Imagine if you could make money by renting your backyard for carbon dioxide storage.
Carbon capture refers to sucking CO2 out of the air and from industrial facilities to store it underground. Experts say it's a "must" for fighting climate change. It's also a new industry filled with promising start-ups and a new way for states and landowners to monetize their property.
The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law yesterday by President Biden, increases tax-incentives from $50 per ton of carbon to $85. Suddenly, more difficult and expensive carbon capture programs will make economic sense.
Porous bedrock provides pockets of air into which we could pump CO2 that's been converted into a liquid form. States like Texas are already auctioning parcels of public lands that would be well-suited for carbon capture. In many cases, these are the same lands from which we pumped oil.
Start-ups like Carbonvert and CarbonCapture, as well as major companies like Shell Oil, are working toward building the machines to convert CO2 emissions into liquid form at the site of emission, such as the oil well or the factory, and the pipelines to transport the captured carbon to underground storage sites.
With the increased tax credit per ton, these companies will have enough incentive to pursue more costly and difficult carbon capture projects. A young industry will get a jump-start.
But carbon capture faces some environmental and engineering challenges as well as opposition from landowners.
As you might imagine, safely piping and storing massive amounts of CO2 presents some engineering difficulties. A leaky pipeline could flood an area with poisonous amounts of CO2. A leaky underground reservoir of carbon could slowly, or rapidly, leak into a town and asphyxiate everyone in it. Technology such as sensors could mitigate the danger, but regulators will need to carefully vet any carbon capture projects.
And landowners aren't always thrilled by the prospect of pipelines crisscrossing their property. In Iowa, for example, a group called Food and Water Watch has formed in opposition to proposed carbon capture projects there. They view carbon capture pipelines as imposing on landowners, potentially threatening soil and water quality with CO2 leaks, and propping up an outdated ethanol industry.
Summit Carbon Solutions wants to build a pipeline that connects ethanol plants in Iowa, which produce CO2, to underground storage in North Dakota and Illinois. They began the effort after tax-incentives increased from $24 to $50 a ton of carbon. The Inflation and Reduction Act's increase from $50 to $85 will fuel even more pipeline building, which will spark more political fighting with Food and Water Watch and other groups.
Environmentalists also doubt whether carbon capture will actually reduce carbon emissions after factoring in how much carbon gets produced in the process of capturing and storing it.
There's money to be made in carbon capture, so it's a good bet that the industry will continue to grow and take root. For the planet's sake, technical advancements and efficiencies will eventually lead to a carbon capture industry that removes more carbon that it produces.