Why the Department of Energy launched an “Earthshot” effort to reduce and store carbon pollution


This blog was co-authored by Sonali Deshpande, US Climate Program Analyst at EDF.

At a COP26 event on November 5, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced a new visionary effort to develop solutions that can reduce and store carbon pollution in the atmosphere: Carbon negative shot.

The Carbon Negative Shot follows two other DOE Energy Earthshot announcements this year on hydrogen and long-term storage, all aimed at achieving breakthroughs in emerging climate solutions this decade. This is the latest way the DOE demonstrates how it can implement President Biden’s whole-of-government approach to tackling climate change.

While we must prioritize reducing carbon and methane pollution this decade to have a chance of achieving net zero emissions by mid-century – the goal that gives us the best chance of avoiding the worst effects of global warming – science suggests we may too need to step up strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, known as carbon dioxide removal or CDR.

DOE’s new Earthshot aims to fund research and innovation to achieve sustainable, scalable carbon removal of less than $ 100 per tonne of CO2 in a decade. To be clear, this is an ambitious goal: currently, a ton of direct air capture can cost multiples of that. However, some experts believe that these costs can drop significantly with an aggressive research program. And there are many other challenges beyond cost: storing CO2 permanently and safely, engaging with communities to ensure that they inform and benefit from CDR, and ensuring that CDR does not compete with the production of renewable energy and other infrastructure vital to land use, and more.

To explore ways to maximize the value and impact of the Carbon Negative Shot, the DOE gathered a range of voices for the launch of COP26, including remarks from the Secretary of Energy Jennifer granholm, and executive director of the IEA Fatih Birol; and a panel composed of the deputy secretary for the management of fossil energy and carbon and expert in CDR Dr Jennifer Wilcox, President of the Environmental Defense Fund Fred krupp, Microsoft Environment Director Dr Lucas Joppé; and animated by Dr Akshat Rathi, climate and energy reporter for Bloomberg News.

Here are three key points of the event:

1. We need to invest in a variety of carbon removal solutions to help us achieve net zero.

According to the IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences and other leading scientists, many pathways to net zero involve removing billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year by the 2050s. a mix of nature-based approaches, such as reforestation or wetland restoration, or emerging technologies such as direct air capture (DAC). While we are now working to reduce emissions, we will need to invest in research, development and demonstration of the CDR solutions we need in the future. As Fatih Birol said in his remarks, we need both the technologies that we have today, such as clean energy, electric vehicles, etc., and the “technologies that are in development but are not being developed. are not yet part of the contract ”to complete the job.

Part of the challenge is that we don’t yet know which CDR approaches are likely to be the most promising, evolving and permanent. Currently, emerging technologies are expensive and resource intensive. But that’s no reason to hesitate to invest in direct air capture or in broader CDR innovation, quite the contrary. Innovation today can provide us with a set of safe, responsible and affordable carbon removal tools tomorrow.

In an effort to stimulate the market for early CDRs, Microsoft recently achieved the largest CDR business sourcing, purchasing over one million metric tonnes from a variety of solutions – from a direct air capture facility in Iceland to soil reclamation projects in Latin America and the United States. But as Lucas Joppa noted, this experience has shown how limited the options are for high quality CDR projects and how “it is clear that the supply has to increase dramatically and the cost has to come down dramatically”. The Carbon Negative Shot appears to offer a promising approach – it doesn’t pick winners up front, but rather focuses on advancement basic principles which are essential to make it a responsive and cost-effective climate tool.

2. Ensuring a fair, responsible and equitable deployment must be a priority.

While stepping up CDR may help us cross the net zero goal line, it is not a substitute for serious and ambitious action to reduce emissions today. As Fred Krupp put it, “if some use [this Earthshot] to say “We can continue as if nothing had happened …” all of us who support this initiative must call them because priority 1 is to reduce emissions. CDR should not be a distraction from the rapid deployment of proven and profitable clean energy technologies, nor should it serve as a justification for fossil fuel companies to pursue polluting activities that disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color. .

In addition, we need to be careful to develop the CDR judiciously, and ensure that solutions are deployed in a fair and responsible manner. It is essential that we start a strong, comprehensive and inclusive policy planning process that brings everyone together at the table – not just the federal government or private companies, but all groups and communities affected by both carbon removal technologies and climate change. According to Secretary Granholm, this means “working with local communities… to benefit from the benefits of this initiative.

3. CDR solutions can only serve our climate objectives if they permanently remove and store carbon.

A key success factor for CDR solutions will be whether they can actually remove carbon from the air and store it – not just for a few years, but permanently.

As Dr. Jennifer Wilcox explained, the costs of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere vary widely. And while many nature-based solutions, like carbon storage in soils, are currently in the lower end of this cost range, we don’t know the total price to ensure long-term storage with these solutions. For example, how much will it cost to manage a region’s forests in a way that reduces the risk of forest fires (and the potential for CO2 Release)? That’s why she noted that “part of this work will be defining which metrics can monitor and verify long-term storage.”

As we continue to push CDR approaches and technologies down the learning curve, it is essential that we also develop methods for monitoring and verifying their ability to sequester carbon, as well as methods to prevent carbon leaks. A strong regulatory framework, including standards for the time periods within which carbon must remain in the soil, can also ensure that CDR is effectively exploited as a climate solution.

Learn more about carbon dioxide removal strategies in this EDF sheet.

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