The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) declared today that carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) is currently "viable," and that the only real obstacle to rapid deployment in the United States is political will.
"There are no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional, or other barriers to the deployment of this technology," the agencies announced in a statement.
In a report of the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage that was delivered to President Obama on Thursday, EPA and DOE concluded that capturing and storing CO2 underground can play "an important role" in cutting global warming pollution by 2020, while "preserving the option of using coal."
However, without a price on carbon, the agencies said they were highly pessimistic about CCS's possibilities.
"Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS will occur only if the technology is commercially available at economically competitive prices and supportive national policy frameworks, such as a cap on carbon pollution, are in place," EPA and DOE said.
The findings reflect input from 14 federal agencies and departments, as well as hundreds of stakeholders and CCS experts, the report said. The authors claim that domestic CCS development and deployment would boost America's standing in the global cleantech race.
"Around the world countries are moving aggressively on investing in clean energy," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "The U.S. has the ability to develop clean energy innovation here at home. Rather than sending billions overseas to pay for clean technologies, we should invest these dollars here — in America's workers, industries, and innovations."
CCS refers to the controversial suite of technologies for catching CO2 from power plant smokestacks, and compressing, transporting and permanently storing the heat-trapping gas under the earth's surface.
Worldwide, there are four major commercial demonstration plants up and running — two offshore in the North Sea, one onshore in Algeria and another in Canada. A June report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) found that around 100 plants worldwide would have to be operational by 2020 to have a meaningful impact in containing carbon output.
In February 2010, President Obama charged the task force with proposing a plan to overcome CCS's technical and political barriers in the U.S. within a decade. The goal was to bring five to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016. The report said DOE is now "pursuing multiple demonstration projects," using around $4 billion in federal funds and $7 billion in private investments.
The study's show of confidence comes at an inauspicious time for the struggling industry.
The infamous FutureGen project in Mattoon, Ill., announced in 2003 and once expected to be the world's first CCS plant, was officially scrapped last week by the DOE after years of cost overruns. In its place, the agency said it would spend $1 billion to carry out "FutureGen 2.0," which would retrofit a shuttered coal plant rather than build a new one. But in a letter this week to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the town of Mattoon said it would not provide land to store the CO2, causing an indefinite delay in the project.
In today's report, the DOE and EPA recommend a "comprehensive outreach strategy" to engage communities that are candidates for CCS projects.
Other primary findings and recommendations of the task force include:
• A Carbon Price is Critical: Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS is best achieved with a carbon price, but there are market drivers and actions that can and are taking place now, which are essential to support near-term CCS demonstration projects that will pave the way for broader deployment after a carbon price is in place.
• Federal Coordination Should Be Strengthened: With additional federal actions and coordination, the task force believes our nation can meet the president's near-term goal and get 5-10 commercial demonstration CCS demonstration projects online by 2016. The report recommends the creation of a standing federal agency roundtable and expert committee to facilitate that goal.
• Recommendations on Liability: The task force conducted an in-depth analysis of options to address concerns that long-term liability could be a barrier to CCS deployment. It concluded that open-ended federal indemnification is not a viable alternative but that four approaches merit further consideration: relying on existing frameworks, limits on claims, a trust fund, and transfer of liability to the federal government (with contingencies). Efforts to improve long-term liability and stewardship frameworks led by EPA, DOE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) will continue in order to provide evaluation and recommendations in these areas by late 2011.