Colorado legislators plan legal governance for carbon sequestration. Gov. Jared Polis to talk it up at a conference in Denver. But in Aspen, Joe Romm says the case for CCS is incredibly weak
by Allen Best
Carbon capture technologies, policies and funding have been kicked around for at least 20 years. Now they’re shaping up as a focal point for arguments in Colorado and beyond.
Speaking in Aspen recently, physicist Joe Romm said he sees no future practical use for carbon capture and sequestration. He was particularly dismissive of the notion of direct air capture.
“Direct air capture, the literature is very clear, doesn’t make any sense.”
To capture CO2 at scale will require massive amounts of energy. All of the Houston Astrodome will have one ton of C02 in the air. The atmosphere has billions of tons.
Until we quit polluting the atmosphere with combustion of fossil fuels, “you are just squandering money, flushing it down the toilet and misleading a whole bunch of people into thinking that you have a solution to remove carbon dioxide out of the air when you need to stop putting it there in the first place,” said Romm, a sharp-tongued
senior Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania‘s Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media.
You can be sure that Romm is not on the agenda at a two-day conference in downtown Denver being conducted by the Western Governors Association in early February that will be devoted to direct air capture and other topics falling somewhat ironically under the heading of “decarbonizing the West.”
The event is hosted by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, although the initiative has been driven by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon during his year as chair of the Western governors’ organization.
When that conference is held, state legislators a few blocks away at the Colorado Capitol may be getting a peek at a bill that proposes to create the legal governance of pore spaces in Colorado’s subterranean, where the carbon might be sequestered.
State Rep. Brianna Titone announced at a meeting of her constituents in Arvada on Saturday that she will sponsor the bill that would create a legal structure for pore-space ownership similar to that of mineral rights.
Titone, a professional geochemist and geologist who worked in the mining sector, pointed out that Colorado has strong geology for carbon sequestration.
Colorado has some sectors, most notably the cement industry, which are hard-pressed to figure out how to decarbonize without sequestration.
Two projects are planned or at least proposed. One would stow the emissions from a natural gas plant on the Southern Ute Reservation near Ignacio. A second involves a cement plant along the Front Range. Cement is estimated to be responsible for 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Other companies have been looking into alternatives. An Arvada-based company has talked about drawing emissions from an ethanol plant at Yuma at the smokestack and burying it. The same ethanol company also has two other plants in Colorado.
A December 2023 Congressional Budget Office report, “Carbon Capture and Storage in the United States,” says that the United States has 15 CCS facilities operating. They altogether have the capacity to capture0.4% of the nation’s total annual C02 emissions.
An additional 121 CCS facilities are being constructed or are in development. If they get completed, they would increase the nation’s CCS capacity to 3% of current annual C02 emissions.
“Those percentages are small in part because CCS is generally used in sectors that have the lowest costs for capturing C02 – such as natural gas processing and ammonia and ethanol production – and those sectors account for a small share of total US C02 emissions.
And then there is this – as was alluded to by Romm in an interview with the Aspen Daily News’ Scott Condon prior to his Colorado visit – almost all CCS facilities recoup some of their costs by using the captured CO2 to force more oil out of partially depleted oil wells.
What drives the CCS sector? Federal funding is at least a major part of it. The Congressional Budget Office points out that the sector received $5.3 billion annually from 2011 through 2023.
The funding pipeline continues. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act delivers $8.2 billion in advance appropriations for CCS programs during 2022-2026.
Then there are the section 45Q federal tax credits. Companies claimed $1 billion in those tax credits from 2010 to 2019. The reconciliation act of 2022 expanded section 45Q credits. Budget officials project the credits will reduce federal revenues by $5 billion during 2023-2027.
Direct air capture has been unfolding in recent years, including a prototype at Squamish, between Vancouver and Whistler. A direct-air capture project began operations in the United States recently, receiving what Romm described as massive media attention. It was a PR coup, he added, as it could capture just a few thousand tons among the 5 billion in the atmosphere.
Romm expressed scorn for Bill Gates and other technologists who made their fortunes in software. “That’s the model of bits. We’re in the world of molecules, and that is a completely different world that venture capitalists don’t understand.”
One million apps in no time at all and at no cost at all. That’s what software developers do.
“You want a million direct-air capture plants. That will take a long time. Even if you can build the first one commercially – we have not yet done that,” he said.
The technology is inefficient and wildly expensive.
He dismissed hydrogen with much the same language, pointing out that he had actually written a book about hydrogen. Just too much energy gets devoted to the processing of hydrogen. He also pointed to the volatility of hydrogen that makes it extremely dangerous.
”Hydrogen is literally the last thing you would do if every other possible way of doing it fails,” he said.
You can access a tape of Romm’s remarks in Aspen about carbon offsets, liquefied natural gas and other topics. The recording is of marginal audio quality.
Carbon capture and storage in Colorado, May 22, 2022,
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