Carbon Capture: Billions of Federal Dollars Poured Into Failure

What the fossil fuel industry hopes you won't find out is carbon capture is already a failure of an experiment, funded with taxpayer money.

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Climate and Energy

The Inflation Reduction Act, hailed as the most important federal climate legislation ever, places an expensive bet on carbon capture and storage/sequestration as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The law greatly expands the 45Q tax credit program that supports existing CCS investments. 

This move fulfills a long-standing goal of heavily polluting industries, which have long complained that the main obstacle to building robust, effective carbon capture facilities is the federal government’s lack of support for the technology. 

This is completely at odds with reality. In fact, the Obama administration’s economic recovery package included substantial spending on carbon capture. Despite billions of dollars in support, the initiatives mostly produced a series of failures – projects that either failed to ever get off the ground or those that were quickly abandoned. 

The remaining ‘success’ stories, meanwhile, can point to emissions reductions on paper that do not correspond to the overall pollution generated at these facilities. 

All in all, this track record should inform our current understanding of the very serious problems with carbon capture.  

Carbon Capture Has So Far Mostly Just Captured Taxpayer Money

In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) offered $3.4 billion for the research and development of CCS projects (of that total nearly $1 billion went unspent).1Lawson, Ashley J. Congressional Research Service. “Carbon Capture Versus Direct Air Capture.” November 16, 2021 at 2. Out of 11 large-scale demonstration projects selected by the Department of Energy (DOE), 9 were funded by the ARRA and only 2 remain operational.2US Government Accountability Office. (GAO). “Advanced Fossil Energy: Information on DOE-Provided Funding for Research and Development Projects Started From Fiscal Years 2010 Through 2017.” GAO-18-619. September 2018 at Highlights, 10 and 11; US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 4. Of the five commercial power plant projects, only one (Petra Nova) ever reached operation and Petra Nova faced serious challenges, forcing the plant to close after fewer than 4 years.3Congressional Budget Office (CBO). “Federal Efforts to Reduce the Cost of Capturing and Storing Carbon Dioxide.” June 2012 at 4; Anchondo, Carlos and Edward Klump. “Petra Nova is closed: What it means for carbon capture.” Energywire. September 22, 2020.

This track record should elicit serious concern; the Inflation Reduction Act increases federal tax credits for CCS technology, putting even more public dollars on the line for a technology with a failed track record. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), additional CCS funding could easily be wasted without additional congressional oversight and accountability: “Absent such a mechanism, DOE may be at risk of expending significant funds on CCS demonstration projects with little likelihood of success.”4US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 23. Future CCS projects remain heavily dependent on revenue from tax credits and oil extraction rather than electricity sales.5Anchondo and Klump (2020).

Food & Water Watch reviewed large-scale CCS projects affiliated with the DOE’s joint development programs supported by the ARRA and which featured prominently in the DOE’s 2010 roadmap for carbon capture. This is not a comprehensive review of all announced CCS projects or even those that received federal funding, but rather a representative review of major projects. An MIT database of carbon capture projects through September 2016 recorded 15 canceled carbon capture projects, but that list is also not exhaustive; more than 30 coal plants announced in the mid-2000s considered carbon capture.6Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “CCS Project database: Power Plant Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage Projects.” Accessed June 2022. Available at http://sequestration.mit.edu/tools/projects/index_capture.html. Samuelsohn, Darren. “Billions over budget. Two years after deadline. What’s gone wrong for the ‘clean coal’ project that’s supposed to save an industry.” Politico. May 26, 2015.

Nonetheless, this is intended as a representative review of major projects.

According to the DOE’s 2010 roadmap, 10 projects with start dates between 2013 and 2016 were expected to make use of CCS; as of September 2022, only 2 of these facilities remain operational.7US Department of Energy (DOE). “DOE/NETL Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage RD&D Roadmap.” December 2010 at 14 and 15.

Carbon Capture Projects That Never Got Off The Ground

American Electric Power “Mountaineer”

American Electric Power (AEP) attempted to capture the CO2 emissions from a 235-megawatt coal electric power generator in West Virginia and inject the CO2 into geological storage near the facility. AEP withdrew from the project at the definition stage of development, after receiving over $16 million from the DOE. AEP claimed that the project would not be viable without additional federal support or legislation limiting emissions.8US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 7 and 8. Though the DOE was willing to shoulder half the $668 million cost of the project, AEP was unable to force ratepayers to cover the other half.9Wald, Matthew L. and John M. Broder. “Utility Shelves Ambitious Plan to Limit Carbon.” New York Times. July 13, 2011. If completed, the CCS-equipped unit would have represented 18 percent of the electric capacity of the power plant.10Folger, Peter. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Research, Development, and Demonstration at the U.S. Department of Energy.” February 10, 2014 at 14.

Basin Electric “Antelope Valley”

Basin Electric proposed capturing CO2 from a 120-megawatt stream at the company’s coal power plant in North Dakota but withdrew before receiving funds because the project was unable to find a plausible plan despite $100 million in potential DOE funding.11US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 7 and 8. In addition to the DOE grant, the project was also guaranteed a $300 million loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).12“USDA approves loan for Basin Electric’s carbon capture project.” Power. January 21, 2009. The project was canceled fewer than 6 months after its inception, in part because internal cost estimates found that the project would be 30 percent more expensive than the DOE projected.13Folger, Peter. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Research, Development, and Demonstration at the U.S. Department of Energy.” February 10, 2014 at 14; Calculation: (500-387)/387= 29.19

FutureGen 2.0 Power Plant & FutureGen 2.0 Pipeline and Storage

FutureGen originated as a Bush administration program that would spend $1 billion of public money to build a new 275-megawatt coal plant that incorporated CCS and hydrogen production at a single site in Mattoon, IL. This original vision didn’t receive the desired funding and by 2008 the DOE restructured the program away from a state-of-the-art living laboratory approach. In 2010, the DOE announced $1 billion in public funding to support yet another, different vision for FutureGen — located at an oil-fired unit in Meredosia, IL. More than a decade after the birth of the program, FutureGen remained early in development and faced rising costs, issues with project development, challenges retrofitting the plant and struggles meeting the 90 percent CO2 capture target.14Folger, Peter. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Research, Development, and Demonstration at the U.S. Department of Energy.” February 10, 2014 at 18 to 20.

The final iteration of the FutureGen 2.0 program in Illinois aimed to capture CO2 and other emissions from a coal plant and transport the CO2 to a storage site 30 miles away. Following years of delay, the DOE withdrew support for the project in 2015. The power plant was unable to start construction because the plant failed to find adequate engineering and did not successfully find investors. The two components of the project (pipeline and power plant) only spent $83.8 and $116.6 million respectively from the DOE.15US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 9. Despite the virtually blank check provided to it, when the project was canceled most of the public money remained unspent.16Natter, Ari. “DOE suspends $1 Billion in FutureGen Funds, Killing Carbon Capture Demonstration Project.” Bloomberg. 2015.

Hydrogen Energy California

In 2007 a joint venture between Rio Tinto and BP was formed to build a new hydrogen CCS facility in Carson, California slated for operation in 2012.17Izundu, Uchenna. “BP, Rio Tinto launch Hydrogen Energy.” Oil & Gas Journal. May 21, 2007. A company called SCS energy bought out and reformulated the incomplete project in late 2011.18SCS Energy. [Press Release]. “SCS Energy Closes Deal to Acquire HECA Project in Kern County.” September 28, 2011. The revival of Hydrogen Energy California aimed to build and capture emissions from a small integrated gasification combined cycle coal plant for use in Enhanced Oil Recovery 4 miles from the power plant. After contributing $153.4 million, the DOE ended its agreement with Hydrogen Energy California, “after extensive budget and schedule overruns and repeatedly missed milestones.”19US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 7 and 10 Despite the challenges, the DOE lowered the private finance requirement for the project and made up the difference with federal funds in excess of the original agreement.20US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 19 and 20. This facility, which was never built, also qualified for $103.5 million in clean coal investment tax credits.21Folger, Peter and Molly F. Sherlock. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Clean Coal Loan Guarantees and Tax Incentives: Issues in Brief.” R43690. August 19, 2014 at 8 and 9.

Southern Company Services “Plant Barry”

Southern Company Services withdrew before reaching a funding agreement with the DOE but proposed capturing the emissions from a 160-megawatt coal-powered generation unit located in Alabama.22US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 8. Two months after the DOE announced its willingness to provide $295 million for the $665 million project, Southern Company withdrew, claiming an inability to do financial due diligence in time.23Folger, Peter. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Research, Development, and Demonstration at the U.S. Department of Energy.” February 10, 2014 at 14. Now, a decade after the original plans fell through, the DOE is offering yet more funding to support another attempted CCS project at the same site.24Noon, Chris. General Electric (GE). “Notes From The Underground: This GE-Led Team Is Looking To Write The Carbon Capture Playbook For Gas Plants.” February 15, 2022.

Summit Texas Clean Energy

Summit aimed to build a new 400-megawatt integrated combined gasification coal plant in Texas, capturing emissions equivalent to a 190-megawatt power plant to use for enhanced oil recovery in the Permian Basin. The DOE contributed $117.9 million but removed further support following a DOE OIG report recommending that the DOE suspend funding for the plant.25US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 7 and 9. The DOE violated the original cost-sharing agreement with the company and contributed nearly 8 times the funding that had been agreed to even though the plant was never built.26US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 19. In 2021, the DOE sued Summit to recover $13.8 million, alleging that Summit refused to fulfill its guarantees to the agency.27US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 10. The facility also received $324 million in clean coal investment tax credits.28Folger, Peter and Molly F. Sherlock. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Clean Coal Loan Guarantees and Tax Incentives: Issues in Brief.” R43690. August 19, 2014 at 8 and 9.

Leucadia Lake Charles

The Leucadia Lake Charles project aimed to capture 4.5 million tons of CO2 from a new methanol (petrochemical input used to produce a range of products such as plastics, paints and furniture) plant in Louisiana. The project planned to use the CO2 for EOR and received $12.7 million from the DOE before the project was canceled in 2015.29US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 11 and 12. Unlike the other, operational industrial CCS projects, Leucadia aimed to selectively remove CO2 from a mixed gas stream, rather than purifying an already concentrated stream of CO2 from an industrial process.30Gollakota, Sai and Scott McDonald. “Commercial-Scale CCS project in Decatur, Illinois – Construction Status and Operational Plans for Demonstration.” Energy Procedia. Vol. 63. 2014 at 5987. The project was revived in 2015 by a former employee, promising to build a CCS facility at the same site. This new iteration secured $2 billion in conditional loan guarantees from the DOE.31Davis, Carolyn. “Lake Charles Methanol Secures DOE Backing For World’s First Carbon Capture, Petcoke Facility.” Natural Gas Intelligence. December 23, 2016. By early 2022, 15 years after the original proposals, the project remained nonexistent.32Schmidt, Theresa. “Opponents voice concerns about Lake Charles Methanol permit.” KPLC. February 25, 2022.

The Major Busts In Carbon Capture Projects

Southern Company “Kemper”

Southern Company’s notorious power plant project in Kemper, MS featured prominently in the DOE’s 2010 roadmap for its Clean Coal Power Initiative program. The plant aimed to capture 2 million metric tons of CO2 per year, 65 percent of its total emissions.33US Department of Energy (DOE). “DOE/NETL Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage RD&D Roadmap.” December 2010 at 14 and 15; Samuelsohn, Darren. “Billions over budget. Two years after deadline. What’s gone wrong for the ‘clean coal’ project that’s supposed to save an industry.” Politico. May 26, 2015. The project was awarded at least $680 million in federal grants and tax credits, including millions that Southern Company managed to redirect from another failed clean coal project in Orlando.34Samuelsohn, Darren. “Billions over budget. Two years after deadline. What’s gone wrong for the ‘clean coal’ project that’s supposed to save an industry.” Politico. May 26, 2015.

Set to open in 2013, Kemper pushed back its opening day for years.35Samuelsohn, Darren. “Billions over budget. Two years after deadline. What’s gone wrong for the ‘clean coal’ project that’s supposed to save an industry.” Politico. May 26, 2015. By 2015 the project’s overall budget had ballooned from $1.8 billion to $6.2 billion.36Samuelsohn, Darren. “Billions over budget. Two years after deadline. What’s gone wrong for the ‘clean coal’ project that’s supposed to save an industry.” Politico. May 26, 2015. Critical parts of the plant were torn down and rebuilt due to construction challenges, such as a misunderstanding of chemical reactions that led to the replacement of 1,500 feet of pipe.37Samuelsohn, Darren. “Billions over budget. Two years after deadline. What’s gone wrong for the ‘clean coal’ project that’s supposed to save an industry.” Politico. May 26, 2015. In 2015 Southern company claimed that the project was “98 percent or so complete”38Samuelsohn, Darren. “Billions over budget. Two years after deadline. What’s gone wrong for the ‘clean coal’ project that’s supposed to save an industry.” Politico. May 26, 2015. By 2017, regulators forced Kemper to abandon its clean coal plans completely.39Swartz, Kristi E. “The Kemper project just collapsed. What it signifies for CCS.” Energywire. October 26, 2021. Problems with the plant’s construction were raised early on by a whistleblower who ultimately sued Southern Company for retaliation, but Southern Company suppressed concerns and encouraged engineers to agree to unrealistic timelines.40Middleton, Christian. “Boondoggle In Kemper County: Powerful Ignored Red Flags Of ‘Clean Coal’ Flop.” Mississippi Free Press. December 16, 2021.

In 2021, Southern imploded the Kemper Project, which had just years earlier been celebrated as the country’s first commercial-scale carbon capture project at a coal plant.

Petra Nova

Until May 2020, Petra Nova was the only operational carbon capture and storage (CCS) power plant in the U.S. It has been put on a pedestal as the CCS power plant poster child, even though it closed after fewer than four years of operation.41Anchondo, Carlos and Edward Klump. “Petra Nova is closed: What it means for carbon capture.” Energywire. September 22, 2020. Petra Nova’s story reveals that there are serious economic challenges for CCS: The facility was unable to attain profitability despite generous government support, which could have totaled up to $360 million over the planned lifetime of the project. Although some claim the project was undermined primarily by low oil prices,42Lockwood, Toby. “Mothballed Petra Nova has already proved its worth.” IEA Clean Coal Centre. September 3, 2020. Petra Nova faced numerous technical setbacks, resulting in financial disappointments from the beginning. It’s also far from an environmental success story, considering that this coal-fired power plant used its carbon emissions to produce climate-polluting oil and missed its own carbon-capture targets.43Groom, Nichola. “Problems plagued U.S. CO2 capture project before shutdown: document.” Reuters. August 6, 2020.

Petra Nova had limited ambitions and a large price tag. When built, the W.A. Parish facility that’s home to Petra Nova had 3,700 megawatts (MW) of capacity, but the Petra Nova CCS project only captured the CO2 from a 240 MW unit at the plant.44Schwartz, John. “High-stakes test for carbon capture.” New York Times. January 3, 2017; Groom (2020). The CO2 was then compressed and transported from the plant through an 81-mile pipeline to be injected and used for oil recovery at the West Ranch oilfield.45U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). “W.A. Parish Post-Combustion CO2 Capture and Sequestration Demonstration Project.” DOE-PNPH-03311. Final Scientific/Technical Report. March 31, 2020 at 3. The plant itself and the cogeneration facility that powers it cost $600 million; the remaining $400 million covered the pipeline, the upgrades to the West Ranch oilfield, and administrative costs.46DOE (2020) at 3 and 6. (In total $4,200 per kilowatt of capacity retrofitted.47Smith, Rebecca. “CO2 project: Electricity firm to tap greenhouse gas for oil drilling; NRG Energy teams with JX Nippon Oil in carbon-capture pilot.” Wall Street Journal. July 15, 2014; EIA (2017). )

Proponents have focused on the fact that while fully operational, Petra Nova managed to capture over 90 percent of carbon emissions. However, the plant was often offline due to technological problems. For example, Petra Nova experienced leaks from its heat exchangers and its flue gas blower developed a vibration problem from a build-up of limestone used to scrub SO2. The CO2 utilization plan to transport captured carbon to West Ranch oilfields also faced challenges with partial or full shut-ins of the associated pipeline and West Ranch’s inability to receive the captured CO2.48DOE (2020) at 3, 4, 8 to 9 and 42.

Over three years of operation, Petra Nova’s components had 294 days’ worth of non-weather related, unplanned outages, leading to a lower overall capture rate. Petra Nova only captured 3,904,978 short tons of CO2 over a three-year period (an average of 1,301,659 short tons per year), 81 percent of its target. In fact, the carbon capture plant only operated at an estimated 69 percent of full functionality.49Ibid. at 4, 8 and 41. Capturing this carbon costs approximately $256 per short ton ($1 billion/3,904,978), excluding the operational costs of this plant. Had NRG Energy (Petra Nova’s parent company) instead invested in wind power, a similar emissions reduction would have cost $320 million, $680 million less than Petra Nova.50U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). State Electricity Profile. Texas 2016. January 25, 2018; Lazard. “Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis.” Version 10.0. December 2016 at 2.

Technological problems also contributed to financial disappointments that began almost as soon as the plant opened. Falling oil prices led NRG Energy to take a $140 million Petra Nova-related hit in 2016.51SEC. NRG Energy, Inc. Form 10-K. Fiscal year ending December 31, 2017 at 165. Then in late 2017, NRG Energy booked an additional $69 million loss after realizing CO2 injection would produce less oil than originally expected.52SEC. NRG Energy, Inc. Form 10-K. Fiscal year ending December 31, 2019 at 128. By the end of 2019, NRG Energy had reduced the value of its investment by $317 million, leading the company to renegotiate its arrangement with the joint venture.53SEC. NRG Energy, Inc.  Form 10-Q. Quarter ending September 30, 2019 at 35; SEC (December 31, 2019) at 72. After the first quarter of 2020, NRG Energy reduced Petra Nova’s value by another $18 million.54NRG Energy, Inc. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Form 10-Q. Quarter ending March 31, 2020 at 27.

While Petra Nova sought to reduce the costs of CCS, the project did not demonstrate substantial improvements to the economics of the technology.55DOE (2020) at 6. CCS is still so expensive that some future CCS projects plan to make more money from tax credits and oil extraction than they do from selling electricity.56Anchondo and Klump (2020). Additionally, there is no indication that Petra Nova helped reduce the energy needs of capture equipment. Petra Nova’s CCS system used 35 MW of electricity plus the steam from a 78 MW gas-fired generator which was built to meet the needs of the CCS facility.57DOE (2020) at 6 to 8. The “parasitic load” of the capture system was likely around 22 percent, a misleadingly low penalty as the natural gas plant powering the capture was more efficient than the coal plant.58Patel (2017).

Is This What Carbon Capture Success Looks Like?

Air Products and Chemicals

Air Products and Chemicals claims to have captured 1 million metric tons of CO2 per year from steam-methane reformers (industrial facilities that turn natural gas into hydrogen) in Texas, beginning operations in 2013. The DOE gave the project $284 million in funding. Captured CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery.59US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 11; Air Products and Chemicals. “Large-scale Carbon Capture, Use and Storage.” Available at airproducts.com/company/innovation/carbon-capture. Accessed August 2022. To meet the additional energy requirements, Air Products uses a new 21-megawatt gas turbine requiring 270MMbtu/hr of fuel to capture 128.6 short tons per hour. The lifecycle emissions (including methane leakage) of the natural gas burned to capture this CO2 are responsible for more than one-quarter of the greenhouse gas impact of the captured CO2.60Busse, Amy et al. Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. “Demonstration of Carbon Capture and Sequestration of Steam Methane Reforming Process Gas Used for Large-Scale Hydrogen Production.” DE-FE0002381. March 2018 at 10, 18 and 47;
270mmbtu/128.6 short tons CO2 = 2.099MMBTU per short ton / 1,037(btu/cubic foot) = 0.002025 million cubic feet gas per short ton captured = 2024 cubic feet
.11616 million metric tons CO2eq per billion cubic feet NG produced & burned (precleared from emissions factors from supply side report) = .11616 metric tons per 1,000 cubic feet natural gas
.11616*2.024 = .2351 metric tons * 1.10231 = .2591

Additionally, the facility only captures process emissions, responsible for about two-thirds of the CO2 released on-site when producing hydrogen.61Longden, Thomas et al. “‘Clean’ hydrogen? – Comparing the emissions and costs of fossil fuel versus renewable electricity-based hydrogen.” Applied Energy. Vol. 306, No. 118145. January 2022 at 4. While Air Products captures approximately 1 million tons of CO2 per year, according to the EPA, the site was responsible for 2.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2020.62Busse, Amy et al. Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. “Demonstration of Carbon Capture and Sequestration of Steam Methane Reforming Process Gas Used for Large-Scale Hydrogen Production.” DE-FE0002381. March 2018 at 34; Environmental Protection Agency. 2020 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities: Air Products Port Arthur Facility. FLIGHT tool. Available at ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do. Accessed June 2022. Air Products does not publicly disclose the quantity of captured CO2 to the EPA, but the project is only claiming to capture 60 percent (1 million metric tons) of the 1.65 million metric tons of CO2 emitted from the hydrogen production.63Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2020 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities: Air Products Port Arthur Facility. FLIGHT tool. Available at ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do. Accessed June 2022; Air Products and Chemicals. “Large-scale Carbon Capture, Use and Storage.” Available at airproducts.com/company/innovation/carbon-capture. Accessed August 2022. This suggests a capture rate far below the typically cited and targeted 90 percent, even ignoring the uncaptured natural gas emissions elsewhere at the facility.64Longden, Thomas et al. “‘Clean’ hydrogen? – Comparing the emissions and costs of fossil fuel versus renewable electricity-based hydrogen.” Applied Energy. Vol. 306, No. 118145. January 2022 at 4 and 5.

Achieving higher capture rates requires substantially more energy with corresponding costs and environmental impacts.65Longden, Thomas et al. “‘Clean’ hydrogen? – Comparing the emissions and costs of fossil fuel versus renewable electricity-based hydrogen.” Applied Energy. Vol. 306, No. 118145. January 2022 at 4. After accounting for methane leakage associated with hydrogen produced from fracked gas, CCS facilities that achieve high capture rates would still have significant greenhouse gas footprints.66Longden, Thomas et al. “‘Clean’ hydrogen? – Comparing the emissions and costs of fossil fuel versus renewable electricity-based hydrogen.” Applied Energy. Vol. 306, No. 118145. January 2022 at 1. Natural gas-sourced hydrogen produced using CCS may only have 9 to 12 percent lower emissions than hydrogen produced without CCS.67Howarth, Robert W. and Mark Z. Jacobson. “How green is blue hydrogen?” Energy Science & Engineering. Vol. 9, Iss. 10. October 2021 at 1676 and 1677. Burning hydrogen in place of natural gas, even when produced with CCS, actually has higher emissions than simply burning natural gas.68Howarth, Robert W. and Mark Z. Jacobson. “How green is blue hydrogen?” Energy Science & Engineering. Vol. 9, Iss. 10. October 2021 at 1676 and 1677. Fortunately, there’s no need for natural gas-fueled hydrogen plants. Evidence suggests that truly clean hydrogen, produced using renewable electricity, could soon become cheaper than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels both with and without CCS.69Longden, Thomas et al. “‘Clean’ hydrogen? – Comparing the emissions and costs of fossil fuel versus renewable electricity-based hydrogen.” Applied Energy. Vol. 306, No. 118145. January 2022 at 1.

Archer Daniels Midland Decatur Ethanol CCS

Archer Daniels Midland’s Decatur project, which received $141 million from the DOE and began operation in 2017, aims to sequester 1 million tons of CO2 per year from an ethanol plant in Decatur, Illinois.70US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Carbon Capture and Storage: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects.” GAO-22-105111. December 2021 at 11. The capture system dehydrates and compresses a stream of 99 percent pure CO2 that is a byproduct of fermenting corn ethanol.71US Department of Energy (DOE). “Archer Daniels Midland Company: CO2 Capture from Biofuels Production and Storage into the Mt. Simon Sandstone.” FE0001547. April 2022 at 2. According to publicly available EPA data, ADM only sequesters 521,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, about half of what its permit allows and a slim fraction of the reported 4.4 million metric tons of total facility emissions.72Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “2020 GHG Summary Report: Archer Daniels Midland Co.” 2020 at 4 and 5; EPA. “Class VI Wells Permitted by EPA.” Available at https://www.epa.gov/uic/class-vi-wells-permitted-epa. Accessed August 2022.

ADM’s CCS facility only captures the emissions that are a byproduct of the fermentation process, leaving a wide range of uncaptured emissions from ethanol production.73Gollakota, Sai and Scott McDonald. “Commercial-Scale CCS project in Decatur, Illinois – Construction Status and Operational Plans for Demonstration.” Energy Procedia. Vol. 63. 2014 at 5988 and 5989. And this is an even smaller portion of the overall emissions74Edwards, Ryan W. J. and Michael A. Celia. “Infrastructure to enable deployment of carbon capture, utilization, and storage in the United States.” PNAS. Vol. 155, No. 38. 2018 at E8815 and E8816. from a fuel that, when burned, will emit CO2.75Dias de Oliveira, Marcelo E. et al. “Ethanol as Fuel: Energy, Carbon Dioxide Balances, and Ecological Footprint.” BioScience. Vol. 55, No. 7. July 2005 at 596. Based on survey averages of natural gas and electricity use by ethanol producers, Food & Water Watch estimates that ADM’s ethanol production at this facility requires 8.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas and 260 million kWh of electricity. Emissions from these sources are equal to 1.066 million metric tons per year and equal the emissions ADM plans to capture from the fermentation process.76Sherrard, Allan. “ADM starts commercial-scale CCS at Decatur ethanol plant.” BioEnergy International. April 20, 2017; Wu, May. Argonne National Laboratory. “Energy And Water Sustainability in The U.S. Biofuel Industry.” June 2019 at 11 to 13; US Energy Information Administration (EIA). “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS): What are Ccf, Mcf, Btu, and therms? How do I convert natural gas prices in dollars per Ccf or Mcf to dollars per Btu or therm?” Accessed June 2022. Available at https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=45&t=8; US Environmental Proection Agency (EPA). “Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.” Accessed June 2022. Available at https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator;
Note: 350 million gallons is a conservative estimate see RFA numbers at 375 million here: https://ethanolrfa.org/resources/ethanol-biorefinery-locations

Calculation 1. 350 million * 24,310 Btus natural gas/gallon = 8,508.5 billion BTUs per year/1,037 = 8.2 billion cubic feet natural gas * .11616 million metric tons CO2eq per billion cubic feet NG produced & burned (precleared from emissions factors from supply side report) = .953 million metric tons CO2eq annually (includes CH4 leaks)
Calculation 2. 350 million * .747 kwh = 261.45 million kWh =.113 million metric tons CO2 (EPA GHG calc)
Calculation 3. .953+.113 = 1.066 million metric tons.

In 2020, ADM admitted that the technology to capture these emissions doesn’t exist and speculated that capturing stack emissions is “likely 10 years out.”77Archer Daniels Midlands. “Carbon Reduction Feasibility Study.” March 30, 2020 at 10.

Production of ethanol only accounts for a fraction of overall emissions, fuel and feedstock transport, agricultural emissions and land use change all contribute to the life cycle greenhouse gas footprint.78Scully, Mellissa J. et al. “Carbon intensity of corn ethanol in the United States: state of the science.” Environmental Research Letters. Vol. 16. March 2021 at 14. Incorporating these emissions, ADM’s captured carbon accounts for only one-third of the life cycle emissions of the ethanol the facility produces, resulting in a fuel with a similar emissions impact to gasoline.79U.S. DOE. “Alternative Fuels Data Center Fuel Properties Comparison.” January 2021 at 1; Sherrard, Allan. “ADM starts commercial-scale CCS at Decatur ethanol plant.” I April 20, 2017; Lark, Tyler J. et al. “Environmental outcomes of the US Renewable Fuel Standard.” PNAS. Vol. 119 No. 9. February 2022 at 1;
Calculation 1. 350 million gallons * (76,330btu/gallon * 0.001055058 megajoules per btu = 80.53257714Mj/gallon) 80.5 MJ/gallon(estimate) =28,186 million MJ *115.7 grams/MJ (ethanol emissions from lark) 3261166.7 million grams = 3,261 million kg = 3.261 million metric tons.

Accounting for land use changes, ethanol has life cycle emissions up to 24 percent higher than fossil fuel-derived gasoline.80Lark, Tyler J. et al. “Environmental outcomes of the US Renewable Fuel Standard.” PNAS. Vol. 119 No. 9. February 2022 at 1. Ethanol also increases the overall supply of gasoline available to burn, leading to increased consumption and leaving oil that can still be burned later.81Hill, Jason et al. “Climate consequences of low-carbon fuels: The United States Renewable Fuel Standard.” Energy Policy. Vol. 97. August 2016 at 351 and 352.

Managing CO2 also requires energy with corresponding, additional emissions.82Wu, May. Argonne National Laboratory. “Energy And Water Sustainability in The U.S. Biofuel Industry.” June 2019 at 2. The cooling and compression of the CO2 use electricity (with uncaptured emissions) and the chemical used for dehydration is regenerated by boiling with natural gas, another source of emissions.83Gollakota, Sai and Scott McDonald. “Commercial-Scale CCS project in Decatur, Illinois – Construction Status and Operational Plans for Demonstration.” Energy Procedia. Vol. 63. 2014 at 5988 and 5989. Carbon capture proponents often point to this plant as proof of carbon capture’s broader feasibility.84Archer Daniels Midland Company. [Press Release]. “ADM Begins Operations for Second Carbon Capture and Storage Project.” April 7, 2017. However, ethanol fermentation emits a very concentrated stream of CO2, making it substantially easier and cheaper to scrub than emissions from power plants or other industrial sources.85Edwards, Ryan W. J. and Michael A. Celia. “Infrastructure to enable deployment of carbon capture, utilization, and storage in the United States.” PNAS. Vol. 155, No. 38. 2018 at E8815 and E8816.

What These 11 Case Studies Tell Us

Carbon capture cannot be the centerpiece of any serious climate plan. Its track record makes it appear to be a handout to fossil fuel corporations, publicly financing their attempts to keep their harmful product viable. The truth is we need to move to 100% renewable energy by 2030, and no half-baked schemes are going to replace that course of action. No matter how inconvenient that is to the oil and gas industry, it’s a fact the rest of us need to keep in sight.

Your friends need to see the facts about CCS.

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