Search Results for 'Carbon Emissions'

Over the hump: Have we really reached the peak of carbon emissions?

Recent news reports have focused on the so-called collapse of coal, which indeed is in free-fall in many nations. And it’s not limited to the news media; an International Energy Agency report said “. . . Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use.” Coal use is down to record low-levels in the United States. This decrease is also underway for oil and natural gas. Meanwhile, new solar and wind projects are up 4 percent since the start of the year, and the most affordable projects worldwide over the past three years have all been renewable energy installations. These cost trends, and the slow-down in demand for fossil-fuels that came with the COVID-19-induced recession tipped the balance in favor of clean, renewable energy – at least temporarily. But from here on in, much depends on what we do next: How will we respond to this accidental and costly emergency? Will we double-down on pollution and the racial injustices that are inherent with the use of fossil fuels? Or will we use this hiatus to craft a new, green, and job-creating economy?

Reality Check: Are California’s Carbon Emissions Goals Attainable? (NBC News)

To see the video:  

California Governor Jerry Brown announced last week a new plan for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The executive order calls on the Golden State to decrease carbon emission rates by 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030.

“I’ve set a very high bar, but it’s a bar we must meet,” the governor told onlookers when he announced the executive order last week.

The goal sets a national precedent and is on par with the benchmark set in place by the European Union last year — the most ambitious target in the world.

Executive orders aren’t technically law, but rather set mandates around which legislation can be written.

The proposal will serve as an interim goal established by the governor as the state works toward reaching its target of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

That’s the more long term plan laid out in Senate Bill 32, legislation introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) at the end of last year.

What does the governor’s announcement mean for the state? Getting halfway to that 2050 benchmark within the next 15 years.

Has the governor set the bar too high, or is this simply an expression of his faith in California’s climate change policy?

“This is basically saying we need a new industrial revolution,” Dan Kammen, Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley told NBC Bay Area. “The last one took about 150 years. Now we need to do it between now and 2050.”

Kammen says despite the ambitious target, the state can reach the governor’s goal, but getting there by 2030 isn’t going to be easy.

California has already begun plucking at the ‘low hanging fruit’ to bring carbon levels down, like incentivizing cleaner cars, implementing stingier fuel standards and promoting renewable energies—the state sources 24 percent of its power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal power. In light of the governor’s new demand, Kammen says California must majorly increase its use of these technologies, and leverage them in new ways.

“Finding ways to do these things together is really kind of the magic of California innovation on the technical and policy side,” he said. “Because the more we can find opportunities to do both of these things together, like electric vehicles charged up by solar, wind and other renewables, that means that you win twice over. That’s literally a win-win strategy.”

According to figures from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s carbon emissions dropped nearly 7 percent between 2004 and 2012, the year that data is most recently available. If the state keeps at the same rate, it will actually beat the 2020 carbon emissions benchmark set forth by CARB.

So for now, California is ahead of the game in making carbon reductions.

But the real challenge as meeting Governor Brown’s benchmark comes into action will be convincing everyday citizens to play a significant role in cutting back on emissions, said Abby Young, Climate Policy Manager at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Most of the energy nationwide — around 70 percent — is consumed in buildings, and the Bay Area is home to a number of older office spaces and residential properties. Due to their age, these types of buildings are rarely energy efficient.

While requirements have been established for new construction to meet energy efficiency standards, real progress could mean state and local governments incentivizing homeowners to jump on board with retrofitting their homes, Young said. That means installing solar panels and taking other steps to increase energy efficiency, she added.

“What’s great about the governor making this kind of bold statement is it motivates and inspires…individuals to realize how important the individual behaviors and actions they take every day are to helping the state meet this goal,” Young said.

RAEL Lunch (9/​30/​2020), Alan Lamont, “Innovations in energy storage for a carbon-​​neutral economy”

In looking ahead to entirely decarbonizing the electric generation system, there is a debate about the use of nuclear generation.  One school of thought argues that nuclear will be essential to successful decarbonization, while the other feels that this can be done entirely using renewable technologies, essentially wind and solar.  This research investigates the role and value of using nuclear generation in decarbonizing the electric generation system.  Along with generation, however, storage technologies will be needed.  This study also compares the value of using batteries (expensive but efficient) to the use of ammonia (quite inefficient, but very cheap per unit of energy).  Based on the Capacity Expansion Model, the study develops an analytical function to evaluate the marginal cost of carbon reduction under various scenarios of primary generation (with and without nuclear) and storage technologies (with batteries or with ammonia).  The behaviors of the generators and storage determine the different components of this equation.  Illustrating these behaviors gives us insight as to the role of nuclear and different types of storage in decarbonizing the system.
 Alan graduated from Stanford University in 1970 with a Master’s degree in geotechnical engineering.  As a civil engineer he worked in heavy construction in Alaska and Vietnam,  Peace Corps in Venezuela in dam design, and in the Bay Area in earthquake analysis.  He returned to Stanford and completed a PhD in Engineering Economic systems in 1983.  He joined Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1987,  working  energy system economics, developing and applying modeling platforms to evaluate policies and technologies for energy generation and storage.  He was also active in risk analyses  for nuclear materials production and waste disposal.  He is currently retired, but continues to work in energy systems economics to better understand strategies for reducing carbon emissions from the energy system.

On-​​demand automotive fleet electrification can catalyze global transportation decarbonization and smart urban mobility

ABSTRACT: Mobility on-demand vehicle (MODV) services have grown explosively in recent years, threatening targets for local air pollution and global carbon emissions. Despite evidence that on-demand automotive fleets are ripe for electrification, adoption of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in fleet applications has been hindered by lack of charging infrastructure and long charging times. Recent research on electrification programs in Chinese megacities suggests that top-down policy targets can spur investment in charging infrastructure, while intelligent charging coordination can greatly reduce requirements for battery range and infrastructure, as well as revenue losses due to time spent charging. Such capability may require labor policy reform to allow fleet operators to manage their drivers’ charging behavior, along with collection and integration of several key data sets including (1) vehicle trajectories and energy consumption, (2) charging infrastructure installation costs, and (3) real-time charging station availability. In turn, digitization enabled by fleet electrification holds the potential to enable a host of smart urban mobility strategies, including integration of public transit with innovative transportation systems and emission-based pricing policies.

On-​​demand automotive fleet electrification can catalyze global transportation decarbonization and smart urban mobility

Mobility on-demand vehicle (MODV) services have grown explosively in recent years, threatening targets for local air pollution and global carbon emissions. Despite evidence that on-demand automotive fleets are ripe for electrification, adoption of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in fleet applications has been hindered by lack of charging infrastructure and long charging times. Recent research on electrification programs in Chinese megacities suggests that top-down policy targets can spur investment in charging infrastructure, while intelligent charging coordination can greatly reduce requirements for battery range and infrastructure, as well as revenue losses due to time spent charging. Such capability may require labor policy reform to allow fleet operators to manage their drivers’ charging behavior, along with collection and integration of several key datasets including: 1) vehicle trajectories and energy consumption, 2) charging infrastructure installation costs, and 3) real-time charging station availability. In turn, digitization enabled by fleet electrification holds the potential to enable a host of smart urban mobility strategies, including integration of public transit with innovative transportation systems and emission-based pricing policies.

Faster traffic, more clicks. How COVID-​​19 affects emissions

For the original article, click here. Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 5.07.38 PM Reports from Italy detail the grim reality of a nation on lockdown. All businesses but pharmacies and food stores have shut their doors. Airlines are canceling flights, and roadblocks prevent people from leaving or entering some towns. It presents a glimpse of how dramatically American life could change if COVID-19 spreads rapidly in the United States. Many U.S. cities are already encouraging "social distancing" practices. Schools and universities are temporarily closing or switching to remote learning platforms. Conferences, music festivals and other public events are being canceled or going virtual. These kinds of disruptions stand to get more severe in the coming weeks. They could also come with an unexpected side effect: an impact on carbon emissions. The spreading virus has caused a dip in global greenhouse gas emissions. Reasons include a temporary blow to industrial activities in China, falling demand for oil and a decline in air travel. In China, the world's largest carbon emitter, experts estimate that emissions over the past month have been about 25% lower than normal. These effects aren't wholly unexpected. History suggests that global disasters, particularly those with major effects on the economy, tend to drive a temporary decline in carbon emissions. The 2008 recession, for instance, was accompanied by a temporary dip in global carbon emissions. On a local scale, the climate impact of an epidemic is more complex — it's likely to hinge on a wide variety of changes in the way people carry out their daily lives, from how often they leave their homes to how they travel around their cities to how they do their shopping. Scientists are still working to understand how fast the new coronavirus will spread, how it might respond to the changing weather and why it affects some demographics more severely than others. As it turns out, the virus may also teach scientists something about the complex relationships among everyday human behaviors, their response to large-scale disasters, and their carbon footprints. "Pull one string here, and it affects everything else," said Christopher Jones, a climate policy expert at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, a research consortium focused on tools to reduce carbon emissions. "With the economy and carbon footprints, they're so interrelated that you really quickly start to have all these complex interactions."

The stay-at-home effect

Transportation is already taking a hit in parts of the United States. Schools and universities are closing campuses across the country, and many companies are encouraging their employees to work from home. In places like New York City, officials are warning residents to exercise caution on public transit, where it's often impossible to avoid close contact with large crowds of people. Some data indicates school closures and work-from-home mandates have already reduced traffic flow around Seattle. Reports from data analytics company Inrix point to significant increases in the speed of traffic in the Seattle area as highways empty out. Similar statistics have suggested that rush-hour traffic is down in New York City, as well, according to Crain's New York Business. And reports from Bay Area Rapid Transit, which serves San Francisco, said ridership on public transit has fallen precipitously in recent weeks. BART ridership dropped by 8% between the end of February and the first week of March. And it was a whopping 25% lower in the second week of March than it was the last week of February. Under some circumstances, a decline in ridership on public transit could suggest that people are driving more. But in this case, "I would say that if transit ridership is down, all vehicle travel is down, as well," Jones said. "I think that it's just an indicator that people are staying home more." The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As schools and businesses close their doors, reduced travel could temporarily drive down carbon emissions in communities where people are spending more time at home.

More complications

Less vehicle traffic, on its own, seems good for the climate. But there's a potential catch. "There's been a lot of studies on the benefits of telecommuting, and the conclusion usually is 'it depends,'" Jones said. If people are spending more time in their homes, they could be using more energy. It depends largely on weather conditions, geography and different family lifestyles. "If you come home to a cold house and you have to heat it, that's going to more than offset the savings from not driving your vehicle to work, on average," Jones said. "If you come home to a beautiful day like we have in California, and there was somebody home anyway, really we're not using much more energy than if I were at work." Pandemics like COVID-19 could also spur less obvious behavior changes, which may nonetheless affect a household's carbon footprint. For instance, reports have suggested a recent spike in online shopping and home deliveries, especially for groceries. This is likely another byproduct of the virus as people increasingly avoid public spaces. The carbon footprint of online shopping, compared with making purchases in a store, is often tricky to parse out. According to at least one recent study, it may largely depend on whether the deliveries come from a store in the community or are shipped in from somewhere else, and what means of transport the shopper would ordinarily use to pick up the goods in person. That adds one more level of complexity to the impact of COVID-19 on household carbon footprints. To top it off, there's a great deal of uncertainty about how much worse the virus will become in the United States and how deeply it might affect the national economy. In China, domestic carbon emissions plummeted as industrial activities faltered. In the United States, a major economic downturn would likely drive a further decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, as people simply consume less resources. "The biggest potential impact of this virus is the effect on the economy," Jones said. "So if it affects the entire economy, then that's going to affect economic output, consumption and emissions."

Lessons to be learned

There's nothing to celebrate about the spread of the coronavirus, even if it does contribute to a temporary decline in greenhouse gas emissions. Global carbon emissions tend to bounce back fairly shortly after a global disturbance ends, history suggests — and meanwhile, COVID-19 has already killed thousands of people around the world, including several dozen in the United States. But the pandemic may hold some insight into the ways that cascading changes in human behavior can affect carbon emissions. Disturbances such as hurricanes and other natural disasters have provided these kinds of lessons, as well. But one key difference with the new coronavirus — at least for now — is that a lot of the behavioral changes it's driving are voluntary. "I think this is somewhat novel in the way that we're trying to do social distancing and really slowing down our economies in really significant ways," said Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University. "And that does sort of happen with a natural disaster, but also you have a lot of your infrastructure disrupted. We have our infrastructure in place, but we're just slowing down our economy." She pointed to recent data from the New York State Department of Transportation that indicates an increase in cyclists over New York City bridges this month. The increase would seem to suggest that people who have the ability to commute by bicycle versus other forms of transit are increasingly choosing to do so as the outbreak spreads. It's a lesson in human behavior and motivations. It's also a warning about disaster preparedness at the city level — and the ways that resilience in both the public health sphere and the climate sphere can often overlap. "For resiliency in crises, public health and greenhouse gas reductions, it is critical to build cities that cater for zero emissions, healthy modes of transport," Klopp said in a follow-up email to E&E News. "They can do that by investing in safe, segregated bike lanes and excellent sidewalks, as well as amenities not too far away from where people live, so they have the option of using these modes. "These are all key aspects of resilient, healthy cities that sadly, are often neglected," she added. "COVID-19 is reminding us that we badly need this kind of shift in investment and visioning." Whether people may continue to apply the more carbon-friendly changes in their behavior after the pandemic is another question. "Certainly in the short term you'll see big changes in behavior, and that is going to have an impact on emissions — either positively or negatively," Jones said. "I think the important question is: Are there going to be long-term changes? Will any of these behaviors stick? Will people learn to telecommute; will they learn that they like online shopping; will they learn to stay at home more, or be less willing to travel?" The present situation could offer an unusual opportunity to broach the subject, Klopp said. "I hope that these kinds of events — where people are actually pausing and they're in their homes and they have a chance to think — we use those moments to communicate some of these bigger issues that are facing us," Klopp said.


Agriculture can play a huge role in sequestering carbon and decreasing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Up to now, though, there has been little financial incentive for farmers to do so, due to the inability to measure carbon in the soil. That’s changing, though. Last June, Indigo announced its Terraton Initiative that aims to pay farmers for carbon sequestration. In the following article, Ed Smith, vice president of Indigo Carbon and Terraton, and Dan Harburg, senior director of systems innovation for Indigo, discuss Indigo’s partnerships with the carbon registries developed by Verra and the Climate Action Reserve.  

 Agricultural soil carbon sequestration and emissions reductions can be immediate and affordable levers in addressing climate change. That’s what’s suggested by the climate plans from the top U.S. presidential candidates, consideration at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and what’s being featured prominently in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s land use report. However, this hinges on the precise and verified measurements of soil carbon and net greenhouse gas emissions from the farm.
Carbon registries, like Verra and the Climate Action Reserve are leaders when it comes to carbon measurement and accounting. This is why Indigo is launching partnerships with both registries. The partnerships are in different capacity, but they will enable the world to pay farmers for addressing climate change. “As impacts of climate change have become more intense for communities around the world, farmers have experienced and suffered on the front lines,” says Craig Ebert, CEO of the Climate Action Reserve. “We have an opportunity, though, for them to play a critical role in solutions that significantly address the climate crisis and improve the health of their lands. For that opportunity to be successful, we need a strong, collaborative effort backing it. We need the farmers’ expertise, scientists’ research, data from other sector participants, and rigorous standards to guide the way.” Measuring Carbon is Key  Today, there is no practical way for a farmer to earn carbon credits. While some protocols do exist, they are either too costly to be adopted, or not rigorous enough to be valuable. As a result, almost none of the tens of billions of dollars of carbon credits that are purchased each year go to farmers. Vast potential carbon sink that lies in agricultural soils remains untapped. The key to unlocking this potential and connecting farmers to carbon markets is the ability to measure and verify carbon accurately and affordably. Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 9.29.09 AM In its work with Verra, the Climate Action Reserve, and the scientific community, Indigo is developing protocols to quantify, monitor, report, and verify greenhouse gas emissions reductions on farms and carbon sequestration within soils to address this gap. Measuring net greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture will also shed light on how the industry can impact the arc of climate change and provide market confidence by ensuring rigor and transparency in the generation of these carbon credits. “Agricultural soils offer us one of the most promising opportunities for drawing down carbon dioxide,” says University of California, Berkeley professor Daniel Kammen, former science envoy for the U.S. Department of State. “The technology exists for us to accurately track increases in soil carbon across millions of acres so that we can invest in farmers, invest in carbon drawdown, and do so verifiably and honestly.” Indigo is supporting the development of the Soil Enrichment Project Protocol with the Climate Action Reserve. By the end of January, the Climate Action Reserve will form a working group consisting of industry representatives, project developers, farmers, environmental NGOs, verification bodies, researchers, and government bodies. This is the first critical step in running an open, transparent process informed by expert perspectives. After the working group completes a draft protocol, there will also be a period for public comment, ensuring the Climate Action Reserve receives feedback from all constituents. This protocol, expected to be finalized in mid-2020, will be accessible by any carbon credit project developer, and will accelerate the development and growth of agricultural carbon markets. Given the interest and global applicability of agriculture as a lever in addressing climate change, Indigo is also partnering with Verra through its rigorous protocol development and review process on a similar timeline. “Verra is looking forward to working with Indigo Ag and other leading players to build on the VCS’s preeminent land-based carbon accounting and crediting platform and enable accounting of soil carbon in a robust yet scalable way, and linking such efforts with market mechanisms to drive major investment into regenerative and climate-smart agricultural practices in the U.S. and around the world,” says David Antonioli, CEO of Verra. “Partnership, collaboration, and transparency are essential to developing high-caliber quantification programs. These carbon protocols will allow us to understand agriculture’s ultimate potential to address climate change, bring dependable credits to both farmers and buyers, and rally other constituents around this opportunity. Indigo is excited to partner with Verra and the Climate Action Reserve, and we are encouraged by other efforts in this space. Farmers have the potential to impact the course of our climate trajectory – and turn discussion into action.” Source: Successful Farming, click here for story link.

Carbon capture: boom or boondoggle?

For US News & World Report, click here. by Alan Neuhauser

WHEN A CANADIAN STARTUP announced this spring that it would soon begin building a new type of facility that could remove carbon dioxide from the air, it sparked considerable fanfare. Screen Shot 2019-07-26 at 5.03.48 PM
Headlines declared the project, which this spring won $68 million in financing, a "potential solution to global warming." The design, the brainchild of an acclaimed Harvard physics professor and Time magazine "Hero of the Environment," won backing from Bill Gates.
Theoretically, such a facility could work virtually anywhere, extracting harmful greenhouse gases from the air on a massive scale. But the concept was embraced early on by oil companies, which quickly saw the possibility of liberating the drilling and extraction process from complaints about the emissions it generates. In fact, the plant under construction is being built in the heart of Texas oil country, in partnership with a subsidiary of one of the largest oil firms in the U.S., Occidental Petroleum. Occidental was one of three oil conglomerates to make sizable investments in the company.
The idea behind the facility, called carbon capture, isn't new: It's been in use for years at a handful of coal-fired power plants, oil and gas processing facilities and fertilizer plants in the U.S. The oldest operating site began vacuuming CO2 from a natural gas plant in 1972. Trees, which suck up CO2, could also be described as engaging in natural carbon capture.
What makes the Texas project different, though, is its promise to remove carbon dioxide through "direct air capture:" Rather than drawing CO2 from a smokestack, it instead pulls the gas from the open air regardless of location or even the gas's concentration. Carbon Engineering, the company behind the project, says that with little more than off-the-shelf industrial-scale fans, filters and common chemicals, it's solved a challenge long seen as beyond the reach of engineers or any reasonable budget.
"The idea of pulling CO2 out of the air has been around for 40-50 years, but what's the challenge is doing it at scale in a cost-effective manner," says Steve Oldham, the CEO of Carbon Engineering. "Hopefully we have the answer to that."
"In general, air capture and storage on a meaningful scale is a far tougher problem than CO2 capture at power plants and industrial facilities," says Edward Rubin, an environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. "Much harder to find the needle in a haystack that's 300 times bigger – hence, much more costly."
Another professor put it more bluntly. "A lot of numbers being thrown out there today are just unbelievable," says Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the MIT Engineer Initiative. "From what I've read, I've seen so many red flags that I'm totally shocked."

Carbon Engineering insists that its technology works. The carbon dioxide its Texas plant collects will be injected and stored underground, making the entire loop carbon-negative, the company says. By its calculations, the Texas plant will remove 500 kilotons of CO2 per year from the atmosphere – the equivalent of planting and nourishing some 20 million trees.

"Basically you have a carbon-neutral fossil fuel," Oldham says. "We have extracted from the air, in advance, an amount of CO2 that is more than the CO2 produced when you burn that crude."
The design is "deceptively straightforward," he says. The CO2 binds with a liquid chemical, the mixture then pushed through a filter. Carbon Engineering has been testing the approach since 2015, when a pilot facility at its headquarters outside Vancouver began pulling up to a metric ton per day of CO2 from the air. The planned site in Texas will aim to capture 500,000 metric tons a year, the company says – and, with expansions, perhaps as much as 1 million. "I actually used to work in satellites, so I can actually say it's not rocket science," Oldham says. "Our technology has always been designed for scalability. It's a question of repeating the same plant many times."
The goal, he says, is to buy time: To stave off the worst consequences of climate change as electric vehicles make inroads and solar panels, wind turbines and – more recently – battery storage expand and replace the coal, gas and oil plants that remain entrenched in the world's electric grids.
"We are not in a position as a society today to move off fossil fuels. So from an environmental perspective, we think this is worth doing," Oldham says.
The idea has found outside support. In a study this week in the journal Nature Communications, for example, a team of European scientists concluded that while technologies like those being developed by Carbon Engineering should "be developed and deployed alongside, rather than instead of, other mitigation options," they're still worth pursuing.
But concern remains that such technology could actually enable the continued use of fossil fuels rather than serve as a bridge to phasing them out. Occidental also plans to harness the gas captured by its new plant for what's known as "enhanced oil recovery," where CO2 is injected into deposits to make the company's drilling operations even more productive. The company is the biggest employer of enhanced oil recovery in the U.S.
There is also the issue of scale: Humans last year generated a record 36.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide – each gigaton 1,000 times the size of just one of the 500 kilotons that the Carbon Engineering plant aims to remove. Removing the CO2 from just 2018 alone would require planting close to a trillion trees. The Carbon Engineering plant, by comparison, would need to be replicated some 40,000 times – and even then, only if carbon emissions leveled off, which is far from certain.

"CO2 negative – yeah, right. It's a big sham ... There's no proof that there's actually anything captured by anything."

"Am I saying we should build 40,000 of our plants? God, I hope not, because that will mean we've failed in a lot of other measures," Oldham says. But, he continues, "it's less than there are water treatment plants, it's less than there are power stations – it's not totally ridiculous thinking about building that many. I hope that we don't have to, but if we do, our company wants to have that technology ready."
Other experts insist that no matter how many plants Carbon Engineering licenses or builds, the company will never accomplish what it claims – and, in fact, may simply generate more emissions. Carbon removal, at least as proposed by Carbon Engineering, as well as by two competitors in Alabama and Switzerland, remains firmly in the realm of alchemy, they argue, with one professor comparing the company's claims and resulting fanfare to Theranos, the startup that attracted billions of dollars in investment and press attention by claiming to remake blood-testing, but whose founders were later indicted on federal fraud charges.
Carbon Engineering's planned project, he contends, simply will not accomplish what the company has claimed: It requires so much energy – generated by burning natural gas – that anywhere from a third to three quarters of the CO2 the plant captures will effectively end up back into the atmosphere, Jacobson says. The claim that CO2 injected underground will remain there, meanwhile, has yet to be proven at scale, he argues.
"There's no proof that there's actually anything captured by anything," Jacobson says. "It's a gimmick that actually does not work."
Carbon Engineering maintains that its plans call for capturing any emissions from the natural gas plant. But while other academics have taken issue with Jacobson's math, but they agree that his conclusions are correct.
"On this point we agree: The numbers as far as how much Carbon Engineering and the Swiss company can capture – they are wrong," says Dan Kammen, a physicist and professor of energy at the University of California-Berkeley.
"Their assumptions about how much energy they're going to need are way underestimated. I don't even think they understand they have a problem. I don't think they'll ever get the commercial plant to work."
Carbon Engineering's planned Texas site wouldn't be the first ambitious, large-scale carbon capture facility in the U.S. In 2010, Southern Company, one of the country's largest electric utilities, broke ground for a new coal-fired power plant in Mississippi, one that would integrate carbon capture to prove the viability of so-called "clean coal." Seven years later, the Kemper project was $5 billion over budget, the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and multiple lawsuits, and Southern Company pulled the plug. The plant now burns natural gas.
"They spent $7 billion to prove themselves – and this is not a startup company, this is one of the two biggest utilities in the U.S. They have their own engineering force. But they so overestimated this, they lost billions of dollars," Herzog says. "It's easy to fool yourself if you want to believe and you don't want to take a hard engineering look at it."
The Kemper project, he points out, was designed to be about 220 times larger than a pilot version of the planned carbon-capture facility. The Carbon Engineering site, by contrast, is a 2,500-fold leap.
"These are giant jumps," Herzog says. "So, as an engineer – this is crazy, alright?"
Carbon Engineering hasn't put a price tag on its Texas project; a spokeswoman says that "financing for the project will likely be in the hundreds of millions." The company meanwhile says that it's aware that such a large leap in scale from its pilot plant to the one planned for Texas presents significant challenges. The study in Nature Communications concluded that scale – not cost – probably presents the biggest hurdle to the technology's success. "Everybody acknowledges that risk, including Carbon Engineering. We don't hide from that risk at all," Oldham says. He vigorously disputed the professors' other critiques. "We've refined and updated and optimized our process significantly. To my knowledge, none of these people have come and actually talked to the company. Come and invite them, they're all invited to our facility, they can come and see our systems working, we have produced financial models ... the due diligence that we've done – come and look at it all. There's nothing to hide here."

RAEL contributes to Chapter 3: Energy systems. In State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report for the United States

To access the Energy Sector chapter, click here.

  1. In 2013, primary energy use in North America exceeded 125 exajoules,1 of which Canada was respon- sible for 11.9%, Mexico 6.5%, and the United States 81.6%. Of total primary energy sources, approxi- mately 81% was from fossil fuels, which contributed to carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)2 emissions lev- els, exceeding 1.76 petagrams of carbon, or about 20% of the global total for energy-related activities. Of these emissions, coal accounted for 28%, oil 44%, and natural gas 28% (very high confidence, likely).
  2. North American energy-related CO2e emissions have declined at an average rate of about 1% per year, or about 19.4 teragrams CO2e, from 2003 to 2014 (very high confidence).
  3. The shifts in North American energy use and CO2e emissions have been driven by factors such as 1) lower energy use, initially as a response to the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 (high confidence, very likely); but increasingly due to 2) greater energy efficiency, which has reduced the regional energy intensity of economic production by about 1.5% annually from 2004 to 2013, enabling economic growth while lowering energy CO2e emissions. Energy intensity has fallen annu- ally by 1.6% in the United States and 1.5% in Canada (very high confidence, very likely). Further factors driving lower carbon intensities include 3) increased renewable energy production (up 220 peta- joules annually from 2004 to 2013, translating to an 11% annual average increase in renewables) (high confidence, very likely); 4) a shift to natural gas from coal sources for industrial and electricity production (high confidence, likely); and 5) a wide range of new technologies, including, for example, alternative fuel vehicles (high confidence, likely).
  4. A wide range of plausible futures exists for the North American energy system in regard to carbon emissions. Forecasts to 2040, based on current policies and technologies, suggest a range of carbon emissions levels from an increase of over 10% to a decrease of over 14% (from 2015 carbon emissions levels). Exploratory and backcasting approaches suggest that the North American energy system emissions will not decrease by more than 13% (compared with 2015 levels) without both technological advances and changes in policy. For the United States, however, decreases in emissions could plausibly meet a national contribution to a global pathway consistent with a target of warming to 2°C at a cumu- lative cost of $1 trillion to $4 trillion (US$ 2005).
Note: Confidence levels are provided as appropriate for quantitative, but not qualitative, Key Findings and statements.
Contributing Authors
Peter J. Marcotullio, Hunter College, City University of New York (lead author)
Lori Bruhwiler, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory; Steven Davis, University of California, Irvine; Jill Engel-Cox, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; John Field, Colorado State University; Conor Gately, Boston University; Kevin Robert Gurney, Northern Arizona University; Daniel M. Kammen, University of California, Berkeley; Emily McGlynn, University of California, Davis; James McMahon, Better Climate Research and Policy Analysis; William R. Morrow, III, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Ilissa B. Ocko, Environmental Defense Fund; Ralph Torrie, Canadian Energy Systems Analysis and Research Initiative.  
Recommended Citation for Chapter: Marcotullio, P. J., L. Bruhwiler, S. Davis, J. Engel-Cox, J. Field, C. Gately, K. R. Gurney, D. M. Kammen, E. McGlynn, J. McMahon, W. R. Morrow, III, I. B. Ocko, and R. Torrie, 2018: Chapter 3: Energy systems. InSecond State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report [Cavallaro, N., G. Shrestha, R. Birdsey, M. A. Mayes, R. G. Najjar, S. C. Reed, P. Romero-Lankao, and Z. Zhu (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 110-188,   Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 12.23.02 PM

Main Menu

Energy & Resources Group
310 Barrows Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3050
Phone: (510) 642-1640
Fax: (510) 642-1085


  • Open the Main Menu
  • People at RAEL

  • Open the Main Menu