Carbon Capture Viability: EPA’s Challenge To Power Plants

by | Sep 9, 2023 | Carbon Capture

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Climate change caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is one of the most serious long-term environmental concerns confronting the United States of America and the rest of the globe. Since 1990, the primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States has been carbon dioxide emissions, with the electrical sector accounting for around one-third of total US emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector have increased as energy consumption has climbed, and fossil fuels have remained the dominating source of electricity generation. In this blog, we will discuss carbon capture viability to reduce greenhouse emissions in the USA.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities and then transports and stores it underground. CCS is considered a potential way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new rules for power plants that would require them to reduce their CO2 emissions by 90% by 2040. The rules would allow power plants to use CCS technology to meet these emissions reductions.

However, the viability of CCS is a complex issue as there are a number of challenges that need to be overcome, including the high cost of the technology, the need for large-scale infrastructure, and the potential for social and environmental risks.

How Does The EPA Challenge Power Plants To Prove Carbon Capture Viability?

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, has been promoted for years by fossil fuel firms and utilities as a solution to reduce climate pollution from the power industry. Federal regulators are now requesting that they walk the talk. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new rule to almost eradicate climate pollution from coal and natural gas-fired power facilities by 2040. Unlike previously suggested laws that required “generation-shifting”—forcing utilities to replace their fossil-fuel-fired power plants with energy from renewable sources, an approach that the Supreme Court rejected this summer — the latest proposal focuses on what is achievable using technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

carbon capture structure

At the very least, they concentrate on what is theoretically feasible based on optimistic forecasts from CCS supporters. Although the EPA claims that CCS technology is “adequately demonstrated” and “highly cost-effective,” experts are skeptical that it will reduce emissions as promised. Finally, some people informed me that fossil fuel power facilities could be more cost-effective to shut off and convert to renewable energy.

The EPA’s proposed guidelines do not prescribe a particular emissions reduction approach because the Supreme Court ruled that this was beyond the EPA’s authority. Instead, the government proposed overall emission caps with varied restrictions based on the fuel used by the facilities (e.g., coal or natural gas), the number of times they run, and how long they intend to remain in operation. Beginning in 2030, the law would compel practically all fossil fuel power facilities to start reducing emissions, with the most stringent limits imposed on power plants powered by coal and natural gas.

EPA’s Proposed Rule: Nearly Eradicating Climate Pollution From Power Plants

According to the EPA, the proposed restrictions will reduce 617 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) released through 2042, roughly 40% of the power sector’s emissions in 2022. The Environmental Protection Agency emphasizes two technology-based “pathways” that power plants could take: one based on carbon capture storage, which uses chemical reactions to remove carbon from emissions from a facility’s smokestacks, as well as another including hydrogen, which may merge with natural gas to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Industry groups have made bold claims about carbon capture viability, claiming that technology can — or would — capture ninety per cent of a power plant’s greenhouse gas emissions, yet the EPA’s 680-page proposed rules appear to take such claims at face value. The document notes an extensive record of studies into the process and reduces implementation costs due to the unprecedented investment in CCS in the Biden administration’s 2022 climate budget bill.

Challenges Of Carbon Capture

The EPA mentions Border Dam in its suggested rulemaking but needs to note that the facility only absorbs around half of its CO2 emissions, falling far short of the 90% target. Carbon capturing and storage cannot do decarbonization. A significantly more efficient method is to generate renewable electricity, the cost of which has plummeted in recent years. According to one study published in 2021, cost savings in solar and wind power lowered the value of CCS by up to 96%.

Even utilities that were formerly enthusiastic about CCS appeared to alter course in recent months, implying that the EPA’s technology-based standards may not be so easy to satisfy with CCS after all. As previously reported, over three dozen utility corporations filed a statement with the EPA this summer, noting the “low likelihood” that CCS would be fit for use under the agency’s power plant regulations. They chastised the EPA for citing pilot projects as proof of carbon capture viability.

Contrasting Claims vs Realities: Carbon Capture Viability Challenges

Identifying which political concerns influenced the agency’s latest suggestion is challenging. It’s unclear if the EPA believes in carbon capture viability or is using it as a “cudgel” against power plant operators—maybe a backdoor strategy to drive a move to energy from renewable sources without technically mandating it. Nonetheless, many environmentalists are critical of the EPA’s approach, regardless of whether it is part of a larger strategy. Although it is possible that power plants could trap 90% of their carbon emissions, experts warn that there is no assurance that these plants would keep carbon indefinitely.

Almost all of the remaining carbon gathered in the world is used for “enhanced oil recovery,” a procedure in which CO2 is sprayed into oil fields to force additional petroleum out of the earth. When consumed fossil fuels, they send carbon back into the atmosphere, aggravating global warming.

Conclusion

CCS entails capturing CO2 at its source with a capture plant, moving it to a storage place, and isolating it far from the atmosphere. The technology captures approximately 85–95% of the CO2 processed in a capture facility. The repeated regulation reports, legal battles, and political vicissitudes of the decades-long campaign to prevent U.S. power plants powered by fossil fuels from dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere have woven a certain irony. The EPA issued a new regulation mandating all coal and natural gas power plants to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 90% by 2040. Whereas previous mandates were based on “generation shifting” as the best available method of power plants reducing emissions—i.e., shutting down and replacing with renewables—the new reduction of emissions rules depend on the abilities of innovations such as carbon capture viability, which businesses may use based on their power facilities themselves.

Also Read: Role Of Algae In Carbon Capture

Author

  • Dr. Tanushree Kain

    Tanushree is a passionate Environmentalist with a Doctorate in Environmental Sciences. She is also a Gold medalist in Master of Science (M.Sc), Environmental Sciences. She has 6 years of experience as a guest faculty in Environmental Sciences. With her combination of technical knowledge and research expertise, she can create clear, accurate, and engaging content that helps users get the maximum information regarding environmental topics.

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