The United States is increasingly betting on carbon capture

“Suck up” the CO2 emitted by industrial processes, or even directly into the atmosphere. Then store it in the basement. The CO2 “capture and storage” solution features prominently in the great American climate package, Adopted August 16.

Of the 369 billion dollars (397 billion euros) injected into the ecological transition by this plan, part will be granted in the form of tax credits to companies that develop these techniques. To the chagrin of certain environmental associations and scientists, who denounce the perverse effects.

Historically, the United States has supported the sector for many years. But the current plan prepares for a change of scale: certain tax credits will be multiplied by three and will be added to the 12 billion dollars already released for the sector during the adoption of a plan to develop infrastructures in 2021.

Industrial processes and capture in the atmosphere

Several techniques will be funded. The first is the capture of CO2 from industrial processes or electricity production. This collection takes place at the level of the production unit. Then the CO2 is either reused or permanently stored underground. According to the new American legislation, each ton captured (the equivalent emitted by 5,000 km by car) would give the right to a tax credit of 85 dollars to be stored and 50 dollars to be reused.

The second technique is the capture of CO2 already present in the air. The technology is still in its infancy and more complex to implement: factories serve as carbon dioxide “vacuum cleaners”. The ambient air is pushed by fans, then the CO2 is filtered using solvents. The tax credits now offered are the most important: they will increase from 50 to 180 dollars per tonne.

Create market conditions

These measures have been widely welcomed in the United States by several interest groups. They believe that the amount of these tax credits will finally create the conditions for a market for the capture and storage of CO2 and make the system financially viable.

Currently, the United States has only a dozen industrial CO2 capture systems. A study published in the journal Environmental Research in 2020 had estimated that more than 80% of projects previously launched in the United States had failed, in particular for lack of sufficient financial incentives.

Controversial technique

The measure remains controversial. Scientists agree that capturing industrial emissions could be useful for eliminating residual emissions in certain sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, such as cement production. But this operation can only take place in addition to other measures, because the technology does not make it possible to eliminate all the emissions from an industrial site.

Many environmentalists also criticize this technology as a pretext to delay the abandonment of fossil fuels in other sectors, such as coal-based electricity production. In a column published in the New York TimesCharles Harvey, professor of environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Kurt House, chief executive of KoBold Metals, a metals exploration company, call the grants a counter-productive waste of money ».

“By promoting the capture and storage of CO2 (CCS)the fossil fuel industry slows the exit of these fuelswrite the two specialists. It is in oil and natural gas production that CCS has been most widely used in the United States and elsewhere. » They explain that the majority of existing facilities reuse CO2 for oil recovery. That is to say, once captured, the gas is injected into wells to extract more oil.

Change of scale

As for direct capture in the atmosphere, the technology is still in its infancy. The largest unit in operation is located in Iceland and captures the equivalent of 4,000 tons of CO2 each year, the equivalent of what 250 Americans produce. Some scientists defend the development of direct capture, arguing that it permanently removes carbon from the atmosphere.

But the low deployment of these technologies in recent years casts doubt on their potential: “To have a significant effect, direct CO2 capture would need to be deployed on a large scale, requiring very large amounts of water and energy, and raising environmental justice concerns about the toxic impacts of the chemical absorbents used in the process. », warns the American NGO Climate Alliance.

In 2021, the capture and storage of CO2 had already benefited from 5.6 billion euros from the American administration. They had been granted in the form of loans and subsidies for the development of pipelines dedicated to the transport of CO2 and four facilities for direct capture in the atmosphere. They haven’t come out of the ground yet.

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