Remarks of Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg as prepared at the International Conference on Carbon Recycling - Industry-Academia-Government Session in Tokyo, Japan on September 25, 2019.
I’d like to begin by thanking the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) for organizing this important conference.
And it is indeed an important – and timely – conference.
One of the most pressing global challenges we face is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial and power generation sources. That’s especially important when it comes to fossil energy systems, particularly coal-fired power plants.
But what if, instead of viewing carbon dioxide emission reduction as simply a challenge to overcome, we saw it as an unprecedented opportunity to harvest an abundant resource that can be converted into value-added products?
The good news is that we can do that – and we are doing that – through the development of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies, or CCUS, where we’re opening new windows of opportunity to not only reduce carbon emissions, but also recycle and utilize CO2.
And, frankly, given the continued importance of fossil energy – including coal – in global energy production, CCUS is the only realistic path to reducing CO2 emissions and to recycling that gas into valuable products.
The U.S. has been — and remains — in the forefront of CCUS technology development, with the Department of Energy collaborating with industry, and funding and supporting much of this research and development.
In the U.S., first-generation, DOE-supported CCUS technologies now operate in both coal power plants and industrial applications, while advanced second-generation carbon capture technologies have progressed to the large pilot plant phase.
DOE is also investing in early-stage transformative technologies, including Direct Air Capture, and all of this R&D – and learning by doing – can drive down costs.
At the same time, an important focus of our CCUS R&D is on extracting economic benefits or additional value from CO2.
In the United States, enhanced oil recovery is the most readily used near-term application, but we’re also looking into ways that we can convert CO2 into building materials, chemicals, polymers, plastics, and fuels – valuable products which, by the way, can further enhance the business case for CCUS.
We have a successful track record with this R&D, with our supported projects resulting in the world’s first successful large-scale production of a polypropylene carbonate polymer that includes as much as 40 percent CO2 as a raw material, and the creation of building blocks for the plastics industry.
Another investment by DOE, which was subsequently picked up by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s Climate Investment group, utilizes CO2 in the production of concrete and has the potential to lower the carbon footprint of concrete by up to 70 percent and water consumption by 80 percent.
These are just a few examples of how early investments in the utilization or recycling of CO2 are already moving toward commercialization.
Opportunities exist to build on these efforts with continued science and technology innovation. Over the last few years, we’ve funded multiple projects at various technology readiness scales to develop novel ways to produce plastics or intermediate feedstocks for plastic production.
Currently, one of our focuses is the development of nano-catalysts to convert CO2 to materials, including polymers.
So, cutting-edge R&D will continue to move us forward on carbon utilization.
But to get us where we need to be will also require policies that encourage investment in CCUS and carbon utilization. We’re seeing progress on this front in the U.S. For example, there are specific tax incentives available for developing products from carbon utilization. Known as 45Q, these tax credits were put in place by Congress to encourage the use of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies in power plants, industry, and even direct air capture.
Just as domestic public-private collaboration and policies are critical to the commercialization, so too are international partnerships.
In addition to driving down costs through R&D, the global CCUS community must drive down project costs through learning-by-doing, and lower CCUS financing costs by building projects that work well and assure investors they will get reliable returns. And developing carbon utilization options that provide value to investors is, in many instances, critical to establishing a business case for CCUS.
So, international collaboration and cooperation is critical to getting these technologies in place, and the United States remains committed to developing the strong international partnerships needed to achieve this goal. For instance, the Clean Energy Ministerial’s CCUS Initiative provides a splendid multilateral opportunity for us to advance CCUS with our partners – many of whom are in this room today.
At the same time, we have a number of bilateral partnerships to advance these technologies – again, with many of you here today, including our Japanese colleagues.
So, my message today is this: We have an exceptional opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions and realize the full potential of carbon utilization. It’s an amazing vision – and it’s within our reach.
We’re making real progress, but there’s still a great deal to be done. And we at the Department of Energy look forward to collaborating with our international partners to accomplish this important work.