There’s growing global recognition that technologies which capture carbon, and in some cases remove it from the atmosphere, will be vital to achieving a decarbonized economy. There is also increasing interest in these technologies given their potential economic value since carbon can be used to develop products through beneficial use or conversion.

Scaling up these technologies presents an exciting opportunity to provide major economic and environmental benefits by creating valuable products while reducing carbon emissions. To realize the benefits of these technologies and provide critical leadership, federal support is needed to increase investment in technology commercialization and to build out infrastructure for scaling-up existing and emerging applications at a larger scale.

Fortunately, bipartisan support in Congress is growing due to the potential win-win-win for the economy, jobs, and the environment. This year, Congress has an opportunity to advance legislation through a bill called the USE IT Act that aims to address the technology and infrastructure needs.

Well-established industries have long used captured carbon dioxide (CO2) for beneficial use, such as CO2-enhanced oil recovery that began in the US during the early 1970’s. There are also emerging industries working to advance “carbontech,” which the nonprofit Carbon180 defines as “any process, product, or service that converts carbon dioxide, bio-methane, or biomass into a commodity while creating fewer emissions than the alternatives.”

As former US Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) recently noted in a column advocating for investment in a type of carbontech called direct air capture, “the global market for carbon dioxide, valued at $6 billion in 2015, is expected to double in size by 2023 and keep growing.”

An opportunity to leverage momentum

In February 2018, Congress passed landmark bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing the deployment of carbon capture projects through the expansion and reform of the federal 45Q tax credit for CO2 storage and beneficial use. The legislation, titled the FUTURE Act, was notable for its broad bipartisan support; it could also be a game changer for attracting investment in projects that can significantly decarbonize key industries, from electric power to ethanol to steel and cement production.

The reform of 45Q also expanded eligibility to include carbontech projects, such as direct air capture and the capture of CO2 for beneficial uses that result in net emissions reductions.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators including Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced the USE IT Act (which stands for Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act) to advance critical research, development and demonstration of direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies, as well as support deployment of CO2 pipeline infrastructure needed to transport CO2 from where it is captured to where it can be put to productive use and geologically stored.

The USE IT Act builds on the momentum of the FUTURE Act and unanimously passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in May. While the FUTURE Act reform of the 45Q tax credit provides financial certainty for investment in commercial-scale projects, the USE IT Act provides a critical complement to 45Q by fostering technology development and infrastructure.

Some key components of the bill include the following:

  • Funding for technologies for projects that demonstrate the capture of CO2 from the air (e.g., carbon removal) via a competitive prize program;
  • R&D to support projects that transform carbon emissions from industrial processes into products with commercial value;
  • Financial and technical assistance for activities related to carbon utilization; and
  • Improved cooperation and coordination among federal agencies, state and tribal governments, and key industry, NGO and other stakeholders on planning, siting, and permitting carbon capture and CO2 pipeline infrastructure.

As industries look to reduce carbon emissions, carbon utilization and direct air capture projects offer significant benefits and opportunities. These opportunities include using captured carbon to develop products such as cement, chemicals, plastics, synthetic fuel, or to produce oil with a much lower carbon footprint through CO2-enhanced oil recovery.

The USE IT Act could play a significant role in advancing the earlier stage technologies, helping them move from pilot to commercial scale, and in ensuring the availability of infrastructure needed for deployment of both established and emerging carbon capture technologies.

Diverse coalition building support for federal investment and infrastructure

In addition to the bipartisan support in Congress for the USE IT Act, numerous leaders, companies, and organizations have made passage of this legislation a key priority. This includes the Carbon Capture Coalition, a diverse partnership of energy, industrial and technology companies, labor unions and environmental, clean energy and agricultural organizations advocating for the adoption of carbon capture technologies. The Great Plains Institute co-convenes the Coalition with the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions.

Last week, the Coalition held a briefing on Capitol Hill for congressional staff to learn about the economics, jobs, and environmental benefits of carbon capture and utilization. The Coalition’s line-up of industry, labor, and environmental speakers at the briefing emphasized how the USE IT Act, together with the revamped 45Q tax credit, can benefit existing industries and protect high-wage energy and industrial jobs while spurring the emergence of entirely new industries and jobs in the creation of value from carbon.

As Brad Crabtree, GPI vice president and co-director of the coalition stated, “This legislation provides a critical next step in supporting innovation and investment in future capture technologies and the development of CO2 pipeline infrastructure.”

We look forward to sharing updates on this important legislation and carbon capture projects as they develop.

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