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Biden administration seeks to boost carbon capture in power plants

Lily Jamali May 11, 2023
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Biden's plan calls for power plants that burn coal and natural gas to be outfitted with systems that capture carbon. If released into the atmosphere, the carbon would contribute to climate change. George Frey/AFP via Getty Images

Biden administration seeks to boost carbon capture in power plants

Lily Jamali May 11, 2023
Heard on:
Biden's plan calls for power plants that burn coal and natural gas to be outfitted with systems that capture carbon. If released into the atmosphere, the carbon would contribute to climate change. George Frey/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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The Biden administration is out with a new plan to crack down on the electric power industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Part of the plan calls for power plants that run on coal and natural gas to be outfitted with systems that can capture carbon. The goal is to remove 90% of industry emissions by 2035.

A giant bundle of money is earmarked for these “carbon capture” systems in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. So how does it work?

Picture for a moment the smokestacks at a power plant. They’re designed to let carbon, produced while generating power, escape into the air.

“You can’t just stick a straw into an emissions point source and just grab CO₂ because it’s in low concentration,” said Tip Meckel, senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. He said one method isolates carbon dioxide, attaching it to a liquid.

“You want the CO₂ to be absorbed into the liquid so that you can collect it and concentrate it” so it can be stored underground, he explained. But that process is expensive.

The main policy encouraging carbon capture is called the 45Q tax credit. Mahmoud Abouelnaga, solutions fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said it’s had a limited effect. However, he said, the Inflation Reduction Act’s boost to the tax credit is changing that.

“After the enhancement of 45Q, we have seen the announcement of so many projects all across the country,” he said, adding that carbon capture can work at scale if the infrastructure to move and store the carbon is there.

For critics, that’s a big caveat.

“It’s potentially a distraction,” said Michael Mann, the director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media and author of the book “The New Climate War.”

“We need to use the technology that exists today to accomplish the task of lowering carbon emissions by 50% this decade,” he said.

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