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Way Down in the Hole, Part 7 - ExxonMobil Plans to Ramp Up Scale of Carbon-Capture Projects

Much like baling out a flooded basement with a spoon or shoveling the driveway in the middle of a snowstorm, carbon-capture projects to date have had minimal impact at best on the bigger goal of reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. But an ExxonMobil-led project that’s taking shape in and around Houston could soon set a new mark for the scale at which carbon-capture projects operate. The plan calls for capturing, gathering, compressing and sequestering up to 50 million metric tons per annum (MMtpa) of CO2 by 2030, and up to twice that much by 2040 — enough to start making a real dent in Gulf Coast CO2 emissions. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the biggest carbon-capture project currently taking shape: ExxonMobil’s proposed Houston CCS Innovation Zone.

We’ve written a lot about carbon capture at RBN over the last several months, starting with the basics of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and the CO2 value chain. We then took an extensive look at the federal 45Q tax credit, including how it was designed and why varying costs to capture can make some types of projects uneconomic despite 45Q, and potential legislation that could expand the size and reach of those credits. Most recently, we discussed other underlying economic and technological reasons why carbon-capture projects have remained limited. It was also the subject of a recent Drill Down Report.

The U.S. emitted 4.7 billion metric tons (MT) of CO2 (roughly equivalent to 250 Bcf/d) in 2020, but only captured 17.5 million MT (less than 1 Bcf/d) that year from industrial sources, with just 6.8 million MT (0.35 Bcf/d) going into permanent storage via CCS, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft report on U.S. Greenhous Gas Emissions and Sinks. By comparison, 35.2 million MT of CO2 (1.9 Bcf/d) was used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in 2020, with about 10 million MT (0.5 Bcf/d) captured from industrial sources. But the limited scope of carbon capture in today’s energy environment hasn’t precluded others from thinking bigger — much bigger, in fact.

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