When the global community was focused on the U.S. presidential election last fall, a huge story was developing in Norway: Its parliament was preparing to finance “the greatest” carbon capture project in the world that would cut emissions and jumpstart the technology. It would first be implemented at a cement factory. It is the type of thinking that Prince Charles of Wales said is critical if the international community is to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement and to keep temperatures in check. He appeared by video at an Atlantic Council Global Energy conference on Friday, emphasizing “the need to reimagine” climate solutions — ventures that would be both profitable and sustainable.
“If we have the resolve to shift our trajectory, we need to make the tough decisions now,” the prince said. “Industries, like countries, are interconnected and interdependent. Progress in one can cause progress in another.”
Setting the tone for the conference, Prince Charles said that those projects with “environmental, social and governance” objectives have been outperforming those centered solely on immediate returns — a function of market demand and the grand desire to curb global warming. To that end, he specifically endorsed Net Power, which is working with Toshiba Corporation to burn natural gas in oxygen to create pure CO2 — much of which is captured, heated and used to create electricity. The remaining CO2 is captured and either sequestered underground or used to enhance oil recovery.
Net Power is convinced its technology, which can burn either coal or natural gas, is economically competitive compared with existing plants that don’t capture any CO2. As such, it says that it can convert more fuel to electricity than competing technologies. It expects to license its technology and to bring affordable carbon capture and storage to the entire world.
To get to net-zero carbon releases by 2050, Goldman Sachs GS -2.2% says that it opens up a $50 trillion investment opportunity. It’s doable. The US SIF Foundation’s 2018 biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends found that sustainable, responsible and impact investing assets now account for $12.0 trillion. That is one in four dollars of the $46.6 trillion in total assets under professional management in the United States alone.
“We have to focus on the market and what people want,” says Bill Brown, chief executive of Net Power, at the conference. “Right now, coal is a problem. This country will not be a big buyer of coal. But China and India will be as far as the eye can see. We can vilify them or we can make it work.
“We need to take people where they sit,” Brown continues. “We need to make the economics (of carbon capture) work. I truly believe we can make the economics work for China.” And once it does, he says the rest of the world will adopt the technology. “We will massively disrupt the industrial landscape.”
Choose a future, not a technology
And that brings us back to the Norwegian carbon capture project being run by Gassnova and that is called “Longship.” It expects other countries to join in with it to bring this deal— and the corresponding technology — to scale. With that, Equinor, Royal Dutch Shell and Total are its partners. Northern Lights will transport liquid CO2 through pipelines to a reservoir beneath the bottom of the sea, Trude Sundset, chief executive officer of Gassnova explained to viewers. Without large-scale storage, she says that Norway can’t meet its climate obligations.
Carbon capture and sequestration is feasible. But it is still expensive. However, a tax credit is now given to coal, natural gas and oil companies that can capture or re-use their CO2 releases. Known as 45Q, it gives a credit of $50 per ton for CO2 that is buried and $35 a ton for CO2 that is re-utilized.
Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM -4.8% wants to catapult the concept further by using carbonated fuel cells that can concentrate and capture the CO2 from power plants. FuelCell Energy and Exxon said the development of this new technology would “substantially reduce costs” associated with carbon capture. They have a demo in Alabama. Petra Nova, meanwhile, is now capturing 90% of CO2 at 240-megawatt coal plant in Texas using a different type of technology. The facility, which has backing from both the U.S. and Japanese governments, is a joint venture between NRG Energy NRG +1.4% and JXTG Holdings that cost $1 billion.
“We believe we have a moral imperative (and) Occidental is committed …” says Vicki Hollub, chief executive of Occidental Petroleum Corporation at the conference. “Our focus: net-zero before 2050.” And the company will do that by increasing operational efficiencies, improving energy efficiency and capturing carbon. “We cannot achieve the Paris accords without this.”
Net Power’s Brown says that instead of choosing specific fuels, the United States needs to choose a future — one that is set on becoming carbon neutral by 2050. He said that he is confident that the incoming Biden administration will elect this course. More importantly, free-market forces are causing companies across the economic spectrum to address climate change — a potent combo that gives climate activists more hope than ever.