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A detail of the pilot carbon dioxide (CO2) capture plant is pictured at Amager Bakke waste incinerator in Copenhagen on June 24, 2021.
IDA GULDBAEK ARENTSEN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — Carbon capture technology is often held up as a source of hope in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, featuring prominently in countries’ climate plans as well as the net-zero strategies of some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies.

The topic is divisive, however, with climate researchers, campaigners and environmental advocacy groups arguing that carbon capture technology is not a solution.

The world is confronting a climate emergency, and policymakers and chief executives are under intensifying pressure to deliver on promises made as part of the landmark Paris Agreement. The accord, ratified by nearly 200 countries in 2015, is seen as critically important in averting the worst effects of climate change.

Carbon capture, utilization and storage — often shortened to carbon capture technology or CCUS — refers to a suite of technologies designed to capture carbon dioxide from high-emitting activities such as power generation or industrial facilities, that use either fossil fuels or biomass for fuel.

The captured carbon dioxide, which can also be captured directly from the atmosphere, is then compressed and transported via pipeline, ship, rail or truck to be used in a range of applications or permanently stored underground.

There are a number of reasons why carbon capture is a false climate solution. The first and most fundamental of those reasons is that it is not necessary.
Carroll Muffett
Chief executive at the Center for International Environmental Law

Proponents of these technologies believe they can play an important and diverse role in meeting global energy and climate goals.

Carroll Muffett, chief executive at the non-profit Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), is not one of them. “There are a number of reasons why carbon capture is a false climate solution. The first and most fundamental of those reasons is that it is not necessary,” he told CNBC via telephone.

“If you look at the history of carbon capture and storage, what you see is nearly two decades of a solution in search of a cure.”

‘Unproven scalability’

Some CCS and CCUS facilities have been operating since the 1970s and 1980s when natural gas processing plants in south Texas began capturing carbon dioxide and supplying the emissions to local oil producers for enhanced oil recovery operations. The first one was set up in 1972.

It wasn’t until several years later that carbon capture technology would be studied for climate mitigation purposes. Now, there are 21 large-scale CCUS commercial projects in operation worldwide and plans for at least 40 new commercial facilities have been announced in recent years.

A report published by CIEL earlier this month concluded that these technologies are not only “ineffective, uneconomic and unsafe,” but they also prolong reliance on the fossil fuel industry and distract from a much-needed pivot to renewable alternatives.

Employees near the CO2 compressor site at the Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant, operated by Saudi Aramco, in Hawiyah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, June 28, 2021. The Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant is designed to process 4.0 billion standard cubic feet per day of sweet gas as pilot project for Carbon Capture Technology (CCUS) to prove the possibility of capturing C02 and lowering emissions from such facilities.
Maya Siddiqui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“The unproven scalability of CCS technologies and their prohibitive costs mean they cannot play any significant role in the rapid reduction of global emissions necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C,” the CIEL said, referring to a key aim of the Paris Agreement to limit a rise in the earth’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“Despite the existence of the technology for decades and billions of dollars in government subsidies to date, deployment of CCS at scale still faces insurmountable challenges of feasibility, effectiveness, and expense,” the CIEL added.

Earlier this year, campaigners at Global Witness and Friends of the Earth Scotland commissioned climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, U.K. to assess the role fossil fuel-related CCS plays in the energy system.

The peer-reviewed study found that carbon capture and storage technologies still face numerous barriers to short-term deployment and, even if these could be overcome, the technology “would only start to deliver too late.” Researchers also found that it was incapable of operating with zero emissions, constituted a distraction from the rapid growth of renewable energy “and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

In short, the study said reliance on CCS is “not a solution” to confronting the world’s climate challenge.

Carbon capture is ‘a rarity’ in Washington

Not everyone is convinced by these arguments, however. The International Energy Agency, an influential intergovernmental group, says that while carbon capture technology has not yet lived up to its promise, it can still offer “significant strategic value” in the transition to net zero.

“CCUS is a really important part of this portfolio of technologies that we consider,” Samantha McCulloch, head of CCUS technology at the IEA, told CNBC via video call.

The IEA has identified four key strategic roles for the technologies: Addressing emissions from energy infrastructure, tackling hard-to-abate emissions from heavy industry (cement, steel and chemicals, among others), natural gas-based hydrogen production and carbon removal.

For these four reasons, McCulloch said it would be fair to describe CCUS as a climate solution.

At present, CCUS facilities around the world have the capacity to capture more than 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The IEA believes plans to build many more facilities could double the level of CO2 captured globally.

“It is contributing but not to a scale that we envisage will be needed in terms of a net-zero pathway,” McCulloch said. “The encouraging news, I think, is that there has been very significant momentum behind the technology in recent years and this is really reflecting that without CCUS it will be very difficult — if not impossible — to meet net-zero goals.”

Electricity pylons are seen in front of the cooling towers of the coal-fired power station of German energy giant RWE in Weisweiler, western Germany, on January 26, 2021.
INA FASSBENDER | AFP | Getty Images

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S. oil and gas trade lobby group, believes the future looks bright for carbon capture and utilization storage.

The group noted in a blog post on July 2 that CCUS was a rare example of something that is liked by “just about everyone” in Washington – Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.

Where do we go from here?

“Frankly, tackling climate change is not the same as trying to bring the fossil fuel industry to its knees,” Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, told CNBC via telephone.

“If the fossil fuel companies can help us get to net zero then why wouldn’t we want them to do that? I think too many environmental groups have conflated their dislike of oil and gas companies with the challenge of tackling climate change.”

When asked why carbon capture and storage schemes should be in countries’ climate plans given the criticism they receive, Ward replied: “Because if we are going to get to net zero by 2050, we have to throw every technology at this problem … People who argue that you can start ruling out technologies because you don’t like them are those who, I think, haven’t understood the scale of the challenge we face.”

The CIEL’s Muffett rejected this suggestion, saying proponents of carbon capture technologies are increasingly reliant on this kind of “all of the above” argument. “The answer to it is surprisingly easy: It is that we have a decade to cut global emissions in half and we have just a few decades to eliminate them entirely,” Muffett said.

“If on any reasonable examination of CCS, it costs massive amounts of money but doesn’t actually reduce emissions in any meaningful way, and further entrenches fossil fuel infrastructure, the question is: In what way is that contributing to the solution as opposed to diverting time and energy and resources away from the solutions that will work?”

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The largest landfill solar project in North America is now complete

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The largest landfill solar project in North America is now complete

The largest landfill solar project in North America, a 25.6 megawatt (MW) solar farm in Mount Olive, New Jersey, is online – which means yet another dumpsite has been turned into a revenue-generating, clean energy asset.


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The Combe Fill North Landfill site is a brownfield site that operated from 1966 to 1978 – and it now hosts 56,000 solar panels. It contains domestic and industrial waste and dry sewage sludge.

CEP Renewables and CS Energy developed the project, Terrasmart provided its rack systems, and Lindsay Precast supplied steel skids.

NJR Clean Energy Ventures will own and operate the solar farm under a long-term agreement. NJR Clean Energy Ventures is a subsidiary of utility New Jersey Resources. CEP Renewables owns the land for this project, and the company is leasing it to NJR Clean Energy Ventures.

It is expected to provide more than 4,000 households with clean energy.

The Mount Olive solar project has enabled the township to recoup nearly $2.3 million in past taxes from the former landfill site. 

Chris Ichter, executive vice president at CEP Renewables, said:

There are over 10,000 closed landfills in the United States, yet only a small fraction of these parcels have been redeveloped. Transitioning more of these landfill sites into solar projects will create more local tax revenue, jobs, cleaner air, and affordable energy for residents throughout the country.

According to the EPA, there has been an 80% increase in the number of landfill solar projects in the United States over the last five years. 

Read more: How ‘unusable’ capped landfill can gain a second life as a solar farm

Photo: CEP Renewables

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Los Angeles bans new oil wells, will shut old ones down by 2042

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Los Angeles bans new oil wells, will shut old ones down by 2042

The Los Angeles City Council has voted 12-0 to ban new oil wells within the city, and to phase out all current oil wells within 20 years or less.

Los Angeles may not be famous nationally for oil, as that industry is typically associated with other states, and California is thought to be an environmental leader. While the state does push forward environmental policy, there is actually a long history of oil production in Southern California, with the state at one point making up 38% of the entire US national supply of oil largely due to production from these fields in LA.

But California’s oil industry has been in decline from its early dominance. As the state moves away from fossil fuels (and other states don’t), tens of thousands of wells have gone idle statewide and the companies operating them often do not have the money to close them down properly, leaving to a potential multibillion-dollar problem for the state going forward.

The oil fields in LA are often situated directly in dense areas of the city, with consequent health effects on the populations which live nearest to them. And importantly, these areas of the city tend to have higher concentrations of black and brown residents, meaning the negative health effects of oil drilling are felt in a racially disproportionate manner.

Beyond the global climate and air pollution effects of burning oil, oil drilling has negative local effects on human health. It causes cancer, liver damage, immunodeficiency, neurological problems, respiratory issues, birth defects, and the list goes on.

LA county’s oil wells have been called the largest system of urban oil production in the country due to their proximity to dense housing. Currently, there are 26 oil and gas fields and 5,000 wells in the city, not all of which are active, and two drill sites on city-owned properties. The highest concentration of them are in the Harbor region, near the port of Long Beach.

The push to ban these wells was largely led by local political groups Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and Communities for a Better Environment. They have been working for decades to stop oil drilling in the city.

Los Angeles city’s new move not only bans new oil wells, but also directs all oil companies operating in the city to plan to shut down in a maximum of 20 years. Beyond that, the city will conduct their own studies to determine whether individual companies operating in the city can recoup their investments in less than 20 years. If they can, they may be forced to shut down even sooner.

The vote was opposed by the California Independent Petroleum Association, which represents independent oil and gas producers in California and threatened to explore legal avenues to block the move. They incorrectly claimed that oil production does not have detrimental health effects, even though it does.

They also suggested that this would result in increased imports of oil into Los Angeles and therefore more associated pollution from oil tankers in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Finally, they pointed to a 2020 study by a consulting group which claimed that the oil industry is responsible for $250 million in tax revenue for the city. This number represents about 2% of LA’s budget, or about as much as the city spends annually on public parks.

Electrek’s Take

Well, this is just great news that we hope to see in more places as soon as possible. And on the same day as the first ban on natural gas by a county on the US East Coast. Let’s hope this momentum goes somewhere.

I’ve seen and driven past these oil fields many times, and they sure do contribute to a sense of blight in the city. In fact, when I went up to test drive the electric Arcimoto FUV at a nice urban park, we didn’t realize this park was right next to a massive oil field. Which led to an ironic juxtaposition in the background of one of our rolling shots:

But that’s just aesthetics. The real issue here is the health of the residents. And while it will take a while for that to turn around, the earlier we start the better.

In particular, the fact that the city will conduct independent studies to determine how long it will take companies to recoup investments is hilarious to me. I love the idea that the city will shut down wells as soon as they become profitable.

Of course, I’d rather they shut them down immediately and let the oil companies lose money, as they deserve to for harming people and lying for so long, but at least it’s one step better than letting them continue to profit for decades.

The oil companies’ objections to this are also ridiculous, as most oil industry statements are. First they start with a lie stating that oil drilling doesn’t harm human health, as we’re used to hearing from them.

But then they turn around and claim that shutting down oil production will actually be bad for the environment, because then Los Angeles will have to import more oil from dirty polluting oil tankers. So… you’re saying oil is the problem then? Well, good point! Maybe we should shut it down then! Thank you California Independent Petroleum Association, good suggestion!

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The US just made a big decision about Chinese solar – here’s what it means

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The US just made a big decision about Chinese solar – here's what it means

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) has determined that four out of eight Chinese solar companies that it’s been investigating are “attempting to bypass US duties by doing minor processing in one of the Southeast Asian countries before shipping to the United States.” Here’s what it means for the US solar industry.

The DOC found that the four Chinese companies that attempted to circumvent US duties by processing in Southeast Asia are:

  • BYD Hong Kong, in Cambodia
  • Canadian Solar, in Thailand
  • Trina, in Thailand
  • Vina Solar, in Vietnam

The DOC findings are preliminary, and the agency will conduct in-person audits in the coming months. The DOC also noted that a ban is not going to be implemented on products from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam:

Companies in these countries will be permitted to certify that they are not circumventing the [antidumping duty (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) orders], in which case the circumvention findings will not apply. 

The DOC also notes:

Further, some companies in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam did not respond to Commerce’s request for information in this investigation, and consistent with longstanding practice, will be found to be circumventing.

As Electrek reported in mid-May, the DOC launched an investigation of whether Southeast Asian solar cell manufacturers are using parts made in China that would normally be subject to a tariff.

That investigation destabilized the US solar industry, which relies on solar module imports to meet growing demand. The majority of the US solar industry then asserted that the DOC investigation would harm the US solar industry and wanted the investigation dismissed.

On June 6, President Joe Biden waived tariffs for 24 months on solar panels made in Southeast Asia in response to the investigation. He also invoked the Defense Production Act to spur on US solar panel and other clean energy manufacturing. That way, domestic production could be sped up without interfering in the DOC investigation.

The DOC today asserted that Biden’s presidential proclamation provides US solar importers with “sufficient time to adjust supply chains and ensure that sourcing isn’t occurring from companies found to be violating US law.”

But Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), didn’t see it that way. She said in a statement:

The only good news here is that Commerce didn’t target all imports from the subject countries. Nonetheless, this decision will strand billions of dollars’ worth of American clean energy investments and result in the significant loss of good-paying, American, clean energy jobs. While President Biden was wise to provide a two-year window before the tariff implementation, that window is quickly closing, and two years is simply not enough time to establish manufacturing supply chains that will meet US solar demand.

This is a mistake we will have to deal with for the next several years.

George Hershman, CEO of SOLV Energy, the US’s largest utility-scale solar installer, also wasn’t pleased about the DOC’s announcement. He said in an emailed statement:

After years of supply chain challenges and trade disruptions, I remain concerned that the Commerce Department chose a path that could jeopardize the solar industry’s ability to hire more workers and construct the clean energy projects needed to meet our country’s climate goals.

The upside is that Commerce took a nuanced approach to exempt a number of manufacturers rather than issuing a blanket ban of all products from the targeted countries. While it’s positive that companies will be able to access some of the crucial materials we need to deploy clean energy, it’s still true that this ruling will further constrict a challenged supply chain and undercut our ability to fulfill the promise of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Photo: Tom Fisk on Pexels.com


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