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Way Down in the Hole, Part 10 - Can the Carbon-Capture Industry Grow as Quickly as It Needs To?

It’s one thing if you’re 25 or 30 years old and your 401(k) is just getting started — you’ve got time to build it up, so don’t sweat it — but it’s quite another if you’re 60 or 65 and you’ve still got to sock away a lot of money before calling it quits. It could be argued that the environmental community is facing a quandary very similar to that of an aging boomer short on retirement savings. The fact is that the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) target of achieving net-zero man-made carbon emissions globally by 2050 in order to blunt the human impact on climate change will require massive new investment and a complete and well-coordinated transformation of the world’s energy complex. In the near-term, progress along that path must include an extraordinarily rapid ramp-up in the use of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). And like an aging worker whose late discipline may be thwarted by an unforeseen health challenge, as we’ve seen with the recent energy crisis, there’s a lot that could derail progress toward those goals. Is the IEA's goal achievable? Maybe. But, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog, it won’t be easy.

We’ve already covered a lot of topics related to carbon capture in this blog series, starting with the basics of CCS, the federal 45Q tax credit, and legislation that could encourage more CCS projects. We followed that up by checking out some of the projects aiming to capture carbon, including the Houston CCS Innovation Zone, the biggest project currently taking shape, and proposals to capture emissions from ethanol plants in the Midwest or pull carbon directly from the air through a process called (appropriately enough) direct air capture (DAC). Carbon capture was also the subject of a recent Drill Down Report.

The idea of capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from power plants and industrial facilities and permanently storing it deep underground is widely viewed as one of the more promising ways to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, given the world’s growing energy appetite and existing infrastructure. As with any large-scale plan for decarbonization, there has always been a catch — finding the right incentives to convince private-sector CO2 emitters to invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon capture — especially during a time when variable costs can make some types of projects uneconomic. But to reach long-term decarbonization targets, including goals set by the U.S. and the IEA to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, carbon-capture efforts are going to need to quickly get bigger — much bigger.

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