A new analysis by the Great Plains Institute and the University of Wyoming describes possible steps that industries in the U.S. can take to lower their carbon dioxide emissions. They propose using carbon capture technology and transportation infrastructure that moves the carbon dioxide to storage locations underground.
Jeff Brown, the director of energy economics at UW's Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, has been involved with the plan for carbon capture and explained how carbon capture works.
"When smoke goes up the smokestack in a power plant or other industry, if you want to give it a bath with a cleaning solution you can take out almost any kind of chemical pollutant," said Brown. "If you want to stop acid rain, which is sulfur dioxide, you use a shower device in the smokestack, it sprays lyme mixed with water and the lyme bonds with the sulfuric acid, goes out the shower drain, and we remove it. You do basically the same thing with CO2. We use a solution that temporarily latches onto the CO2. The used wash water goes down the drain, is collected, we boil it to bubble off the CO2 and just recirculate it again. In terms of boiled off CO2, we compress it, and we put it deep underground."
We now have a lot of opportunities for clean energy like solar and wind power. But Brown said that carbon capture technology is still really important for combating climate change.
"The International Panel on Climate Change said, 'Well what happens if you start saying, well we're not going to use this particular technology, that particular technology,'" said Brown. "If you didn't have carbon capture, the cost of stopping climate change would be 2.4 times as much."
Brown explained there is certainly a need in the U.S.
"We identified 400 capture sites where the capture cost, the cost of grabbing the CO2, was about 40 bucks a ton, and reached a total seemingly feasible capture volume of 350 million tons a year, which is a little more than 10 percent of U.S. power and industry emissions," said Brown.
So what does 40 bucks a ton actually mean, and how are companies going to pay for it?
Brown said that some of the funding to support carbon capture and storage may come from the oil industry. By injecting CO2 into depleted reservoirs underground, trapped oil can be pushed out towards the well and more oil can be recovered from a site. Because of this, Brown said some oil companies will pay to use and store CO2, making the cost of carbon capture eventually go down.
"It tends to be pretty cheap," said Brown. "There's a federal tax credit for sequestering CO2 up to 50 bucks a ton and some chance you can sell to oil companies. If you've got tax incentives up to 50 bucks and some additional revenues, a lot of those projects where the cost is between 35 and 70 bucks a ton will end up costing zero or not much."
Brown said that carbon capture can benefit Wyoming specifically because we have both capture and storage sites.
"Carbon capture can especially benefit industries and states that emit a lot of CO2 and also have very productive uses for the captured CO2," said Brown. "Wyoming's a good example. We have a lot of coal power plants that are well maintained and have cheap locally mined coal and also Wyoming has an innovative oil industry that can put the CO2 underground."
In order for the plan laid out in the study to happen, Brown said that they'll have to start small and work their way up.
"The things that will roll out even in the near-near term are gonna be capture projects that are located pretty close to places to inject," said Brown. "That would be say the Gulf Coast or Wyoming. They have the advantage of where you capture may be within 50 or 100 miles of where you inject."
To meet the U.S.'s long-term decarbonization goals, however, Brown said the country needs to make larger incentives for companies to capture their carbon and create a bigger scale system to transport and store the captured CO2. But Brown admitted there is still a long way to go before this plan gets a lot of traction.
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