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MIT Technology Review: The carbon-capture era may finally be starting

Analysis of a newly approved tax credit shows it could make an immediate dent in industrial emissions and narrow the financial gap for power plants.

by James Temple February 20, 2018

The budget bill that President Donald Trump signed into law earlier this month provides a huge incentive for capturing and storing carbon emissions.

Energy researchers who have crunched the numbers in the days since have concluded that on many projects the boosted tax credit could finally tip the scales for a technology that’s long proved far too expensive.

The provision won’t completely offset the high cost of retrofitting power plants, though it will certainly lower the price tag. But it could make an immediate difference in cutting emissions from a source that’s otherwise very difficult to address: the industrial sector, which produces a significant portion of the greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States.

“I think we’ll see dozens of [carbon-capture] projects appear in the next couple of years that could not have happened otherwise,” says Julio Friedmann of the Energy Futures Initiative, who was previously principal deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy.

Most energy researchers believe carbon capture and storage will need to be a significant piece of any realistic plan to address the growing dangers of climate change. A number of studies have found that without this technology, it’s unlikely the world can prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C (see “Potential carbon capture game changer nears completion”).

The credit will apply equally to scrubbing technologies, which capture carbon dioxide from power plants and factories, and startups working on ways to pull the greenhouse gas straight from the sky, like Carbon Engineering and Climeworks (see “Test facility begins capturing carbon from air”).

Captured carbon dioxide can be stored under geological formations or injected into drilling sites to draw up the last bits of oil. Researchers and startups are al