Dr. Jennifer Wilcox
Biography for Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management
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Good afternoon. 

Thank you for inviting me to meet with you today.  And thanks to everyone for joining us this afternoon.

For more than 100 years, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers has been the preeminent organization for chemical engineers – bringing together many of the Nation’s best and brightest professionals like you who are making a difference in so many fields – including energy and in the response to the climate crisis. 

So, I’m honored to join you this afternoon and to highlight some critical initiatives my office is pursuing to help tackle that crisis.

First – as you may know, we recently changed the name of our office from the Office of Fossil Energy to the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

This change is more than just adding two words – “carbon management” – to our name.

It reflects the fact that we’ve refocused our R&D priorities significantly to center our work on climate. And we’re striving to align our efforts to further advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s mission to cut emissions 50% by 2030, which is less than a decade away, to produce 100% clean electricity by 2035, and to ultimately reachnet-zero US carbon emissions by 2050.

This mission – and the work required to achieve it – is more urgent than ever before.

As you know, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its sixth assessment report -  absent deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, average global temperatures will exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

We have an urgent, but shrinking, window of opportunity to limit the harm to our planet –and especially the harm to our most vulnerable climate populations.

For our part, the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management’s mission centers around investments in approaches that help ensure clean and affordable energy, while helping facilitate a just and sustainable transition toward a net-zero carbon economy

A lot of what we do is about managing carbon, but it’s more than just carbon – one of our two primary R&D offices (Resource Sustainability) is focused on limiting and cleaning up the environmental impacts of fossil fuel extraction while our second office (Carbon Management) is focused specifically on carbon – the emissions associated with power and industrial sectors in addition to legacy emissions in the atmosphere coupled to the conversion or permanent storage of CO2 to reduce negative climate impacts.

And this carbon management part of our mission is what I want to focus on today.

So, let’s look first at carbon capture and reliable, dedicated storage. 

 

Carbon Capture

For the last 20 years or so, we’ve been focused on investments in the power sector, particularly coal-fired power plants and some natural gas plants.

And in the past five years, we’ve invested $1.2 billion to develop CCS technologies. 

During this fiscal year, we’ve invested more than $140 million in those approaches. 

Our budget request for next year is asking for a 60% increase in federal investment in research and development for carbon capture, storage, conversion, and removal – up to $368 million in 2022.

Going forward, we want to expand carbon capture into the natural gas space and in industrial sectors like ethanol and hydrogen production, and cement and steel production.

Earlier this year, we made available $75 million for R&D and FEED studies for carbon capture and dedicated storage on natural gas power plants and industrial facilities

And the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will provide more than $10 billion for carbon capture, direct air capture and industrial emission reduction – funding that will not only help us meet our climate targets, but will also open up opportunities for those who work in fossil fuel industries.

So, we’re leveraging work we’re already doing to expand the potential of CCS and CO2 conversion to focus more on deployment and toward the development of low-carbon products like cement, steel, paper, chemicals, and fuels.

And in particular, for the production of synthetic fuels and chemicals with CO2 as a feedstock, the sourcing of low-carbon hydrogen will be critical and there is significant potential in applying carbon capture to help advance a cost-effective and low-carbon hydrogen economy.

In fact, one of our major CCS demonstration projects in Port Arthur, Texas– is successfully combining carbon capture with steam methane reforming to produce hydrogen. For a single production stream, the project can capture over 90 percent of the CO2 for the production of clean hydrogen.  The project has captured over 7 million tons of CO2 since 2013.

So, we know how to do this.  The issue is that we need to think more broadly than just about carbon capture for hydrogen production – we also need to think about the supply chain – the natural gas that goes into the steam methane reforming unit, for instance.  And that supply chain today isn’t leak tight.

That doesn’t just apply to hydrogen production – it’s also true for the power sector.

At the same time, secure and reliable CO2 storage is critical to helping us meet our climate goals.  And we have a robust R&D portfolio in the carbon storage space to improve storage and operational efficiency, as well as strengthen our understanding of overall cost and de-risking strategies to reduce these costs.

We want to focus on improving storage and operational efficiency. This is all critical to enabling and supporting a CCS industry that is safe, economically viable and environmentally responsible.

Building on our Regional Initiatives and CarbonSAFE program, our goal is to broaden the availability of certified resources for geologic storage through field projects that advance characterization and certification of storage complexes in regions that have known storage capacity – but also in regions where the storage resource potential is more prospective.

And we’re aiming to expand carbon storage demonstration so that we have more projects distributed across the US and in locations where CO2 injection deep underground is feasible today.

Besides geological storage, what else can you do with the captured CO2?  Answering that question has been an important focus of our office.

For instance, we’re working toward building the foundational science for the catalytic conversion of CO2 in to fuels and chemicals. We’ve invested in novel catalysts, materials and systems that can convert CO2 alongside clean hydrogen into fuels, chemicals, and plastics.

Another promising area is the mineralization of CO2 into carbonates -- either in situ or ex situ through alkaline sources from mining. Often times with mining, there may be alkaline-rich waste that contains elements like calcium and magnesium, which can react with CO2 to form a synthetic aggregate that could be used as a feedstock for road building or concrete.

Here, you’re remediating two wastes – CO2 and that produced from mining, and utilization of CO2 into durable products with markets on the order of gigatons enables these conversion approaches to scale and have an impact on climate. 

 

CDR

While the movement toward the deployment of carbon capture, storage, and recycling technologies is encouraging, there are still challenges – both in terms of addressing the technical, financial, and policy challenges to that deployment, and in the sheer scope of the decarbonization that will be required to meet our climate targets. 

I think it’s important to note that, if this were a decade or more ago, we could have perhaps focused on just deploying CCS on committed emissions infrastructures. 

But we’re at a point where it’s simply too late for that.

In their recent report, the IPCC noted that it’s not enough to simply cut emissions – we have to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

And recent studies from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to the International Energy Agency reported that by 2050, we will have to remove  on the order of gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year through carbon dioxide removal methods - termed CDR - like direct air capture to achieve our net-zero carbon emissions goals.

Ultimately, nearly all climate models that show pathways to net-zero indicate the need for a near-term focus on the deployment of carbon dioxide removal from the accumulated pool of CO2 in the atmosphere in addition to point source capture coupled to dedicated storage.

In fact, IPCC modeling shows that only emissions scenarios including CDR achieve net-zero in 2050.

Getting to gigatons of CO2 removal by mid-century will require us to advance the field at an unprecedented pace.

But we shouldn’t view CDR as a method for offsetting emissions that we can avoid with existing technologies – such as decarbonizing fossil fuels – or point-source capture on industrial facilities such as cement and steel.

Rather, CDR should be viewed as a tool that counterbalances only the truly hard to avoid emissions – such as those from the agriculture or aviation sectors.

This is a challenge, but we have a unique opportunity – and a compelling responsibility – to advance carbon dioxide removal approaches to achieve decarbonization and help tackle the climate crisis.

The Department of Energy is pursuing a department-wide initiative to advance CDR pathways, especially direct air capture – or DAC. 

The Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management – in collaboration with other offices across the department – is playing a leading role in this effort.  We’re taking what we’ve learned through our carbon capture RD&D to develop and deploy DAC technologies.

Separating CO2 from the atmosphere has some aspects that overlap with point source capture, which has been a significant part of our office’s CCS RD&D program – both in terms of the separation processes and its reliable storage. So, as part of a broader DOE effort to advance CDR technologies, we’re leveraging a lot of the work we’ve been doing on CCS to help move the ball on direct air capture. 

Since January, we’ve invested $33 million in the research, development, demonstration, and deployment of direct air capture technologies.

In June, six projects were awarded $12 million to help create tools that will increase the amount of CO2 captured by DAC, decrease the cost of materials, and improve the energy efficiency of carbon removal operations. In August, we selected four additional projects to study new structured material systems and component designs for DAC technology.

Last month, we announced a $14.5 million funding opportunity for front-end engineering design studies of advanced DAC systems capable of removing 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from the air. These systems will also be suitable for long-duration carbon storage.

And to advance CDR technologies like DAC, our budget request for the coming fiscal year includes $63 million to continue our CDR research and development activities. 

But it’s not just about what we’re doing in the U.S. – global decarbonization
is essential to battling the climate crisis. 

And that’s why at COP26 a couple of weeks ago we launched the first-ever global collaboration on carbon dioxide removal –a new Mission Innovation initiative to advance CDR approaches along a path to achieve a net reduction on the order of tens of millions of metric tons of CO2 per year globally by 2030.

As with any transformational technology, there are challenges to carbon dioxide removal.  Some of the biggest challenges include:

  • Very careful carbon accounting – which means life cycle analyses and technoeconomic analyses for a broad set of CDR approaches;
  • Deployment of near-term technologies; 
  • Advancement of earlier-stage CDR technologies;
  • And advancing tools that will assist in monitoring and verifying high-quality storage, which means storing CO2 at minimal risk for at least 100 years in order to positively impact climate

The Mission initiative on CDR will facilitate strong collaboration between governments and the private sectors of member countries to address those challenges – and expand the development and deployment of carbon dioxide removal approaches.

So, at the end of the day, we need to invest in the deployment of both CCS and CDR – it’s not an either/or – but it’s a both in parallel and we’ll need to be strategic in terms of regional goals – since doing these at the scale required will take resources like land, water, and in some cases, low-carbon energy – coupled to reliably and securely storing the CO2 on a timescale that impacts climate.

And as we pursue CCUS, CDR and other carbon management strategies, we also need to incorporate a new way of thinking, where environmental justice, equity, and workforce development are at the center of our work.  

We have an opportunity to build back better – to build and deploy these important technologies in a better way than we have done previously. To incorporate and engage communities and local populations and empower them in the decision-making process.

President Biden is committed to making this central to all federal climate action, and his Justice40 Initiative aims to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of climate investments to disadvantaged communities. These investments will make sure the communities who have suffered the most from pollution are first to benefit.

And the Department of Energy is working with the President to implement that initiative. 

So, we have a lot of work to do, and we in the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management – or even the Federal government – can’t do it alone. 

As with any transformational endeavor, achieving a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century will require partnerships between government, academia, industry, and others who are committed to reaching these goals.

That means we will need your knowledge and expertise as we move in this new direction.  And I want you to know that we look forward to working with you as we advance the critical technologies and approaches we need to win the race against climate change. 

So, again, thank you for asking me to meet with you today, and I’m happy to take your questions.