Carbon Management Research Initiative
The science and arithmetic of climate change are decisive - we need more paths to progress. Despite dramatic progress in renewable power cost and deployment, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Greenhouse gas reduction in the power sector is not yet on track, while emissions from land-use, heavy industry, and transportation continue to grow alarmingly. Demand for rapid decarbonization has grown as a policy priority, and increasingly financial institutions consider carbon footprint and corporate actions as a core value and potential risk. At the same time, the potential impact of an energy transition on jobs and communities prompts questions about labor, equity, and impacts to communities, as well as the total economic cost. One pathway has emerged as critical to success – large-scale carbon management. This set of technologies and approaches include carbon capture and storage (CCS), converting carbon into products for sale and removing CO2 from the air and oceans. Despite the consensus from scientific, governmental and financial leaders on the essential nature of rapidly deploying these options, many decision-makers have valid questions about the role, scale, market viability, and potential consequences of large-scale carbon management.
What is the Carbon Management Research Initiative?
The Carbon Management Research Initiative (CaMRI) is a new program at the Center on Global Energy Policy that focuses on speeding up decarbonization and reducing the risk and impact of climate change through carbon management. These approaches exist within the complex, competitive and changing landscape of global energy markets, financial institutions, shifting policy imperatives and approaches, and rapidly evolving technologies. The critical reduction of CO2 emissions offered by carbon management will require scholarship, insight, practical and technical options/expertise, and cross-disciplinary collaboration to help map options and actions. CaMRI’s initiative at CGEP seeks to better understand the technical, economic, and policy barriers to market deployment of CCS, CO2 recycling, and CO2 removal. It will delineate and design policy and finance options to overcome these barriers.
The initiative leverages multidisciplinary scholars and technical expertise at Columbia University, including in law, business, science, engineering, finance, public policy and social science. It will also look for partnerships with other academic, research, and public institutions in New York City, New York State, across the U.S. and the globe.
CaMRI provides independent insight and data-driven analysis for private and public sector leaders navigating this new and complex landscape. Specifically, CaMRI works to:
- Identify and assess important technologies and technology pathways for direct management of carbon dioxide.
- Be a source of new ideas and information around the emerging discipline of carbon management as well as the new carbon economy.
- Help provide insight to decision-makers charged with solving vexing public problems involving energy system decarbonization.
CaMRI focuses on U.S. institutions and stakeholders (e.g., federal and state governments or at-risk communities) while examining global actions and opportunities in carbon management. It will help to create foundries for commercial climate solutions, as well as provide insight and analysis to companies, government agencies, journalists, business leaders, and policymakers seeking a deeper understanding of what carbon management can provide economically and practically. We will start this effort with two major studies.
Heavy industry represents 21 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and globally, yet in the effort to address climate change it receives far less attention than other sectors and emission sources. In some industries, removing carbon is difficult. Cement, glass, steel, petrochemical and fuel production have few options for decarbonization, in part because they require high-quality heat supplies, must operate continuously, and have by-product greenhouse gas emissions from their essential chemistry. With today’s options, these sectors will require significant innovation and financing to reduce their emissions substantially.
There are potentially many ways to provide industrial heat without releasing greenhouse gases: Burning renewable or decarbonized hydrogen; using nuclear fission for heat production; novel solar concentrating approaches; microwave and radio-frequency heating; using biomass; and capturing CO2 emissions post-combustion. Many of these approaches are not well explored from a technical or economic perspective, and few are currently in commercial practice. Options to Decarbonize Heavy Industry: Low-Carbon Heat Solutions describes:
- Describe current and near-market technology options for decarbonized heat production;
- Examine opportunities for near-term substitution of low-C options into current heating systems;
- Examine potential pathways for longer-term substitution of GHG-generating heat sources;
- Discuss the potential challenges facing near- and long-term substation of fuels, including cost, asset vintage, reliability, and process constraints, and;
- Discuss potential policy mechanisms to encourage low-carbon heat substitution in existing heavy industrial systems.
The U.S. power sector represents 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Even as cleaner sources of power come online, existing power plants in the U.S. will likely remain a critical part of power generation until their natural expiration dates. This means that carbon removal technology will be essential to reducing emissions in the sector. Financing and investment is needed to stimulate private investment and deploy new projects more broadly.
Capturing Investment: Policy Design to Finance CCUS Projects in the U.S. Power Sector analyzes the policy measures needed to close this gap, focusing on privately held power plants fueled by natural gas and coal, which represent about half of the power generation in the U.S. The paper examines which policies might work to stimulate investment for CCUS projects in the U.S. power sector, including capital incentives and revenue incentives and policies that reduce federal taxes for owners and investors. The authors recommend policies that reward investors rather than owners to remove the incentive to continue doing ‘business as usual’ and make discrete recommendations for direct and indirect policy support -- including production tax credits, enhancements for 45Q, investments in CO2 pipeline infrastructure, and RD&D support.
The paper yields important takeaways for investors and decision makers, including:
- CCUS (carbon capture, utilization, and storage) is among the fastest and cheapest ways to achieve net-zero emissions. Assuming no substantial improvement, the annual cost of capturing 400 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted by the power sector is roughly $40 billion per year over 20 years, shared between the government, ratepayers and taxpayers. Comparatively, recent clean-power policy incentives are more expensive and achieve lower effective volumes of CO2 reduction. For example, the total dollars spent on a policy 45Q tax credit would be ⅙ the amount of the total dollars spent on wind and solar credits with greater carbon returns.
- Creating incentives for CCUS projects owned and operated by private entities would have an outsized impact on emissions reductions, our economy and public health. Incentives focused on decarbonizing this slice of the power sector would decarbonize about half of the power generated in the U.S.
- For CCUS to be a viable pathway for decarbonization, policymakers mustcreate incentives and mandates that overcome investor risks and yield financial returns. This strategy has proven effective in the deployment of utility-scale solar, wind, and replacing coal-powered power plants with gas-powered power plants.
The analysis ultimately finds that a range of policy solutions could expedite carbon removal projects, which would in turn make the technology more affordable and viable for other difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, like steel, cement and chemicals. In the end the authors conclude that there is more than just one solution for financing carbon removal projects -- there needs to be a menu of policy options to stimulate private investment and deploy them more broadly in the power sector.
The case for rapid and profound decarbonization has never been more obvious or more urgent, and immediate action must match growing global ambition and need. An important new component of this discussion is the necessity of achieving net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions for any climate stabilization target. Until net-zero emissions are achieved, greenhouse gas will accumulate in the atmosphere and oceans, and concentrations will grow, even with deep and profound emissions reduction, mitigation, and adaptation measures. This places a severe constraint on human enterprise: any carbon removed from the earth must be returned to the earth.
To manage this aspect of the global carbon budget, carbon capture and storage (CCS) must play a central role. In particular, CCS will be important in two major roles:
- To manage emissions from existing, long-lived capital stock. This is especially true for rapid emissions reduction from three kinds of facilities: heavy industrial sector (i.e., cement, steel, and chemicals); production of near–zero-C hydrogen in abundance; and recently built power plants, in particular coal and gas facilities in Asia.
- To enable large-scale rapid carbon dioxide (CO2) removal through engineered systems. This will include approaches like direct-air capture with storage (DACS), bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), and carbon mineralization.
Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond, recommends climate finance policies and technologies that need to grow rapidly within the next 10 years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and decarbonize the global economy. The report finds that the deployment of innovative carbon removal technology and strong climate policy will require a global effort over the next 10 years to be a true success, and recommends immediate actions needed to achieve net-zero global emissions at lowest cost and greatest speed, including:
Investments in transportation and infrastructure: Estimates suggest that the 8,000 kilometers (5,000 mi) of existing carbon dioxide pipelines in North America must be expanded by an additional 35,000 kilometers (21,000 mi) to maximize emissions reduction. Similarly, industrial hubs and clusters, now under development in Europe, China, and the Middle East, can accelerate the deployment of carbon capture and storage at reduced cost. More storage sites and shipping options must be assessed and approved.
Investments in carbon capture and storage projects: Currently, there are 19 large-scale industrial and two large-scale power facilities that capture and store carbon emissions at their source, with a combined capacity of about 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. There are an additional 20 similar projects under development. The International Energy Agency (IEA), IPCC, and many other groups estimate these types of carbon capture and storage projects must increase by a factor of 35 from today to mitigate the needed 1.5 Gigatonnes per year by 2030, and stay on a course to keep global warming to a 1.5 o C increase by 2030.
Market-Alignment Through Policy: Clear climate policies that reduce the financial and regulatory risk of carbon dioxide capture and storage projects and increase storage options need to be developed and implemented to attract private capital, encourage research, development and deployment projects, and bring new technology to market more quickly.
Carbon Accounting Project
Columbia's Carbon Accounting Project will study current methods that quantify and measure carbon emissions, and investigate the potential for new methods to create greater accountability and carbon emissions reductions across full product life cycles and major sectors of the economy.