The EPA’s recently released rules that encourage states to find ways to reduce carbon dioxide from power plant emissions put a heavy emphasis on technologies that would capture the gas and dispose of it underground. But the rules virtually ignore technologies that can transform carbon dioxide into useful products.
Algae cultivation is one such technology that can consume enormous amounts of CO2 and create countless products we need for modern life. And a robust algae industry can provide new jobs and economic growth across the nation.
Recycling Carbon is Common Sense
Carbon dioxide is currently seen as a harmful waste product of burning fossil fuels, but new technologies are making it possible to recycle the gas much like other materials, such as aluminum or paper.
Algae Biomass Organization members are developing a wide range of algae technology platforms to convert CO2 to renewable fuels, chemicals, fertilizer, plastics, feed ingredients and other products. Photosynthetic algae thrive on concentrated sources of CO2 and today’s algae developers must purchase commercial CO2 – at great expense – as a feedstock.
The algae industry wants to help reduce emissions by partnering with utilities to use their carbon as a feedstock, transforming CO2 from an expensive waste disposal issue into a resource that will benefit power producers, the environment and ratepayers.
The process is called Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU), and it will apply the tried and true philosophy of reduce, reuse, recycle to the fight against climate change.
Recycling Carbon Reduces Emissions
Even when subsequently combusted as a transportation fuel, algae-derived products lead to meaningful emissions reductions. Peer reviewed lifecycle analyses of two of the largest commercial demonstration algae production facilities show CO2 reductions of 68 to 80 percent. Every barrel of algae biofuel produced through carbon capture replaces a barrel of petroleum that would otherwise have been extracted and combusted. Through this substitution, CO2 remains permanently stored underground as petroleum.
Algae-derived plastics and other long-life products add to the carbon emissions reductions that come with reusing carbon dioxide.
- Study finds HTL algal biofuels offer 50-70% lifecycle CO2 reduction compared to petroleum fuels; EROI and GHG comparable to or better than other biofuels, Green Car Congress, September 30, 2013
- Life Cycle Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions for an Ethanol Production Process Based on Blue-Green Algae, Environmental Science & Technology, November 15, 2010
Recycling Lets a Carbon Market Work
The EPA makes almost no mention of carbon capture and utilization (CCU) in their proposed rules, while affirmatively recognizing other compliance options, including carbon capture and sequestration/storage (CCS). This risks sending the signal to states – and to investors – that carbon utilization is not a preferred mitigation strategy. This would be a profound missed opportunity.
By creating a market for captured carbon, carbon utilization can mitigate, offset, or even negate the cost of carbon capture, providing a CO2 reduction mechanism that minimizes the cost to ratepayers.
Recycling Carbon Works
Algae CCU is adequately demonstrated and technically feasible. It can be implemented at reasonable cost, provide meaningful emission reductions, and will serve to promote further development and deployment of carbon reduction technologies.
Since 2010, the Department of Energy has helped to advance algae CO2 utilization by funding a dozen projects. Carbon utilization is being demonstrated at projects in Florida, New Mexico, Iowa, Hawaii, Kentucky, and elsewhere, and is ready for commercial deployment. ABO members are in negotiations with partners in China and several other nations to deploy algae CCU technology. CO2 utilization has now advanced to the point where it can and should be available to states to help meet their greenhouse gas goals.
Help make this approach a reality in the U.S.
Click here to submit your comment supporting carbon capture and utilization to the EPA.
Congressional support for CCU is growing. Contact your legislator today and ask them to support policies that will accelerate carbon capture and utilization technologies.