Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at funding infrastructure to transport captured carbon dioxide.
The bill would be the first of its kind to bankroll the development of lines and feeders in order to move carbon from its origins at power plants or other industrial facilities, to either storage or utilization, such as enhanced oil recovery. But a recent report highlights potential downfalls of carbon capture technology, including cost and environmental risk.
Carbon capture equipment on two coal-fired power plants studied captured only 10.5% to 10.8% of net emissions over 20 years, according to research from Mark Jacobson, civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University, who looked at the total lifecycle emissions of a coal plant, including the generation needed to power the equipment and resource extraction pollutants.
Carbon capture technology is still being vetted as a viable solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power and other major industrial sectors. Facilities are largely deployed through federal funding as the equipment isn't economic for utilities to buy at scale yet.
Tuesday's bill aims to incentivize better infrastructure and is considered as "an important next step," by the Carbon Capture Coalition following the 2018 passage of the FUTURE Act, which expanded tax credits for geologic storage and utilization.
Some industry analysts argue carbon capture can provide enormous benefit to the oil industry through enhanced oil recovery, which right now primarily occurs in the Permian Basin.
Bustos' bill would authorize $500 million in funding for feeder lines over 35 years, without exceeding more than 80% of a project's total cost.
But some environmental groups argue that funding would be better spent on renewable resources and other clean energy technologies like energy storage and demand response, and Jacobson's study points to a number of other environmental concerns surrounding coal power besides the carbon emitted. Rep. Bustos's office did not respond to a request for comment on the study.
One of the plants Jacobson assessed is the Thompsons, Texas-based Petra Nova plant, which is owned by NRG and is the largest carbon capture facility in the world, according to the utility. Including emissions from the natural gas plant that powers the carbon capture technology, the net CO2 captured is around 72%, according to NRG spokesperson David Knox, who said their team calculated those results in May.
But Jacobson's broader look at coal plant-related pollution includes a number of other factors, including upstream emissions and pollutants from extracting fossil fuels.
"People have been pushing carbon capture with a very narrow goal in mind, which is, 'Okay, let's just try to reduce CO2,'" said Jacobson. "Not that that's a bad goal. But you really have to look at it from the perspective that CO2 is not the only problem."
As more utilities and states pursue ambitious carbon reduction goals, more are leaving the door open for clean technologies to mature.
DTE has said the technology could be part of its future fleet and the biofuel industry also sees carbon capture as a way to boost its product's environmental value. Meanwhile, shuttering coal plants have communities in New Mexico and Montana turning to federal funding for carbon capture technologies as a potential means to save their local industry.
But Jacobson says those investments are not prudent.
"It's never going to be cheaper to use carbon capture or direct air capture because it always has an equipment cost and it never reduces air pollution [related to mining and extraction], no matter what you do."