Ask the Experts: August 2014

Last year, investors spent approximately $250B on clean energy projects. If we took just 1% of 1% of that amount and created an organization designed to advance CDR as much as possible, how might it spend that $25MM? A panel of CDR experts have graciously responded: Jane Long - Visiting Researcher at UC Berkeley (bio)

I would fund CCUS projects.  I see two major barriers:  the cost of capture and a lack of confidence in the ideas because there are no projects.  I would support projects that can reduce the cost of CO2 capture and projects that actually capture and store CO2.  The projects should provide learning experience on integrating the technologies and business arrangements.

Ken Caldeira - Carnegie Institution for Science, Dept of Global Ecology (bio):

If I had a budget of $25 million per year, the first thing I would do is take $1 million of it and run a process to evaluate:
(1) which technologies are potentially scalable at affordable prices, potentially environmentally advantageous, potentially without intractable political or social impediments, etc.
(2) which technologies have tractable research problems where research success would substantially decrease a critical barrier to widespread deployment at affordable prices.
Where consensus cannot be reached on answering the above questions, I would try to identify the reasons for lack of consensus and ask if there is any research that could be done that could help produce a consensus.
The next thing I would do is recognize that experts tend to be too certain of their own judgments, so I would look to fund some technologies where there is no consensus that there are tractable research problems that would reduce critical barriers to widespread deployment, but for which the arguments of the naysayers appears not to be terribly compelling.
David Keith - Harvard University / Carbon Engineering (bio)
I do not think I would have a unified CDR research program. There is just too big of a gap between DAC and BECCS and ideas like adding alkalinity to the ocean. In the former one wants to have companies involved in the issue is how to get new technologies into demonstration. The latter the issue is basic science and engineering and university research with little (or no) commercial involvement is more appropriate.
David Addison - Virgin Earth Challenge (bio)

Allocated into a spread of decentralized, independent organisations and initiatives in existing organisations as appropriate, including but not limited to:

  • Integrated Assessments - international, cross-university collaboration, looking at and refining the whole-systems set of criteria, from scientific basis and efficacy to economic feasibility,  to social and environmental impact, to lifecycle removal potential etc.;
  • Education – not advocacy. Not for profit work with stakeholders, disseminating and educating people on the state of the art, context, next steps etc. for each GGR approach to learn about it and make up their own mind.
  • Public dialogues – separate organisation specifically tasked with objectively brokering, informing and managing relevant stakeholder attitudes. Core objective of ensuring representative international dialogues on GGR and /or potentially controversial individual approaches, specifically mandated to not to be an advocate of GGR itself.
  • Investment - operating costs and salaries of professionals tasked with building / brokering private equity investment in market-friendly GGR approaches which have a license to operate, e.g. from growth capital in an advancing Direct Air Capture company, to structuring the local community-led financing of an ecosystem restoration initiative. In time, looking to transition to managing public equities etc. too.
  • System Integration and evolution – an advanced 21stcentury ‘trade association’ style organisation, specifically designed to help coordinate and integrate efforts in the area, attempting to be as whole systems as possible, whilst accepting it’ll never be there.

My take: It looks like the experts see a need for 1) basic science and 2) actual project demonstrations. Both of these things are likely something that government is best suited to push forward, but a wide range of private and civil sector actors could also help realize these goals today. The good news is that it looks like a relatively small amount of money could go a long way in advancing the field of CDR.