Creating A ‘New Carbon Economy’
Federal policy should encourage technological innovation and natural gas and other feedstocks should be viewed as a creative new material for all kinds of applications, not simply as waste in a “new carbon economy,” House members were told earlier this week.
The hearing at the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees on Energy and Environment focused on the future of fossil fuel technologies, including various public-private partnerships between federal and state research and various industries.
“Currently, our largest project is the Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC), which is a private-public partnership between the State of Wyoming, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA),” Jason Beggar, Executive Director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, told the committee.
Beggar said the government shouldn’t focus on technology that industry is unable to adopt and commercialize. Instead, it should try to partner with industry on research, or provide incentives through federal mineral royalties, to encourage research and development.
“While we believe there is an important role for the Federal Government to play in advancing technology and we would welcome a partnership, not one cent of federal dollars has been utilized at this facility,” Beggar said.
“While the federal government certainly plays a role in foundational research in this area, the private sector is best situated to innovate and scale up these technologies,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday.
“In Wyoming, we don’t want to duplicate the work already being done, we wanted to complement the other test centers by providing a place to scale up current research” to capture and manage carbon, Beggar said. Encouraging competitions or channeling federal mineral royalties into technology funding would spur growth and innovation, he said.
“Technology is apolitical and the U.S. can make its best and greatest impact by investing in technology development that can be utilized around the world,” Beggar said. “Technology is the best way to ensure these countries have access to power, yet can meet environmental goals.”
Dr. Roger Aines, Chief Scientist of the Energy Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, Cali., told the committee that CO2 utilization in American industry’s “current state foreshadows a future in which natural gas and CO2 become feedstocks for valuable products, creating an economic opportunity for all regions of the United States using our abundant resources and new technology.”
According to Aines, that includes “emerging fossil energy technologies, including carbon capture, carbon storage, carbon utilization, and advanced energy systems, and, finally, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” He touted the work being done in public-private partnerships.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has worked “in close partnership with companies that can bring those solutions to the market. The need for efficient fossil fuel technologies that can provide an engine for enhanced U.S. competitiveness has led to DOE research and analysis conducted at Lawrence Livermore Lab as well as other national labs,” Aines said.
“Carbon utilization, or I like to call it, carbon recycling, is poised to become a major industry. Last month in Livermore, we held a roundtable discussion with twenty corporations, ranging from Exxon to 3M to Nike, all who were interested in how they could improve their products with materials made from carbon dioxide,” Aines said, saying research was “ripe” and ongoing.
“This is an opportunity for new technology to aid multiple industrial and power generation actors who want to manage their carbon dioxide,” Aines continued. “New technology, like 3D-printing, will be important to that transition.”
“Natural gas will also be an important part of what we call, ‘the new carbon economy,’” Aines said, “where carbon-based products we use every day are increasingly made from simple feedstocks like carbon dioxide, natural gas, and electricity.” This would include fibers and plastics from the chemical industry for use in concrete production, for example, as the addition of carbon dioxide makes concrete stronger.
Aines said new industrial centers would likely emerge from areas where natural gas and electricity, along with carbon dioxide, is abundant and cheap, particularly in the center of the country.
Along with a new source of material for all types of industrial applications, Aines pointed out, is the removal of CO2 through a lens of value-add approach, and not simply as a product to by avoided or removed.
“A new carbon economy that values carbon dioxide as a feedstock, and not a waste, will help with this task,” told the committee.
House Science, Space, & Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) agreed.
“While research in carbon capture, storage and sequestration technologies remains a priority, there is also potential to research ways to use carbon as an energy resource, rather than only considering it as a waste product,” he said.
“Cheap and reliable electricity is the cornerstone of our economy,” said Dr. Klaus Brun, Machinery Program Director at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
“The super-critical carbon dioxide, or sCO2 power cycle, has been a major collaborative development effort between industry, government, and research institutes to make electricity cheaper, more reliable, and also cleaner,” Brun continued.
But affordability and abundance are no reason for not pursuing technological improvements, according to Brun.
“For the last 250 years the majority of fossil-fueled power plants have been using steam and air. But technology development never stands still and we must pursue the next improvement of power plants,” Brun said. “CO2 is a common gas that is abundantly available, non-toxic, and easily handled.”
“The American public cannot afford blackouts and does not want to pay high electricity bills,” Brun wrote in his prepared testimony.
“The U.S. has already made significant strides in the development of advanced fossil energy technologies to improve the utilization of these resources,” said Shannon Angielski, Executive Director of the Carbon Utilization Research Council.
“Consumption of fossil fuels is on the rise both domestically and internationally, and this trend is projected to continue well into the future,” Angielski said. Accessibility, reliability, and affordability, according to Angielski, are driving the resource development.