Carbon capture remains one of the most promising clean energy technologies. It’s becoming widely recognized across party lines for its potential to reduce the environmental footprint of heavy industrial processes and directly remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report reaffirmed the important role carbon capture and removal technologies must play in reducing global carbon emissions.
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies are typically viewed as a tool for reducing emissions from coal or natural gas power plants, but they have a wide variety of applications beyond that. Yet some obstacles still remain for nascent, outside-the-box technologies.
For example, the Section 45Q carbon sequestration tax credit is viewed as the single most useful tool in spurring the development of CCUS. The 45Q tax credit rewards qualifying facilities for using carbon capture technologies. Since enacted in 2008, the tax credit has undergone a number of revisions to expand the portfolio of carbon capturing technologies and applications that can claim the credit. Even with revisions, some technologies have been shut out of claiming the credit because they do not fit squarely within the definitions of the legislation. Broadening the applicability of the credit and reframing it to be more technology-inclusive could unlock a wealth of opportunity for companies with innovative solutions. Pair an effective credit with accelerated permitting for carbon storage wells and we could be on a fast track to lower emissions in the U.S.
Several American companies are pushing the boundaries of CCUS technology and have captured our attention — here are just a few:
Remora: Capturing CO2 from Trucks
Emissions from transportation contributed to 29% of the U.S.’ total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, making it the most prominent source of emissions and one of the hardest to abate. One company, Remora, is looking to tackle these emissions, specifically from trucking.
Over 70% of our everyday products are on a truck before we get them. While essential for our economy, semi-trucks are difficult to decarbonize. Many companies are looking to electrify their fleets, but this option can pose quite a few problems: batteries weigh significantly more than diesel components, which reduces the carrying capacity of trucks and could have impacts on roads and bridges, like pavement damage and road deterioration. Not to mention the challenge of decarbonizing and overhauling the grid, building out charging stations around the country, and the considerable cost of replacing existing fleets.
Remora has created a compact device that can capture the CO2 emissions from a semi-truck while it’s driving. The technology uses very little capital and can be retrofitted to existing fleets. The technology is fitted to a tailpipe and acts like a filter, capturing approximately 75% of the CO2 that would otherwise be emitted. The CO2 is then stored within the capture device and can be offloaded into a tank when a driver stops to refuel. Remora plans to sell the captured CO2 to industrial end users, like concrete producers, and sequester it in storage wells. Remora splits any revenue with their customers, helping truck owners pay back the cost of the device in just a few years.
Remora is piloting the technology with 20 multibillion-dollar companies, including many of the largest trucking fleets in the U.S., including Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, and Ryder. If a Remora device was installed on each of the existing two million semi-trucks in the U.S., approximately 260 million tons of CO2 would be captured each year — almost seven times the volume of CO2 currently captured globally!
Semi-trucks aren’t included in the current 45Q, but including mobile sources of carbon capture would continue to lower the cost of this technology and provide another solution for other heavy, hard-to-electrify mobile sources, like cargo ships.
CarbonQuest: Capturing CO2 from Buildings
In New York, the city that never sleeps, more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. The IEA found that globally, buildings account for around 28% of total energy-related CO2 emissions. Building owners that rely on natural gas for heating have few options to reduce their carbon footprint beyond updating all buildings with new expensive boilers. Fortunately, this is where CarbonQuest steps in.
Established in 2019, CarbonQuest is already capturing emissions from large buildings and shipping them via storage trucks to sequestration sites or end-users who will utilize the carbon in products. CarbonQuest has already partnered with large building operators to integrate their capture systems into established buildings powered by large natural gas boilers. The start-up is looking to expand its services and sees this opportunity as especially important to lower-income housing, which typically consists of older buildings reliant on gas for heat and cooking.
Currently, CarbonQuest’s novel modular and flexible designs capture up to 70% of a building’s boiler emissions, but under the right conditions the company believes they can capture upwards of 99%. This provides a viable alternative solution when electrification of a building is cost-prohibitive or not feasible. Access to CO2 transport and storage infrastructure will be needed to rapidly scale and reduce costs at the level required to address rising global emissions. With support from 45Q for carbon capture from buildings, CarbonQuest’s technology could address the rising energy demand of consumers and subsequent emissions of large cities.
Charm Industrial: Capturing CO2 from the Atmosphere
Preventing emissions from entering the atmosphere is important, but what about capturing the emissions that are already there? Charm Industrial is looking to turn agricultural waste, such as crop stalks or walnut shells, into a CO2 rich bio-oil and sequestering it deep underground in Class I wells and Class V wells.
In their most recent report, the IPCC notes that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies are necessary to avoid the worst effects from changes in our climate, and WRI estimates that for the U.S., this equates to capturing 2 gigatons (Gt) annually by 2050. However, if we consider direct air capture (DAC), one of the most popular solutions in the high-quality carbon removal toolkit, we are only at a capture capacity of 10,000 metric tons globally — almost two billion short. DAC technologies are drawing investments from large tech companies like Stripe and Shopify, but we need additional help to popularize other technologies that are competing for federal support and market commercialization.
Charm’s solution meets the carbon removal principles of permanent, durable, and scalable — criteria which best-in-class CDR solutions must meet. They are the only carbon removal process to have sequestered more than 5,000 tons of CO2 to date. Yet Charm has not been able to access the 45Q tax credit. The secret to their success, in lieu of federal support, is their novel approach to injecting a carbon-rich liquid that no one had previously thought of injecting. Charm has attracted private voluntary carbon removal purchases from tech companies so far, but to scale up this proven technology and bring it to market sooner, we’ll need to see far more.
Technology Inclusive Policies are Needed
The good news is that these three innovative technologies; transportation, building and atmospheric capture all use the same infrastructure that the current carbon capture and storage industry utilizes, such as carbon storage wells and pipeline infrastructure. But, the newer technologies are often left out of the tax incentive structures, such as the Section 45Q tax credit. Investments in innovation and related public policy solutions are key to lowering the cost of technology development and deployment.
Impactful climate action will require all tools in the innovation toolbox. Investing in all of these tools through continued federal investment in research, development, and demonstration, coupled with technology-inclusive federal incentives, will accelerate the widespread deployment of carbon capture. The innovation is out there — now Congress needs to remove the barriers to make it happen.