launch a mobile commercial pilot in Alabama ready to commission at <$150/tCO2 for beverage carbonation (or roughly $200/tCO2 utilized, since they are using natural gas to run the unit).
I also learned about a new direct air capture research pilot at VTT in Sweden, called SOLETAIR Project, which is aiming to produce 1 ton per yr of CO2.
The first day of the Negative CO2 Emissions Conference is officially in the books!
Originally posted to TriplePundit.
Friday’s short government shutdown culminated in a potentially huge win for the climate, business and investors. Among a slew of spending and tax credits tucked into the budget bill signed by U.S. President Trump, one of them, known as 45Q, expands tax incentives for carbon capture, including from the air. With advocates from both sides of the aisle, the act shows bipartisan support for carbon capture technology. The policy also signals a shift toward greater development and deployment for something known as carbon dioxide removal.
Broadly speaking, carbon dioxide removal involves two crucial steps: trapping carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas causing climate change) and reliably storing it. For every qualifying project, 45Q generates a tax credit: $50 per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) buried in underground storage, $35 per ton for either utilization or enhanced oil recovery.
With no cap on the available tax credits and 12 years to claim them, 45Q is poised to do for carbon capture what similar incentives did for wind and solar power: unleash private sector investments that catapult the technology into its maturity. Tax credits are the first step in that direction. The policy makes a stronger business case for development, which in turn will drive necessary innovations that make it easier and more attractive to take these technologies to scale.
This scaling is vital. Scientists agree that cleaning up past emissions of carbon dioxide is essential to meeting safe climate targets. And 45Q is the first federal acknowledgement of the role that carbon utilization and air capture technologies will play in getting us there.
Money for mechanical trees
Direct air capture (DAC) is a method for literally removing carbon from the atmosphere. Mechanical trees suck in ambient air and chemically separate out the carbon dioxide. From there, the captured CO2 is pumped deep underground into sealed chambers. The end result of direct air capture, in other words, is permanently stored CO2.
The best part? This technology is far from theoretical. ClimeWorks is one of three startups–along with Global Thermostat and Carbon Engineering–to pull it off: Their negative emissions plant in Iceland “stores the air-captured CO2 safely and permanently in basalt, leading us closer to our efforts to achieve global warming targets.”
Thus far, however, all of ClimeWorks plants have been located outside the U.S and have been highly subsidized. Direct air capture has a near limitless potential for carbon removal, making it a critical tool for carbon dioxide removal. But the high cost of the technology in pilot projects has been a barrier to wide adoption. 45Q takes an important step toward lowering these costs. As the first instance of explicit federal support, the bill sends a clear signal to DAC investors to continue funding innovations that further bring down costs.
Waste to value
45Q designates a $35 per ton tax credit for the beneficial recycling or utilization of captured CO2 emissions. Rather than storing emissions underground, CarbonTech businesses recycle waste carbon dioxide by converting it into consumer products and materials like plastics, transportation fuels, and chemicals. That credit is likely to drive a handful of industrial carbon capture projects, according to a recent study.
CarbonCure makes a stronger, faster-curing cement by injecting waste carbon dioxide into cement mixers. CarbonCure’s technology repurposes greenhouse gas emissions, injecting them into concrete to yield a superior and greener product. Positively, the extension of 45Q will incentivize more companies to reuse CO2 in novel and creative ways by making the processes and technologies more investable and affordable. In turn, this can help build early markets and broader political will for carbon removal.
Public money unlocks private dollars
Even before the extension of 45Q, innovative investors, corporations, and startups were already working to build an industry around recycling carbon emissions. More than $2 billion dollars in private capital gathered at Center for Carbon Removal’s CarbonTech Investor Roundtable last week to explore investment opportunities. They asked for more CarbonTech businesses. They also said policy support is critical to creating large markets for CarbonTech, in turn increasing revenue and mitigating climate change.
It’s like the bipartisan authors of 45Q were in the room. With federal support for carbon recycling, building a business or investing in the carbon recycling space is less risky and potentially more profitable than ever before.
45Q gathered diverse backers, ranging from fossil fuel companies to unions and environmentalists. While these stakeholders touted different benefits for the economy and the environment, they generally agreed on the importance of federal incentives for carbon capture and utilization. Enhanced oil recovery (EOR), an important pathway to geologic carbon dioxide sequestration, will likely receive many of the 45Q tax credits.
But even EOR projects would help carbon capture companies reduce their costs and get to scale.
With these learnings from EOR projects under their belt, carbon capture companies could more easily transition to storing CO2 underground without EOR when carbon prices increase to make such standalone sequestration economically viable
Cementing the victory
Here at Center for Carbon Removal, we work to grow nascent carbon removal activities into large-scale climate solutions. Technological, commercial, and policy barriers must be overcome in order to do so. 45Q starts to tackle all three of these obstacles by reducing the risks and increasing the profitability of carbon removal. This is why CCR, as part of a diverse coalition, has advocated for this policy for years.
This victory calls for even more tenacious work on carbon removal. Center for Carbon Removal invite you to join us in pioneering the future of carbon removal. We need your intellect, passion and expertise. Here is how you can get involved:
- Subscribe This Week in Carbon Removal to keep abreast of the latest carbon removal news, events, job postings, and journal articles.
- Join Center for Carbon Removal Investor Network for exclusive connections to other investors and the hottest startups.
- Got a good CarbonTech business idea? Sign up to compete in the Carbontech Labs business accelerator.
In a moment – how I lost 35 pounds (16 kilos, for those outside the US). But first, some brutal climate math.
The Climate Science is in. The recent congressionally mandated government report, the UN Emissions Gap Report, and the last IPCC report make the case. Beyond that, the weather is in. With the three hottest years ever, record heat waves, terrible wildfires, the strongest storms ever, and the accelerating melting of Greenland and Antarctic Ice, it’s pretty clear that it’s pretty bad.
Ocean acidification. Species dying. Spreading tropical pests and diseases. Fires and floods. It may not be the end of days, but it sure looks like the Book of Revelations. We live today in the future predicted by climate scientists years ago.
But I come not to talk about Climate Science. I come to talk about Climate Math.
The Climate Math is pretty straightforward. Since we know about how much CO2 warms the atmosphere (both directly and indirectly, like by increasing water vapor saturations), and we know how much warming has already happened, we know how much more CO2 we can emit before we blow past the Paris Climate Accord targets – 1.5C and 2C of warming. Friendly note: even a 1.5 world is pretty awful, and a 3C world is REALLY awful.
The Paris targets give us a BUDGET to work with. Just like any budget, one can only spend so much before becoming overdrawn. Since we have to assess future climates statistically, the carbon budget is actually a set of probabilities associated with rates of emission and how much warming we get from adding greenhouse gases to the air (called the Climate Sensitivity).
The carbon budget news is pretty bad. Here's the highlights. If our current rate of emissions stays flat:
- We can emit for only 5 more years (!) to have a 2/3 chance of reaching 1.5C. Five.
- We can emit for only 12 more years to have a 50% chance of stopping at 1.5C
- We can emit for roughly 20 years to have a 50% chance of stopping at 2 C
- To get on track for a 2C world, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions every year by about 15 billion tons in 12 years’ time. That’s more that all emissions from all worldwide coal.
- To get on track for a 1.5C world, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions every year by about 20 billion tons. That’s twice the weight of all oil and gas shipped in the world every year, or about 100 times the volume that Royal Dutch Shell refines and sells every year.
Whether this makes you optimistic or pessimistic, the WORK looks the same. Moping or flapping like wet hens won’t reduce emissions. Action will. Which takes me to my weight-loss story.
I really did lose 35 pounds in about 4 months. It wasn’t always fun. But I did it. I started by modifying my diet some (less carbs and sweets, more fruit) and going to the gym 3 times a week (moderate cardio). Over the course of three months, I lost 5 pounds.
I felt better, and was pleased with myself. Then I went on vacation and gained it all back in 4 days.
I decided I needed to do more. I reset the clock and started again. This time, I cut out sweets 100%. I stopped eating pasta, and decreased carbs a lot. I hit the gym 5 times a week – vigorous cardio and weight training. I drank tons of water. I ate less, and I was hungry. I stayed hungry.
In three weeks, I didn’t want sweets and was not as bothered by my occasional hunger. I slept better. My acid reflux went away. And, in three months, I had lost 25 pounds.
Diet and exercise. Who knew?
The punchline is I needed to do more, so I did. Same with the climate budget, we gotta do more. We must.
We need to invest in innovative approaches. We try new things. We should triple our R&D investments in clean tech across the board.
We need new policies that take new approaches and have greater ambition. We should support new business models, and create new markets that stimulate private investment. We need to spend more money – a recent study at Stanford showed just how much, and where! In particular, we need to augment the current investments in renewables and EV’s with additional investments in energy efficiency, geothermal, nuclear, and carbon capture.
We also need to go beyond reducing emissions, and start removing them. After all, what drives the climate is the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. If we want to fix the mess we made, we need to remove that carbon as well.
We must take more shots on net if we want to score. "All of the above" worked for me in weight loss, and will work for the climate best as well.
My future blogs will discuss aspects of the solution set. How might we start thinking about the work we share. How to talk about the challenge in ways that help separate sense from non-sense and spur action. How to create new industries that bring growth and wealth while we solve the problems at hand. For now, though, I leave you with one thought only:
If you embrace climate science, then embrace the climate math.
Dr. Julio Friedmann is the CEO of Carbon Wrangler, LLC, and a Distinguished Associate at the Energy Futures Initiative, where he leads a team on large-scale carbon management and deep decarbonization.
He recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy. He has also held positions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, including Senior Advisor for Energy Innovation and Chief Energy Technologist. Follow Julio on Twitter @CarbonWrangler.
Setting the stage for COP23
This year’s meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be an important step toward the implementation of the Paris Agreement, due to take effect in 2020. At this year’s annual negotiating session, the country of Fiji will be presiding over the negotiations, though the event will be held in Bonn, Germany. Fiji is known as an outspoken member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of vulnerable countries that consistently presses for greater ambition in addressing climate change. Bonn is familiar turf for most climate negotiators, and the recently completed conference center and specially designed venue is well-equipped to support the negotiations. These factors set the stage for an ambitious and smooth-running meeting.
In this post, I aim to give you a guide to the high points of the meeting, explain where carbon removal (a.k.a. “carbon dioxide removal”, “CDR”, or “negative emissions”) fits into the negotiations, point out some developments that may overshadow the negotiations, and describe how the Center for Carbon Removal (CCR) will be engaged at the COP. Stay tuned to CCR’s newsletter and website for updates on how it all plays out.
What is this meeting about?
This meeting is the 23rd annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change, so it is one of many steps on the road to a safer climate. This will be the second COP meeting since the Paris Agreement was completed, and countries will be working out the nuts and bolts of that agreement. The structure of the negotiations mimics the structure of the Paris Agreement, with separate negotiations for each Article of the Agreement occurring in parallel tracks. As each piece nears completion, the separate tracks will be brought together, much in the way that separate assembly lines converge in order to build a complex, interconnected product like a car.
At the heart of the Paris Agreement is a series of interrelated mechanisms that serve as an “engine” to slow and reverse climate change. In a simplified view, these mechanisms can be thought of as consisting of four essential parts: 1) country-level pledges to take action, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); 2) a set of procedures to facilitate cooperation among countries; 3) a standardized way of reporting the outcomes of those actions, called the Transparency Framework; and 4) a process to regularly check collective progress, called the Global Stocktake (GST).
The theory behind the Paris Agreement is that these mechanisms will work together to harness the individual and collective action of countries, driving them toward the goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius. The first step of this process started with the initial round of NDCs pledged in 2015, which countries will begin to implement in 2020. Second, as they begin to take national-level actions, many countries will find it easier and more cost-effective to work together on some activities, such as exchanging technologies or investing in low-carbon solutions. Third, they will use the Transparency Framework to report their progress, allowing everyone to see what is working and not working. And fourth, the Global Stocktake process will then look at overall progress, illuminating areas where more effort is required, or where additional investments can accelerate approaches that are already succeeding. Like the cycles of a 4-stroke engine, this brings the process back around to the starting point; countries will take all of this information and pledge another round of NDCs to take effect in 2025, and the process will begin again. With each cycle, they will reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions and learn a great deal about how they can make their efforts more effective.
This approach builds upon past experience with the Kyoto Protocol and other policies, but as yet it is still untested. Therefore, it is crucial for countries to design these different mechanisms carefully, with an eye toward how they will all come together to function smoothly in the end.
Will carbon removal be part of the negotiations?
“Carbon removal” and “negative emissions” don’t appear anywhere on the formal agenda of the two-week meeting; however, several of the interrelated parts of the agenda could either pave the way or shut the door on negative emissions, depending on the outcomes of the negotiations.
For example, many countries are including carbon sequestration from the land sector – forests, agriculture, wetlands, etc. – as part of their NDCs. This kind of sequestration has long been recognized by both scientists and policymakers as an effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. However, under the Paris Agreement, two different perspectives must be brought together smoothly in order for the land sector to play its essential role.
On the one hand, under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries tended to take biological sequestration for granted, either automatically counting it towards their pledges or essentially ignoring it in their policies. Neither one of these approaches would give us what we need, which is a set of policies designed to stimulate and promote sequestration in the landscape, through such activities as reforestation, sustainable forest management, and conservation agriculture.
The other perspective comes primarily from developing countries, where deforestation has been a large source of emissions over the past several decades and a hot-button issue. After a decade of advocacy, these countries succeeded in establishing a set of international policies, incentives, and safeguards to help reach two interlinked goals: 1. reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and 2. protect and enhance forests and other biological reservoirs of carbon. This body of work is known as REDD+, and it is enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Countries participating in REDD+ can seek support from international finance mechanisms aimed at supporting action on climate change, bringing much-needed resources to poor and middle-income countries. In practice, much of the focus in REDD+ has been aimed (appropriately) at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Much less attention has been given to supporting sequestration by protecting and enhancing forests. Furthermore, despite several years of discussion, there has been very little tangible progress toward promoting carbon sequestration in agriculture.
These dynamics set up a delicate dance at the negotiations. Developing countries are keen to garner support for their efforts to control deforestation and degradation, but most probably don’t see a clear way to activate carbon sequestration as part of their policies and development planning. Meanwhile, most of the developed countries already feel that sequestration is on cruise control, and doesn’t require much additional attention from them. So in both cases, CCR will be working to bring more attention to the importance of sequestration, in the land sector and beyond.
What activities at the COP are relevant for carbon removal?
Activities associated with the COP ramp up several days in advance, and several of them are relevant for carbon removal. Several roundtables are scheduled for specific agenda items – these are less formal meetings where civil society (e.g. non-governmental organizations) and country representatives can hear about recent progress or talk about opportunities and concerns. Roundtable discussions about the Transparency Framework, GST, NDCs, and mechanisms for cooperative action will all take place in the days before the COP begins. Hopefully, these roundtables will create momentum and foster a common understanding among the countries, so that the COP itself does not become bogged down in misunderstandings.
Once the COP begins, the main event will be the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA). The agenda of this group will tackle the various pieces of the Paris Agreement in separate tracks, working to build up a set of decisions about how the Agreement will be operationalized and supported once it takes effect in 2020. In addition to the main event, two subsidiary bodies associated with the UNFCCC will also meet to address their own agendas: one focused on scientific and technical issues, the other focused on policy implementation issues.
Beyond the negotiations themselves, the COP provides a rich opportunity for the climate community to share their contributions and make connections. For instance, the COP supports a robust program of side events, often hosted by civil society groups, who share new insights about policy-relevant work. The Center for Carbon Removal will host its own event during the second week of the COP – the only such event explicitly addressing the role of negative emissions in climate policy.
The COP also features a space where business groups, innovators, and other members of the private sector can interact with country negotiators and civil society groups, usually by hosting exhibits, receptions, and other events.
In addition, media are on hand to report about the developments in the meeting, including regularly scheduled press conferences by all types of participants.
What recent developments might impact the dynamics of the COP?
Two recent developments are relevant, both U.S.-focused. First, this will be the first meeting since the Trump Administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and I expect the rest of the countries will respond to that announcement, perhaps in dramatic ways. This will create a good deal of ill-will toward the U.S., and the issue could disrupt the progress of the COP.
Second, the recent spate of tragic climate-driven disasters on US soil will certainly receive attention at the COP. The significance of the hurricanes that pounded Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, as well as the wildfires that devastated parts of California and other states, will not be lost on anyone. Most countries will struggle to understand the disconnect between the obvious impacts of these events and the retrenchment by U.S. policymakers. In some cases, this could allow actions at the state and city levels to step into the policy vacuum and garner more recognition than they would otherwise. The recognition around the world that climate change is worsening the impacts of extreme weather events will spur greater urgency within the negotiations, but the cognitive dissonance coming from the U.S. might act to dissipate that sense of urgency.
What is CCR aiming to achieve at the COP?
CCR brings a fresh and positive message to the COP: the global community has an opportunity to build and utilize a set of carbon removal tools that can accelerate climate mitigation and tamp down the disruptive impacts of climate change faster than emissions reductions alone. Recent science points to greater potential for carbon removal than we had previously realized, if we activate natural climate solutions and protect existing forests. We will be delivering these messages to COP participants through our in-person engagement and a formal side-event.
Carbon removal opportunities will take a great deal of work if we’re going to reach the scale we need to affect the climate system. We can’t afford to delay action or to get bogged down in politics and procedures. At the same time, we need all countries to carefully consider how carbon removal fits with their other priorities – such as sustainable development, food security, emissions reductions, and building access to new markets – to pave the way for smooth implementation at the right scale. COP 23 is a prime opportunity to elevate these issues on an international stage and accelerate progress. We don’t have any time to lose.
The “Natural Climate Solutions” paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on October 17, 2017, presents an insightful examination of the global potential for well-managed ecosystems to mitigate climate change. The article provides a crucial update on the global potential for natural carbon removal solutions to be expanded in order to help countries meet their Paris Agreement contributions, ultimately concluding that these solutions can play a significantly greater role than previously thought.
Even assuming substantial safeguards around food and fiber productions, the study shows a massive opportunity for the management of natural systems to avoid emissions and clean up carbon from the atmosphere. The findings indicate that through twenty distinct restoration, conservation, and land management approaches, natural climate solutions (NCS) can deliver approximately 30% more climate mitigation than previous estimates. Even limiting the analysis to solutions that cost less than $100 USD per Mg CO2e, the paper found that natural climate solutions have the capacity to mitigate 37% of emissions required by 2030 (and 20% by 2050) to meet Paris Agreement climate targets. At under a hundred dollars per ton, natural solutions are competitive with other mitigation options like renewable energy, and with a third of this potential available at under ten dollars per ton, natural solutions can radically lower the overall cost of mitigating climate change. The abatement requirements for NCS outlined by the report are contextualized through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report pathways, and aligned to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.
All of this is good news. More cost-effective climate mitigation – with greater safeguards around food, fiber, and ecological integrity – is inherently beneficial, as cheap, safe, and rapidly deployable mitigation options are few and far between. Moreover, these specific pathways offer a guide for translating nationally determined contributions (NDCs) into detailed land management strategies by mapping the geographies and scales these solutions can be deployed at.
The paper also highlights the unfortunate lack of funding dedicated to achieving this mitigation potential. Currently only 2.5% of mitigation dollars are applied to natural solutions. Although anxieties regarding the ambiguous scale and cost of natural climate mitigation are resolved with more detailed land use pathways, concerns of reversibility require policy support through clawback provisions and improved monitoring protocols. But before policy mechanisms can be effective in pursuing NDCs, financial investment must increase. On the international level, unlocking the potential of NSC will require significantly greater monetary commitments, especially through payment into the UNFCCC's Green Climate and Least Developed Countries Funds. On a domestic level, increasing funds for restoration or conservation projects can offer a variety of ecosystem services, employment opportunities, and health benefits.
Natural climate solutions, however, simply cannot uphold a third of global NDCs with funding that is an order of magnitude lower than that of technological mitigation. The key takeaway from this paper must be that while the opportunity presented in NCS is more significant than previously thought, funds dedicated to NCS must match this potential.
What are you up to on Sept 19-21? Want to meet CCR and 2,000 other leaders at VERGE 17 in Silicon Valley? The conference explores business opportunities and solutions at the intersection of technology and sustainability.
VERGE 17 Conference and Expo brings together 2,000 leaders - from the world's largest companies and utilities, progressive government agencies and disruptive startups - to accelerate the clean economy. Program tracks include: Renewable Energy Procurement, Distributed Energy Systems, Grid-Scale Power, Next-Gen Buildings, Connected Transportation & Mobility, Smart Infrastructure, City & Regional Resilience and Circular Economy.
In particular, CCR is excited to host a ½ day workshop entitled Capturing CO2, Strengthening Corporate Supply Chains. The workshop takes place on Tuesday Sept. 19 8:30-12:15. Executives are increasingly in search of solutions for capturing CO2 from the sky to reduce risks and increase resiliency of their supply chains. However, many barriers remain for corporates to turn carbon “drawdown” ideas into profitable actions.
This workshop will help companies hone their vision for converting CO2 from a pollutant into a resource, and begin to design effective supply chain strategies that treat CO2 as an asset, not a waste.
Join us and save 10% with code V17CCR here: http://grn.bz/v17ccr
Yesterday, hell froze over: U.S. Senate Republicans and Democrats agreed. What got these often warring parties together? Carbon Dioxide Removal. Specifically, a tax credit that incentivizes carbon capture, storage and utilization.
The FUTURE Act (Furthering carbon capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground storage, and Reduced Emissions) shows that carbon dioxide removal is a true bipartisan energy, economy and climate solution.
When introducing the bill, Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) stated, “7 out of 11 climate models from UN IPCC could not stay below 2° C warming without carbon capture.” Senator Capito (R-WV) said, “Not only will it help us protect our coal industry, which is so critical to states like West Virginia, but it will also help us expand our oil production, reduce our emissions and compete internationally as other countries continue to build coal plants to power their economic development.” Supporters of the bill range from coal companies hoping to benefit from a lower cost of carbon capture, to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and labor organizations championing the Act's environmental protection and job creation.
How does the FUTURE Act improve 45Q?
The bill extends and expands tax credits to build the New Carbon Economy. How? It incentivizes business to develop and utilize carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies. This bill is even better from the iteration introduced last year, thanks in part to Center for Carbon Removal advocacy.
Currently, the 45Q tax incentive offers $10/ton of CO2 employed for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) and $20/ton for CO2 injected in geological reservoirs without application to EOR. Moreover, the current incentive has a cap of 75 million tons sequestered. The most recent audits, from 2014, imply that as much as 35 million tons of the fund have already been claimed by existing projects. With an such an ambiguous cap, there is no assurance to businesses that begin implementing carbon capture infrastructure.
The bill recognizes the importance of negative emissions by increasing the incentives for non-EOR carbon sequestration to $50/ton. This is a $15 premium over EOR.
If passed, the Act will also invest in the future of negative emissions in particular. It would open up the 45Q tax credit to Direct Air Capture (DACs) projects and CO2 utilization beyond Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). By supporting nascent and future carbon removal and utilization technologies, potential projects can actualize much sooner.
EOR is the “gateway drug” to negative emissions technologies. By incentivizing EOR, the Act can help to reduce the costs of carbon capture and sequestration while improving the technology.
The FUTURE Act goes even further than its predecessors by explicitly establishing CO2 utilization and sequestration beyond EOR as a priority.
The Center for Carbon Removal is enthusiastic about the framing of this legislation, as it establishes negative emissions as a priority within the United States’ energy paradigm. Positively, the introduction of the Act has been framed as a vital step towards closing the ambition gap and a necessary opportunity for the executive branch to take action on ‘clean coal’ promises, despite efforts to reduce the Department of Fossil Energy's Budget.
Think back to 2 weeks ago. Did you feel a paradigm shift on May 31? Here at CCR we did. As did the Fast Company, CNN Tech, and The Washington Post. On that sunny Wednesday, the world’s first commercial-scale direct air CO2 capture project opened for business.
The Center for Carbon Removal attended the launch and our team was treated to a tour of the facility, which captures CO2 from the air and sells it to a nearby greenhouse. While the growth of tomatoes and eggplants is enhanced by the supplemental CO2, don’t be fooled; the ambitions of ClimeWork’s—indeed those of the direct air capture industry—are much larger than veggies.
At the project launch event, company CEO Christoph Gebald said Climeworks is only a “base camp” in their plan to offset 1% of global emissions through similar direct air capture projects by 2025. Beyond this 1% target, he explained that Climeworks envisions expanding by another order of magnitude over the subsequent decade to start delivering “negative emissions” at the billion ton CO2/year scale. What’s more, Climeworks is not alone in their ambition to commercialize direct air capture systems. Companies like Carbon Engineering in Canada, Global Thermostat in California, and Infinitree in NY also have operational direct air capture demonstration plants with commercial scale projects in their sights for the near future.
This flurry of commercial activity around direct air capture is likely to come as a surprise to many in the climate field. Historically, direct air capture has been largely framed as overwhelmingly expensive or impractical at commercial scale by carbon capture experts, due to the challenge of capturing the dilute CO2 in the air (exhaust streams of power plants and other industrial facilities like oil refineries, steel mills, and cement plants have much more concentrated CO2 steams). The fact that Climeworks was able to not only secure millions of dollars in public and private sector investment to develop a functional direct air capture technology, but also attract and enroll a paying customer begs the question: have experts been overlooking the potential for direct air capture systems to decrease in cost and help drive industrial innovation and sustainability?
Although experts are currently skeptical of direct air capture’s high prices and small scale, there are a few reasons why the technology is disproving the climate community’s preconceptions, and is actually following a similar trajectory as many established strategies:
Initial abatement costs are not unreasonable or unprecedented. While the cost and carbon lifecycle assessments for the first of a kind projects can be tricky (especially given that companies are often reluctant to share verifiable data), early direct air capture projects will likely cost around $500/ton CO2—give or take a few $100/ton (Pilke, 2009). This is not cheap, and comparing this cost to the price of current carbon markets like RGGI (~$5/ton CO2) and CA (~$10/ton CO2) might give the impression that large-scale commercial deployment of DAC is decades away. But these costs for direct air capture are actually on par with the debuts of other first-of-a-kind climate technologies (including wind, solar, and electric vehicles) on a $/ton CO2 abated basis. Even today, we have policies that pay similar orders of magnitude for “commercially-viable” climate technologies:
Renewable Portfolio Standards (mandating a state procure a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources) are estimated to cost up to $181/ton CO2 in NY (Chen et al. 2009).
In order for the Federal Government’s incentives for electric cars to be purposeful and effective, the abatement cost for hybrid vehicle incentives had to be as high as $217/tCO2 (Tseng et al. 2013). Considering the example of Canada’s hybrid vehicle rebates, the the average cost per tonne of CO2 abated was $195 (Chandra et al. 2010). These costs are reaffirmed by Kammen et al.’s findings “that any carbon price would have to exceed $100/t-CO2-eq in order to render PHEVs' reductions cost-effective” (Kammen et al. 2008).
In Germany, the feed-in-tariff supporting solar generation was estimated to cost over $500/ton CO2 on average between 2006-2010 (Marcantonini and Ellerman, 2013).
The lesson here is that some climate policies are designed to create markets for new, innovative technologies; not to reduce the marginal cost of CO2 emissions as much as possible (as is the goal for economy-wide carbon pricing regulations). On this basis and with the right regulatory frameworks, direct air capture could provide a reasonably cost-competitive climate solution in the near future.
Cost reductions for direct air capture systems are likely with further deployment. The initial Climeworks project will capture roughly 900 tons of CO2/year to sell to a greenhouse that is already recycling inexpensive heat energy from a nearby waste incineration plant. While many experts would perceive this small scale, niche end market and cheap energy as red flags, Climeworks sees these aspects of the technology as assets, and not deficiencies. It can be easier to raise funds for $million-scale projects than for $billion conventional carbon capture projects at power plants. Moreover, because the technology Climeworks is developing is modular, multiple small projects can provide the manufacturing experience needed to innovate system design and decrease costs rapidly. With market competition from other direct air capture developers deploying similar modular strategies, it is reasonable to expect that direct air capture innovation and cost improvements will continue.
Broad, bipartisan appeal for the technology. Direct air capture has managed to capture the imagination of many people—from tech enthusiasts to environmental campaigners. Furthermore, politicians on both sides of the aisle have acknowledged beneficial aspects of direct air capture. For example, Senators Barrasso (R-WY) and Schatz (D-HI) have co-sponsored legislation that would create a $50M Federally funded direct air capture innovation prize. Early policy wins for direct air capture could provide an important entry point for larger carbon capture and negative emissions policy efforts in the future (Stephens, 2009).
In conclusion, the whirlwind of commercial activity regarding direct air capture indicates that there is likely more to direct air capture than initially met the eye of climate experts. While a challenging future still lies ahead—one commercial scale project doesn’t signal that direct air capture is here to save the day on climate alone—targeted initiatives intended to catalyze the deployment direct air capture systems could prove highly valuable in offering innovators like Climeworks the opportunity to continue to expand the frontier of industrial innovation and sustainability.
Dr. Chris Field and Dr. Katharine Mach’s recent article in the journal Science is an important contribution to the future of carbon dioxide removal. It in, the scientists stress an often overlooked point that “a transparent and balanced approach is necessary” when considering carbon removal and traditional mitigation solutions to climate change.
Also of great importance, the article attracted coverage of CDR in mainstream media outlets that will be key for informing industry and policy action on carbon removal. Unfortunately, that coverage tended to miss the point. We must start developing and deploying effective carbon removal solutions today. Instead, the coverage focuses on the risks the authors identify about what happens if we do not take this action today.
The fact that “technological immaturity [of some CDR approaches] means that estimates of future costs, performance, and scalability are speculative” means that we need more action around carbon removal today.
Uncertainty and risks around carbon removal should not paralyze us, but rather galvanize us to address uncertainties and mitigate risks so these solutions are available at the appropriate scale needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change. As the authors say, smart climate action will take “full advantage of the approaches that are available now while simultaneously investing in research and early-stage deployment, driving down the costs of the immature options, and evaluating side effects.”
A key missing piece of this story is that efforts to develop carbon removal solutions and address important outstanding questions lag far behind necessary levels. The authors are correct that “Much of the recent discussion about CDR concerns deployments at vast scales”.
But these discussions are in the scientific literature. This is NOT the case for industry and policy stakeholders responsible for funding the research, innovation, and early technology deployment needed to address uncertainties. The industry and policy conversation on carbon removal is largely non-existent, which is the biggest threat to meeting our climate goals. Solid academic analyses require much better data than is available currently. That critical data can only be generated if we right-size our action to develop carbon removal solutions immediately.
Fortunately, there are a number of efforts on which industry and policy leaders can build action on carbon removal. Yesterday, Developing a Research Agenda for Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration was kicked off by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The study, which aims to map a research agenda for safe and cost effective CDR, will provide critical guidance to policy makers, researchers and industry leaders alike. The UK government has already launched a $10M+ program of CDR research. A constructive academic conversation on carbon removal requires much more efforts like this today, so that models and discussions are rooted in well-calibrated assumptions.
What do you think? What promising CDR research do you know about? How should the conversation about CDR be moved from academia to industry and policy leaders who can deliver CDR research, development and deployment?