On August 16th, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Dr. Charles Harvey from MIT, a consistent critic of carbon capture, and Kurt House, CEO of KoBold Metals, a metals exploration company with a financial interest in “capturing” government funding.
You may be able to tell where we’re going with this. Before we dive into the specific exaggerations and misinformation riddled throughout the article, it’s worth addressing the irony in the byline on the piece. Kobold Metals, which receives funding from Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates, among others, was described as such by CNN:
“The billionaire club is financially backing Kobold Metals, a mineral exploration company and California-based startup, the company’s representatives told CNN. Bezos, Bloomberg and Gates did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment on this story. Kobold is partnered with Bluejay Mining to find the rare and precious metals in Greenland that are necessary to build electric vehicles and massive batteries to store renewable energy.”
Why Greenland? Again, per CNN:
“The climate crisis is melting Greenland down at an unprecedented rate, which — in a twist of irony — is creating an opportunity for investors and mining companies.”
Now, let’s turn to their misconstrued arguments:
Misconception 1: Carbon capture is slowing the clean energy transition by extending the lifespan of fossil fuels.
The truth is, the overwhelming majority of our energy consumption today is based on fossil energy, with roughly one-third of that driven by the industrial and commercial sectors. Carbon capture is a technological solution available right now to address just that. And in the transportation sector, industrial combustion engine (ICE) vehicles fueled by gasoline and ethanol blends are projected to make up 79 percent of sales in 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Leveraging carbon capture technologies in ethanol production is a common-sense step we can take to support significant decarbonization.
The goal here is not to only invest in carbon capture projects, but rather to invest in them alongside other decarbonization efforts so that we are addressing our short-, medium-, and long-term energy needs.
Misconception 2: Investing in renewable energy “instead of CCS power” will eliminate more carbon emissions.
Again, there is no reason to view these investments as either/or scenarios. Carbon capture technologies do not compete for investments in renewable energy and other clean energy technology. And, significantly, the money invested in carbon capture technology, even with the tax provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), is a fraction of what has been invested in renewable energy. Ignoring the option of CCUS will not quicken our adoption of other energy sources, but rather leave our industrial and commercial sectors – vital to keeping our economy running – more carbon intensive than necessary.
The authors seem fixated on the ability of carbon capture to produce carbon-free electricity as compared with renewables, when in fact, many experts believe that carbon capture technologies will be most useful and effective in capturing carbon emissions from industrial sectors. As it stands right now, implementing carbon capture for industrial heat, for example, is the only real competitive, commercially-available option. Inaction is not an option.
Misconception 3: Renewable power is cheaper than carbon capture.
It is worth diving in a little deeper to this point, because the truth of the matter is, the authors also seem to have forgotten addressing climate change is not just a domestic priority, but an issue on the forefront for every nation around the globe. However, the tools, technologies, and resources available vary greatly.
While some countries are well-positioned to make significant investments into leveraging renewable sources like wind and solar, others are not because they either 1) can’t afford to do so or 2) don’t have the natural resources to meet demand. In those cases, carbon capture technologies represent a clean, affordable energy supply, while still reducing the need for any one nation to rely on energy imports.
Misconception 4: The majority of carbon capture projects are “oil and natural gas projects, or both, masquerading as climate change solutions.”
That runs contrary to the opinion of the global energy and environmental community, including, but not limited to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Energy Transmission Commission, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), among countless other organizations and experts. You can read more here in our Resource Library.
In fact, according to the IEA, the global carbon capture industry will need to scale up to over 2,000 facilities capturing 2.8 gigatons of CO2 per year in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Or, as IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol has said, “CCUS is a necessary bridge between the reality of today’s energy system and the increasingly urgent need to reduce emissions. Not only can it avoid locking in emissions from existing power and industrial facilities, it also provides a critical foundation for carbon removal or negative emissions.”
Misconception 5: The DOE has historically funded carbon capture projects that have failed.
Indeed, yes, that’s actually how R&D and new industries get started. If you look at the early days of any number of emerging technologies or companies, you’ll usually find trial and error. A number of energy technologies that have helped facilitate the United States’ emergence as a global energy superpower began in DOE National Labs and received support through public grants and loans. This doesn’t happen overnight – it happens through investment, experience, and progress.
Finally, the authors remind us to stop wasting our time. Yes, let’s. Let’s stop trying to eliminate pathways that will help us reach a shared goal. Let’s stop cherry-picking information that supports our self-interested motivation. And let’s stop approaching the conversation about energy and environmental issues from an utterly myopic and navel-gazing vantage point.