DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System

By Sharon Kelly, an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Originally published at DeSmogBlog.

An organization run by former Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 labor unions, has created a policy “blueprint” to build a nationwide pipeline network capable of carrying a gigaton of captured carbon dioxide (CO2).

The “Building to Net-Zero” blueprint appears to be quietly gaining momentum within the Energy Department, where a top official has discussed ways to put elements into action using the agency’s existing powers.

The pipeline network would be twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume, according to the blueprint, released by a recently formed group calling itself the Labor Energy Partnership. Backers say the proposed pipeline network — including CO2 “hubs” in the Gulf Coast, the Ohio River Valley, and Wyoming — would help reduce climate-changing pollution by transporting captured carbon dioxide to either the oil industry, which would undo some of the climate benefits by using the CO2 to revive aging oilfields, or to as-yet unbuilt facilities for underground storage.

The blueprint, however, leaves open many questions about how the carbon would be captured at the source — a process that so far has proved difficult and expensive — and where it would be sent, focusing instead on suggesting policies the federal government can adopt to boost CO2 pipeline construction. 

Climate advocates fear that building such a large CO2 pipeline network could backfire, causing more greenhouse gas pollution by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.

In March, over 300 climate and environmental justice advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress, arguing that subsidizing carbon capture “could entrench the fossil economy for decades to come.”

The AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative, which jointly produced the blueprint, did not respond to questions about concerns over their proposals.

Proponents of carbon capture, usage, and sequestration (CCUS) often highlight ways that it could be used for sectors like steel and cement whose carbon pollution is generally considered “hard to abate.” Yet, the pipeline network envisioned by Moniz would be capable of carrying over 10 times as much carbon dioxide as the steel and cement industries emit in total nationwide, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data from 2019. In fact, it could transport more CO2 than the entire industrial sector emits in the U.S., leaving the rest of the pipeline network’s capacity available for carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants or from “direct air capture” technologies that would remove ambient CO2 but don’t currently exist at a commercial level

“Even the advocates of direct air capture technology acknowledge that they don’t anticipate that it would be at a scale to make any meaningful reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels until 2060, 2070 and beyond,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the environmental law nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law. “When we’re dealing with a world where we need to cut emissions in the next decade, direct air capture just has no meaningful place in that conversation.”

Instead, the proposed CO2 pipeline network would be used to offer a lifeline to existing fossil fuel power plants. In Appalachia, for example, 90 percent of the carbon emissions the plan seeks to capture would come from existing coal-fired power plants in the Ohio River Valley. Those plants, none of which are currently outfitted with the costly upgrades needed for capture carbon, are already facing difficult questions about their ability to compete economically with wind and solar energy.

Nonetheless, momentum behind the project appears to have been gathering behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., particularly inside the Department of Energy (DOE).

“It’s a great pleasure to have our first kind of public interaction with our good friend, Dave Turk,” Moniz said of Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Energy at the blueprint’s online launch on July 1.

“It’s incredible the volume and quality of the thought-leadership that you all are behind,” Turk, who is second in command to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, told Moniz. “And I think the report that you all have put together is incredibly helpful to show that we need to do more from the DOE side, other agencies, and Congress,” he added, describing the blueprint as “actionable.”

Figuring the Federal Funding

A day before the blueprint launch event, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) sent a report to Congress on carbon capture and its associated infrastructure.

“CO2 pipelines are critical to the future nationwide deployment of CCUS,” the CEQ wrote, leaving open the question of just how large of a CO2 pipeline network the White House supports.

The report calls carbon capture “especially important for decarbonizing the industrial sector, where high-temperature heat can be difficult and expensive to electrify” and carbon pollution difficult to avoid. The CEQ was less sure about the role carbon capture should play in electricity generation, writing that it “may also play an important role in decarbonizing the global power sector.” It also highlights the possibility that future technologies that could draw carbon dioxide from the air might use the same kinds of underground storage infrastructure.

Building a national CO2 pipeline network to support CCUS would be extremely expensive. The pipelines themselves could cost between $170 and $230 billion to build, the CEQ noted, citing an estimate from Princeton’s Net-Zero America study. That’s roughly the net worth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — or twice the $100 billion that Biden has proposed spending to upgrade the nation’s electrical power grid.

The CEQ’s memo was greeted with enthusiasm by Moniz’s Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), a co-author of the gigaton pipeline blueprint.

“I would also like to give a big shout out to the Biden administration and its CEQ for the CCUS report they released yesterday,” said Melanie Kenderdine, a principal of EFI. “There are many similar thrusts between that report and ours.”

Discussion at the blueprint’s launch suggested that higher-ups within DOE are focused on how exactly to move forward on CO2 pipeline construction.

“So we do have authorities right now, as you certainly know, from the DOE side,” Deputy Secretary Turk explained at the blueprint’s launch. “Our Fossil Energy and Carbon Management office has authorities, has funding, we’re trying to move various programs along in that way.”

He also discussed the controversial tax credits for carbon capture, known as 45Q. “And then there’s some significant money, billions of funding, being proposed by the President through the American Jobs Plan that Congress is deliberating right now that could be hugely, hugely important on the CCUS side,” he went on. “So we’ve got some tools on the table right now at the Department of Energy but we’re really hoping and it’s encouraging to see the bipartisan support for CCUS up on the Hill, increasing the tools that we have and the size of those tools so that we can really get at the gigaton opportunities as you all lay out incredibly well in your actionable report.”

The Department of Energy also did not respond to questions about the blueprint or how often Deputy Secretary Turk has met with Ernest Moniz, the Energy Futures Initiative, or the Labor Energy Partnership this year.

An unnamed White House official told Bloomberg Law that the approach in the CEQ report remains open to modifications. “It should be interpreted as, ‘Here are the areas in which the administration plans to act. Here is how they might act in those areas. That is subject to refinement and change as the agencies carried out the more detailed process that’s necessary under their statutes,’” the unnamed official said.

Pipelines to Nowhere?

It’s not clear that carbon capture is remotely ready for prime time, particularly on a gigaton scale. “The world has been experimenting with [carbon capture] since the early 1970s,” Wood Mackenzie noted this month. “Around 68 projects started and terminated, primarily because the projects are super-expensive.”

Right now, all of the world’s existing CCUS projects combined have the capacity to remove just 37 million metric tons of carbon per year — a tiny sliver of the 1,000 million metric tons (or one gigaton) that the EFI blueprint for a U.S. CO2 pipeline network proposes.

There’s a long list of reasons that CCUS — despite decades of public subsidies and numerous high-profile pilot projects and “demonstration” plants — has floundered commercially.

First, adding carbon capture equipment to existing coal or natural gas power plants, for example, fundamentally adds costs — and today, those fuels are already under significant cost pressure as the price of renewable energy continues to fall.

The engineering side of capturing carbon can also be very difficult, particularly for some industries. When researchers, who included representatives from academia and a Chevron official, studied the costs of adding CCUS to U.S. industrial sites, they found 656 sites which they considered “suitable” for carbon capture retrofits — roughly two out of every five sites in the country.

There’s also the question of what to do with the carbon after it’s captured. Most CCUS projects right now sell carbon to the oil industry, which uses it to produce more oil from aging oil fields — not exactly a climate-friendly solution.

While backers of CCUS often focus on its role in capturing carbon not from electrical power plants but instead from industry, a one gigaton pipeline network would dwarf the size of the carbon emissions produced from “hard to abate” industries in the U.S. 

For example, the EPA’s greenhouse gas inventory lists 41.3 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 from iron, steel, and metallurgical coke production in 2019 and a nearly equal amount, 40.9 MMT, from cement production. That’s a huge amount of greenhouse gas — but it’s only enough to fill 8.2 percent of a one gigaton pipeline network. All told, the entire U.S. industrial sector emitted 822.4 MMT of CO2 that year, EPA reported — far short of the gigaton that Moniz’s organization proposes.

“What you see in that report is a demand for a colossal expansion of CO2 infrastructure,” Muffett said, “even while acknowledging that it’s fundamentally not economic to build it even with the massive federal subsidies that are already flowing into it.”

Fossil fuels have powerful backers in Congress, including at least one senator who has suggested he might spike Biden’s climate proposals if carbon capture is not included as a way to preserve the fossil fuel industry. “I told him that I was concerned about some of the language I’d seen to move us away from fossil,” Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he told President Joe Biden on July 14. “I said if you move our country away from fossil and there won’t be another country that will step to the plate to do the research and development that will fix the emissions that are coming.” 

A senior ExxonMobil lobbyist recently named Manchin as “crucial” to the oil giant’s lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., in secretly recorded remarks made to an undercover representative of Greenpeace UK and reported by the UK’s Channel 4 News, adding that the Exxon lobbyist met with Manchin’s office weekly.

Prolonging ‘Negative Attributes of Fossil Fuels’

The blueprint itself carries a long list of warnings about carbon capture’s uncertainties and flaws. “Public perceptions that contribute to negative opinions of CCUS include hesitancy about technology risks, limited track record, cost, and investment tradeoffs compared to other emissions abatement options,” the blueprint notes. “Worries about the risk of geologic CO2 leakage are also common.”

“Other concerns about CCUS include its perception as a ‘delaying tactic’ that forestalls other climate change mitigation actions, such as improved energy efficiency or transition to non-fossil fuels,” it adds. “There are also concerns that CCUS prolongs negative attributes of fossil fuels such as pollutants, environmental disruptions, and negative community impacts.”

Fossil fuel power plants with CCUS can also remain highly polluting beyond greenhouse gases — and existing plants are often located within communities of color. “Energy and industrial infrastructure is disproportionately located in or near neighborhoods of lower-income households and with larger minority group populations,” the blueprint notes. “The environmental impacts of these facilities have contributed to negative health outcomes and lowered property values in the adjacent communities.”

“I’m concerned about federal funding to support pipeline and hub construction, when the feasibility of CCUS remains extremely unclear,” Megan Hunter, a senior attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, told DeSmog.

And while carbon might be captured with CCUS technology, there are many other pollutants released by fossil fuels.

“It’s also important to note that these plants, petrochemical facilities, and the other sites mentioned in this report emit more than just carbon dioxide; they emit harmful particulate matter, hazardous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and other toxic pollutants that severely threaten the health of nearby communities,” Hunter added. “The Ohio River Valley is already burdened by significant legacy pollution and experiences intense subsurface and surface activity — including underground and surface mining, pipelines, hydraulic fracturing, injection wells, and solution mining.”

“I’m also deeply concerned about the potential for federal funds to be directed towards a buildout of natural gas and petrochemical infrastructure under the guise that this infrastructure will one day be repurposed for CO2 or hydrogen,” Hunter added.

For example, utility Southern Company sank $7.5 billion into attempting to build a coal-fired power plant that would capture carbon in Kemper County, Mississippi, before abandoning those efforts amid cost overruns and increasingly evident design flaws.

The pipeline that Southern originally built to carry captured CO2 won’t be torn down, however, as the company had previously contemplated. Instead, it will be converted from a CO2 pipeline into a natural gas pipeline, Southern reported in its annual SEC filing for 2020, and used to fuel a gas-fired power plant.

Moniz sits on the board of directors of Southern Company.

Before he joined the Obama administration, Moniz pushed natural gas as a solution to climate change, arguing in 2010 that the fossil fuel “truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future.” The following year, Cornell professors Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea published their landmark paper showing that natural gas-fired electricity may be twice as climate-altering as coal-fired electricity — or worse, depending on just how much climate-warming methane escapes from the nation’s gas infrastructure. 

During his time at DOE, Moniz continued to push natural gas as a way to curb the country’s CO2 emissions, despite growing evidence that the fossil fuel’s methane leaks are very damaging to the climate. In 2020, methane levels in the atmosphere reached a record high, prompting urgent warnings from the United Nations.

Prior to the 2020 election, Moniz’s name was rumored to be among those that Joe Biden considered for Energy Secretary — but, under pressure from green groups, Biden ultimately passed him over, opting instead for Granholm, a former Michigan governor.

In November 2020, Little Sis, a Public Accountability Initiative project, highlighted the number of Moniz’s associates that played a role in Biden’s transition team, including Turk, who had served under Moniz in the Obama administration. “All this raises concerns about Moniz’s influence over the policy direction and staffing decisions within Biden’s DOE, and suggests that — even if Biden rejects Moniz himself — Moniz’s network could play a critical role in setting energy policy in the Biden administration,” Little Sis wrote.

“Moniz also launched two projects — the for-profit consulting firm EJM Associates and the non-profit think tank Energy Futures Initiative — intended to shape the policy debate around energy issues,” it added. “The Energy Futures Initiative is advised by a board chaired by former BP CEO Lord John Brown Madingley and includes former CIA director and Cheniere Energy board member John Deutch, and J. Todd Mitchell, whose family fortune comes from the fracking company Devon Energy.”

Erratic Track Record

Previous attempts to use carbon capture have largely run aground amid technical and financial issues.

“The costs of carbon capture have decreased by 35% between a first-of-a-kind power plant with carbon capture and the second facility using the same technology,” the White House CEQ wrote in the memo’s executive summary, citing a report that details the costs of Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam project in 2014 and Texas’s Petra Nova plant in 2017 — with no mention of Southern Company’s failed attempt at carbon capture in Mississippi.

Also not mentioned: NRG’s Petra Nova project doesn’t actively capture carbon, despite its $1 billion price tag. “Petra Nova has been mothballed since May 2020 because it is uneconomic,” POWER Magazine, a trade publication, reported in late June. “Even before the plant was mothballed NRG had taken three impairment charges totaling $310 million against the project.”

Even before the full effects of the pandemic unfolded in the U.S., the DOE itself warned that carbon capture projects aren’t financially competitive. “Additionally, as is the case for the [Petra Nova] Project, the economics of large-scale carbon capture facilities are challenging,” DOE wrote in a March 31, 2020 final scientific and technical report on Petra Nova.

That makes the Boundary Dam project in Canada the world’s only operating coal carbon capture project. The project made headlines in March when it announced it reached its 4 millionth metric ton of CO2 captured, a lifetime total equal to what one coal-fired power plant emits in one year, EPA estimates. The company was originally slated to reach this milestone by October 2018. “The carbon capture facility at Boundary Dam was designed to capture 3,200 metric tons of CO2 daily, or slightly more than 1 million metric tons annually,” the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis wrote in April. “It has barely achieved that goal on any single day and has never done so over any extended period.”

“From a purely economic perspective, [carbon capture and sequestration] does not make sense,” the Center for International Environmental Law wrote in a recent report. “The simpler, surer, and cheaper solution is to end this and similar subsidies for the fossil fuel economy and invest the savings in accelerating the transition to clean energy.”

“What they’re ignoring in this report are the massive risks that are entailed in dramatically expanding pipeline infrastructure,” Muffett told DeSmog, describing both the physical risks borne by people living near CO2 pipelines and the financial risks of investing in carbon capture rather than renewable energy. “These are communities that have dealt with the impacts of environmental injustice and environmental racism for decades and that’s laid the foundations that leads to them being targeted for the build-out of these pipelines.”

“At its heart, the conversation about CCUS has never been about addressing the climate crisis or about reducing CO2 emissions,” Muffett added. “At its heart, the thing that has always driven this conversation is how do we deal with the problem of stranded assets, what can we do to go on burning coal, natural gas, and oil into the indefinite future?”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. John Chemist

    This is pure, unadulterated corruption. We need to pull CO2 from the air – a most difficult task given its concentration is ~420 ppm (parts per million) – not just slow down the rate of increase in the concentration of CO2 by some pathetically low amount at the source (while enriching private companies and individuals with billions of dollars skimmed off the top).
    What we really need is a Manhattan project for the development of fusion energy to generate truly green electricity. And no, nuclear fission is not clean or green. Ask anyone living in Chernobyl or Fukushima. Oh wait! You can’t. There’s no one living there. In terms of fuel, there’s green hydrogen – either derived from excess capacity from fusion reactors via electrolysis or the development of efficient photovoltaic processes.

    1. rhodium

      Quite true. Humans without machines exist in archaic economies that had zero net carbon emissions. Our large productive modern economy exists as such due to technology/machines, which run on energy. So long as we are getting that energy from fossil fuels, carbon emissions are guaranteed by the existence of economic activity. The road forward is obviously alternative sources of energy that do not have carbon emissions, and yet these bozos want to waste hundreds of billions on this crap that will have negligible impact and be too late to matter. The amount of research that could be funded with that much money in the meantime is extraordinary.

      The corruption or complete lack of competence should be obvious.

    2. James Simpson

      There’s nothing of use in the ideas you suggest. Fusion is ten years away, as it was when promoted on BBC-TV’s Tomorrow’s World in the 1970s. As for pulling carbon dioxide from the air: you seem to have no understanding of the level of industrial technologies that would require with the inherent emission of GHG to achieve it. Tech is not the solution to a problem caused by capitalism and its technologies. Drastic energy use reduction by the wealthy strata of the world along with the end of capitalism and the widespread adoption of democratic, worker-based forms of socialism. Ohhh…. far too radical and political. That’s why so many people fall back on tech ‘solutions’, as you do.

      1. BlakeFelix

        Well, in my opinion the best way to pull carbon out of the air is growing plants, than somehow stabilizing the carbon in the plants to clear the land to grow more plants. That doesn’t take any new tech, but it doesn’t require thousands of miles of dopey CO2 pipelines, either.

  2. exvermonter

    So this is the wikipedia estimate of C02 released so far
    ” In the period 1751 to 1900, about 12 GtC were released as CO
    2 to the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels, whereas from 1901 to 2013 the figure was about 380 GtC.[93]”
    I do not think there is enough room to store all that C02..where will you put it?

    1. rjs

      burn a liter of a liquid hydrocarbon, you get around 1000 liters of CO2…you’ll never get that genie back in the same bottle..

  3. Grumpy Engineer

    While I’m not at all fond of carbon capture & sequestration (CCS), I find some of the arguments in this article to be disingenuous. This particular one was the worst: “From a purely economic perspective, [carbon capture and sequestration] does not make sense,” the Center for International Environmental Law wrote in a recent report.

    From a purely economic perspective, the most “sensible” thing to do is to deploy wind and solar until you bump into curtailment limits (providing ~25% of electricity in the process) and use combined-cycle gas turbines (fueled by fracked natural gas and pouring CO2 into the sky) to provide the remaining 75%. I hope it’s obvious that this “solution” would get us nowhere near an 85% CO2 reduction, but it absolutely would be the cheapest.

    So what would we do for a “real” solution, recognizing that we’ll actually have to spend some money to make it happen?

    Well, one possibility is to back the renewables with batteries to eliminate curtailment and intermittency problems. Unfortunately, this could take a hundred years to fully deploy, and the CCGTs would be spewing CO2 for most of that time. Using CCS in the interim isn’t automatically a terrible idea.

    Another possibility is to back the renewables with gas turbines that have been retrofitted to burn electrolyzed “green” hydrogen. This could take thirty years to fully deploy, and most CCGTs would be spewing CO2 for most of that time. Again, there might be some merit to the idea of using CCS in the interim, though the shorter time frame means the CCS network might only be complete when we’re ready to turn it off.

    Personally, I don’t expect CCS to ever happen on a meaningful scale. Public opposition to CO2 pipelines will be too great. Just use the phrase “high-pressure pipeline filled with invisible ground-hugging asphyxiant” and see how people react.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Another possibility is to connect the intermittent renewables facilities – like wind-farms – to electrolysis plants which use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen would be stored in tanks somewhere near the windmills.

      On a continuous basis the hydrogen would be fed into fuel cells to produce a continuous, even level of electricity. A “fuel cell” re-combines the hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. The tank of hydrogen essentially serves as a huge, relatively inexpensive battery.

      Hydrogen derived from electrolysis is very pure, so the lifespan of the fuel cells -which have no moving parts – would be pretty long.

      That would solve the windmill’s / solar array’s “intermittency” problem.

      Fuel cells also produce heat, so if the fuel cell can be installed into an area that needs heat, the conversion efficiency of H2 into energy is about 60-some percent efficient. If the heat is wasted into the atmosphere, the conversion efficiency falls to about 35%.

      There are issues with storing and transporting hydrogen.

      While hydrogen is tough to store, methane isn’t nearly so much of a problem. Hydrogen can be chemically synthesized into methane.

      Natural gas is almost entirely methane. We already have national pipeline networks to transport methane.

      If we were to install methane fuel cells into buildings (houses, industry, etc.) we could use those fuel cells to provide heat and electricity to the building. Fuel cells are safe, quiet, small, and increasingly affordable.

      Here’s a link to the state of the art re: methane fuel cells:

      Robust Fuel Cell Runs on Methane

      And here’s another link that describes the chemical engineering process for converting the stored hydrogen and CO2 from the atmosphere into methane (CH4):

      Combine H2 and CO2 to get methane

      Lastly, here’s a very interesting white paper from the EU on the subject of the hydrogen economy.

      EU Hydrogen Economy Policy

      So, if you’re going to go to the trouble to build and maintain pipelines, why not use the ones we have, moving a fuel we’re already familiar with, and are set up to use?

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Hydrogen fuel cells are a viable alternative to CCGTs burning hydrogen, though I’d bet that the gas turbines would be cheaper to actually build and operate.

        As for using the Sabatier reaction to combined atmospheric CO2 with H2 to convert it into “green” methane? Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it. The problem with the Sabatier reaction is that you have to use pure CO2 with your hydrogen to make it work. If you try it with air, the H2 molecules will react with O2 molecules in preference to the CO2 molecules, and all you’ll get is water vapor, which isn’t a fuel. This means you’ll have to use an energy-intensive process to extra pure CO2 from the air before you can make methane.

        My guess is that it would be easier to simply replace the pipelines so that they could directly carry H2. Special materials would be required to minimize H2 leakage and avoid hydrogen embrittlement, but using existing pipeline right-of-ways would eliminate a lot of the NIMBY legal challenges that would accompany an entirely new network.

        1. Tom Pfotzer

          “Hydrogen fuel cells are a viable alternative to CCGTs burning hydrogen, though I’d bet that the gas turbines would be cheaper to actually build and operate.”

          Right now, that’s true, and might be for a while. Having said that, I don’t get the impression that fuel cells are all that hard to build, tho, and might scale nicely.

          Re: Sabatier…not sure we’d need to optimize too much. Most methane sources (e.g. oil wells) have a lot of other stuff mixed in, including water vapor, which needs to be purified out before shipment, so the tech’s already extant, and relatively cheap.

          Another solution is to just burn some of the hydrogen from the storage tanks in the air reservoir as a conditioning step for the CO2 input stream. Cheap way to enrich the process air with CO2, and get rid of the oxygen.

          There are already propane and natural gas fuel cell kits which include purification modules on the market today, and look pretty good.

          Check this one out:

          Sunfire solid oxide fuel cell

          Gotta say, G.E., this stuff’s starting to look pretty good to me. Been a long time coming, but the main parts are maneuvering into place.

          1. James Simpson

            Utter desperation. Anything to avoid ending capitalism, the ‘free market’ and the economic growth that is (a) creating vast and growing inequalities and (b) accelerating climate change. Tech ideas? So much more comforting.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        And if the hydrogen is too tiny an atom to be able to store, then store it “as” a hydrogen attached to an ammonia molecule, which is easier to store. And whenever you want the hydrogen back to burn it for power, just get the ammonium to release it and go back to being ammonia. And then when you have more surplus green power, electrolyse water all over again and reweld the hydrogen atoms to the ammonia molecules. And round and round.

        1. Grumpy Engineer


          To be honest, I hadn’t looked at ammonia very hard until today, but ammonia production via the Haber-Bosch reaction definitely looks more more viable than methane production via the Sabatier reaction. They key difference is that the N2 reagent for Haber-Bosch is available in the atmosphere at 78% concentration, whereas the CO2 reagent for Sabatier is available at only 0.04% concentration. Extracting large quantities of pure N2 should be much easier, and I know that industrial processes for this already exist.

          Given the realities of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, though, we know that adding a intermediate steps like N2 extraction and Haber-Bosch can only reduce overall system efficiency. [Real world implication? You need even more wind and solar assets to make it all work.] It would be better if we could simply burn the H2 straight.

          But if transportation and storage of pure H2 prove overly difficult, ammonia would be a technically feasible backup.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Several years ago someone made a comment here about another possible way to store hydrogen. Someone wrote that oil company Atlantic Richfield ( I think) had scientists trying to do something useful with “petcoke” left after everything else was refined out of the oil. They supposedly found and even patented a way to harden and fill the petcoke with gibabunches of nanopores. The surface of every nanopore was a surfaceload of binding sites to which hydrogen atoms could attach. Not bond . . . merely attach. They could be packed in so close and tight as to form a “para-liquid” at room temperature and pressure. And could then be pulled out for later use. And then put back again and then pulled out again. And round and round.

            If that comment was correct, and activated petcoke can really store bulk quantities of hydrogen as a para-liquid, then there is another way to store hydrogen. And maybe activated biochar would be able to store hydrogen on its pore surfaces as well.

          2. Tom Pfotzer

            All good points. Ammonia is toxic and (if I remember right) caustic (strong base) as well. That’s a draw-back; possible that steel pipelines might have an issue with that. Not an insurmountable issue, tho, given the useful life of a pipeline rebuild.

            Also, if the objective is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and it may become imperative to do so, then that may favor methane.

            But your point about the availability of N2 is quite right. Nothing like having a lot of the right materials around for free.

            Yes, all those transformations cost energy. The good news is that some of those up-front energy investments into bigger molecules is recoverable at the point the oxidation happens. Takes some of the edge off.

        2. Tom Pfotzer

          Yes. Hydrogen is really small, tough to bottle it up, and the leaks can be tough to find. Been hearing a lot of objections/stories on that aspect of the problem.

          I do like the idea of attaching the hydrogen to a bigger molecule. That plugs the leaks problem, but it costs some energy to synthesize the bigger molecule (endothermic reactions) and sometimes the synthesis process requires high pressure (costs energy to compress) and hi-temp (costs energy to heat).

          Some of the synthesis energy, maybe even most of it, can be recovered at the point the synthesized molecule (ammonia or methane) is oxidized in a fuel cell or such-like.

          There are a lot of good minds at work on this set of problems, and I’m seeing a new batch of relatively low cost, relatively reliable components coming from commercial outfits that look like they’re experienced and well-capitalized.

  4. Susan the other

    I’m wondering about using plastic – all that trash is a form of sequestered CO2 isn’t it? Millions of years ago carbon was naturally sequestered in the ground ultimately forming pools of hydrocarbons. Then we discovered it was a high energy fuel and started burning it, sending it, along with its partner in flame, oxygen, back into the atmosphere. I does make very good sense to abandon the remaining oil in the ground as soon as we can. Which will take years while we transition. Leave it. Ration it. And subsidize clean energy. And look for a way to clean up plastic pollution; recycle it into construction material replacing steel and cement and glass. Use the least polluting long-run construction material. That leaves us with the CO2 currently in the atmosphere and all the effort for cleanup should go toward cleaning both CO and CO2 out of the upper atmosphere. Clearly we can send some vehicles up there. We can even send twits up there. Maybe we could devise all the abandoned near-space junk to be CO2 collectors, harvesters. etc. Because all that space-junk needs to be cleaned up as well. The Age of High Tech Maintenance.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The best way to pull back down the excess CO2 from the atmosphere would be to foster more better plant growth all over the earth.

      it was shown to work right after the Mongol Massacres and the Explorer Germocaust of the First Nations.
      So many eco-viable farmers and gardeners were wiped out that several million square miles of farm and garden land grew back into forest. The skycarbon suckdown led to enough cooling to be worthy of the name Little Ice Age. So the ” use plants to scrub the sky” concept is already well proven.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Another great idea. One little fact-let I picked up a while back is that carbon tends to stay in the soil for a very long time after it’s been introduced. Something on the order of thousands of years. *

        Too bad we can’t put water treatment plants next to big forests, and use the forest as a leach-field (trickle-drain system). The nutrients (phosphorus and potassium, plus the nitrogen compounds – the good ‘ol NPK fertilizer trio) would be recovered from the waste stream, and the rivers wouldn’t get pounded so hard.

        Harvest the forest selectively, or if necessary, make a biomass plantation and use it produce wood pulp for building matls, or compost the wood (add in some of that liquid fertilizer to speed things along) and till that into the top 6″ of soil once the compost is ready. (dry and shippable).

        Lastly, the sewage solids could get trucked to local farms (as it is now, sorry for the imagery, folks) and incorporated into the soil.

        Benefits: clean water, cheap fertilizer (it’s expensive!), CO2 extracted from atmosphere and stored in the soil, revenue stream for water treatment facilities, local jobs, better soil, local ag gets a leg up on centralized production model.

        Pretty neat.

        * I’m a little skeptical of that 1000s of years hang-time; when I put carbon in my farm’s soil using compost, it shows up as “organic matter” on the soil sample. If I don’t keep injecting compost, the “organic matter” assay goes down. Carbon’s leaving, or it’s being converted into something that’s not “organic matter”. Not sure what that might be. I bet it’s leaving as harvested plant matter.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          I think bio-carbon can range anywhere from soft to hard. Organic debris well mixed into soil could decay away in a month or so. Glomalin produced by certain mycorrizae eating the sugar juice sweated out from plant roots can decay down to a very stable humus, lasting up to decades. Biochar could last for centuries.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          If the sewage is municipal sewage, ” nearby farms” will reject it, at organized gunpoint if necessary, in order to keep all the PFAS, cadmium,zinc, mercury, excreted chemotherapy drugs, excreted hormones and hormone disrupters, petrochemical and household wastes and poisons, etc.; which it contains.

          It will have to go onto “zero food” sacrifice forests and sacrifice wetlands.

          1. Tom Pfotzer

            Generally agree, but with some modifications.

            If the treatment plant effluent and solids are used in high-growth woody-plant plantations near the site of the water-treatment plant, the heavy metals and troublesome contaminants remain localized.

            The wood is harvested and composted, etc. and the nutrients (NPK) are concentrated into the compost, etc. then it’s OK to put on local fields. The woody-plant uptake of the contaminants is minimized.

            The alternative is to dump the effluent into the rivers. Clearly, that is less-desirable. Pretty sure you’d agree with that point.

            Then the question becomes “how to process the sacrifice lot”, or “how to prevent dumping of really troublesome contaminants into the sewer system”. Both methods can be evolved over time, no?

            Remember, fertilizer is expensive, and farmers often don’t make all that much money.

            Lastly, I’m not sure the farmers have a deep-seated aversion to using treatment plant processed sludge as fertilizer. I know a few farmers that put it on their hay-fields. Humans don’t eat hay, and the contaminants generally remain in the soil at low concentrations. If a plant doesn’t need a nutrient, it has no reason to absorb it. Absorption takes effort, and root systems are highly specialized to take up only what the plant needs. That’s my take on it,

            Mmay I ask where you’re getting this sense that farmers would not use sewage?

            Did you know that there’s a widely sold fertilizer call “Milorganite” which is made from sewage sludge? Comes from Milwaukee’s public works dept.

            Next time you’re in the local home improvement center, take a look at the bag, and the assay.

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              These are good questions and good points. I will have to circle back after work when I have more time and can give a proper reply.

            2. drumlin woodchuckles

              About “biosolids”, whether milorganite or another brand, or ” brandless”, I must confess that I merely remember having read about it being a toxic-waste hazard over time to soil and edible plants . . . . but when I look at the web just now, the articles I find call the milorganite brand tested and safe. So I will have to retract my statement and admit I am just left with a suspicion now.

              I still wonder what the testers don’t test for, and therefor would never know is in the milorganite and at what level. I still won’t use it for the time being, but I can’t say no one else should. ( I wonder what Amfortas the Hippy would say about the milorganite and biosolids-on-foodland issue). But if/when I see a bag of milorganite, I will look at what is tested for, and what levels are reported.

              About woody or even non-woody plant uptake of certain pollutants, there are plants which will take up various elements and/or compounds even if they are not nutritionally needed for the plant. I remember being in a lecture years ago where we were told about how tobacco plants will not only take up the phosphorus from phosphate fertilizer, but will take up any fellow-traveling polonium 210 if it is in the ground phosphate rock ( which tobacco is often fertilized with). For some reason tobacco uptakes polonium real well, even though tobacco doesn’t need it and we don’t need it either.

              Other plants take up certain metals of no nutritional use to the plant ( or to us). Such plants are called ” dynamic accumulators”. They can even be used to uptake undesirable elements or compounds from the soil and store them in the plants own tissues. This is called phytoremediation.
              I can picture a scenario where municipal sewage sludge is “fed” to energy plantation plants over and over again, and the ash from those plants when harvested and burned for energy could be fed right back to those same plants. The levels of unwanted elements or compounds could rise so high that eventually the ash itself could be sanitarily landfilled or maybe even treated as an ore for extracting these concentrated elements for actual use.

              If the body-waste stream and the industry waste stream could be separated from eachother for separate handling, that would make things simpler. Then we would still have to break down all the modern drugs in the body waste stream . . . excreted blood thinners, hormones, chemotherapy drugs, anti-depressants, etc.
              If milorganite is not tested for those things, we won’t know how much of those things is in the milorganite. Just my suspicion again. If soil bio-life can break down these excreted drug chemicals, then they may not be a problem.

              Now, if the milorganite were semi-burned and turned into hard-carbon ” bio poo-char”, I wonder if those chemicals would be stabilized in it and rendered unavailable to plants and soil life.

    2. James Simpson

      subsidize clean energy

      Err… what is this ‘clean energy’? Given the vast amounts of mining, transportation, industry and land needed for so-called renewables, I don’t think there’s such a thing.

  5. Tom Pfotzer

    This line finally showed up in the middle of the article:

    “There’s also the question of what to do with the carbon after it’s captured.”

    That should have been the very first line.


    But the article does a good job of explaining why this dumb idea is being considered:

    “At its heart, the conversation about CCUS has never been about addressing the climate crisis or about reducing CO2 emissions,” Muffett added. “At its heart, the thing that has always driven this conversation is how do we deal with the problem of stranded assets, what can we do to go on burning coal, natural gas, and oil into the indefinite future?”

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      One way to prevent the rollout of this pipeline concept is with bitter unrelenting obstruction to every single component every single time it is suggested. The concept should be BANANA . . . . which stands for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything. And apply it without mercy to every aspect of the Carbon Capture Pipeline concept.

      The other thing that politically helpless millions of subjects of This Vile Civilization can do is to lower their own use of fossil derived energy however they can. And forgive themselves in advance for the fossil derived energy they still have to use because This Vile Civilization has been engineered around the concept of ” No Fossil Fuel Use = You Die”.

    2. Mikel

      And as if this proposed infrastructure would be maintained any better than what is already here.
      Is this some crap Bozo wants to send into space?

    3. gwb

      The poor corporate babies, worried about stranded assets. They have left us with stranded assets for decades, thanks to planned obsolescence. All the appliances that die after five years — the CRT TV sets that suddenly had to be replaced — the computers that have to be retired, because there are new connectors that don’t fit — mobile phones that can’t be repaired — we’ve been stuck with all kinds of junk.

      What isn’t mentioned is all the CO2 that will be emitted by the construction of this enormous pipeline system.

  6. Jeremy Grimm

    What does the AFL-CIO get out of this deal? I wonder what kind of financing is behind the Labor Energy Partnership (LEP). Do the rank and file in the AFL-CIO believe LEP’s claim of espousing: “An essential priority of all climate policy solutions is the preservation of existing jobs, wherever possible, and the creation of new ones that are equal to or better than those that are displaced.” I suspect more than a little of the LEP financing goes into off-shore retirement accounts for AFL-CIO big wigs. I thought the “Building to Net-Zero” malarkey had quietly faded away.

    Maybe the Gigaton pipeline should have its terminus in Washington, D.C. Union workers could remove the little tower at the top of the Congress building and fit the Gigaton pipeline so it terminates there. Then Biden could call a joint session of Congress and deliver a long meaningless speech expressing concern for “…energy policies that address the climate crisis while recognizing the imperatives of economic, racial, and gender justice through quality jobs and the preservation of workers’ rights.” There is so much hot air and CO2 in the Congress already that a little more could not hurt.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If I am ever in DC again, I will start writing on bathroom walls the following witty saying . . .

      ” Flush once. You’re already here.”

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        “Building to Net-Zero
        takes blowing smoke to a whole new level.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      What does AFL-CIO get out of this deal? Lots of pipeline jobs for lots of pipeline-worker members. Same as with the Keystone XL pipeline which AFL-CIO also supported.

      The Union fossil fuel workers of all sorts will not let themselves be sacrificed for someone else’s greater good. The “just transition” concept is supposed to give them enough to live well on for long enough that they will accept the phase-out of their fossil fuel jobs which the phaseout of the fossil fuel industry will lead to.

    3. Keith

      Oil and gas industry pays better and is often times unionized, whereas the green climate friendly jobs are generally low pay and about as friendly to unions as the tech sector is.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Militant belligerent Protectionism, plus re-legalization of the Right To Organize, would create a forcefield-matrix in which green climate friendly job doers would be able to unionize and push their jobs’s pay, rights and respect up to legacy Union levels.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Hey! I was gonna say something like that — although not as well. Ya beat me to it!

        2. Keith

          Talk about what would be nice is fine, but in the real world people need to deal with the reality they are facing. For these union workers, it is about their livelihoods and putting food on the table for their families, not some fanciful green dream, that ironically will be dependent on the extractive industries (more good union jobs!) to realize.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Well, that’s just another version of what I myself said. So we agree.

            Thinking deeper further, if the rest of us finally decide that our collective eco-bio survival is more important to us than some fossil fuel jobs for fossil fuel workers are to the rest of us, and if the rest of us and the fossil fuel workers can not form an action movement to co-achieve our separate desires ( union jobs for them in the short term and mere survival for the rest of us in the long term), then the rest of us will finally succeed or fail-to-succeed at evolving the whole civilization away from fossil fuel power, and away from the existence of those jobs. And we will show no more regard for those fossil fuel workers than they show for the rest of us. And currently they show zero regard for the rest of us.

            If the fossil fuel unions decide that their line in the sand will be . . . their jobs are more important than my survival, then I will have to decide in my own self-preservation-defense that my survival is more important than their jobs. If they decide to force the rest of us to do it the Scanner way, then we will do it the Scanner way.

  7. Timothy Dutra, MD, PhD

    Ernest Moniz has declared himself as the Judas goat, and will lead us sheep to slaughter. Unfortunately for poor Ernest, Mother Nature will not spare him when the unstoppable positive feedback loops of the loss of Arctic albedo, CO2 from rotting melted permafrost, and methane from Arctic continental shelf clathrates bring on climate temperatures not experienced since the Miocene. Humans are a tragic species. So intelligent, yet so corrupt that they will sacrifice their children’s future.

  8. lapidopterist


    “stranded assets” = dead capital. reclaim the metals and other recyclable materials and leave the owners rot.

  9. Rod

    Today’s July 21 2021 CO2= 417+
    Last July 21(2020) CO2= 414+
    Yea, it can fluctuate a bit but the trend isn’t down.

    Hard to see any baseline position in this Article, for the solution it discusses.
    We’re going to use less to produce less
    Assets will be stranded, to what extent will be vigorously negotiated.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      What if a hundred million deeply committed Mean Greenies could strangle back their fossil energy use just enough to cause even more assets to be stranded than otherwise?

      With a head full of plans and a heart full of hate, we can make it happen.

  10. Felix_47

    I am seeing more and more traffic now that the lockdowns have tapered. More and more SUVs and pickups. And the building that is going on is all car dependent. I use only the bike to commute now and the car maybe once per month. But from a bike eye view the traffic is frightening. Does anyone think raising the gas tax makes sense? Just as a start? These ideas of hydrogen, nuclear fusion and even massive energy production from wind and solar are great but why is there such opposition to a hefty gas tax? It is the only tax that the Saudis and oil producers will ultimately pay. In Germany gas is 8 to 9 dollars per gallon and people drive small cars although SUVs are getting much more popular due to psychological issues and fears.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Decades of organized anti-government and anti-tax agitprop. Here in Michigan, republican-voting citizens would rather drive on potholes than pay a higher gas tax to fix the potholes.

      Michigan needs a way to separate the Republican zones from the Democratic zones for the purpose of a gas tax to fix roads. Every Representative District could be a self-gas-taxing district for the purpose of raising gas-tax money to fix the roads in that district. Several pro-gas-tax districts could even pool their combined gas-tax money to prioritize projects over all the gas-tax districts and fix the worst first, then the next second, and so on down.

      And the Republican-minded districts which don’t believe in raising the gas tax, wouldn’t have to. They would pay less tax, they would raise less money, and eventually they would have no roads. Which is the price they would pay for Freedom.

  11. Jeremy Grimm

    I suspect there will be a time in the future when Humankind will be very glad of as many fossil fuel assets as we can strand now.

  12. Jeremy Grimm

    This little initiative, Blue-Print for Net-Zero. is about dumping money on Big Fossil Fuels, not jobs. Am I being too cynical wondering whether the AFL-CIO is still a trade union? The Blue-Print is one of the crudest public relations scams I have seen. Big Fossil Fuels needs to hire better help. The Net-Zero scam is so transparent I am surprised Big Fossil Fuels has not come up with a better public relations scam. Big ‘Green’ is eating their lunch in public relations, and I suspect also getting away with a much smaller ‘investment’ in persuading Congressional support to their cause.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The cynicism might be better applied to a finer grained better aimed analysis. Yes, the AFL-CIO is a dwindling association of semi-relict industrial and trade unions. The workers themselves in those unions and industries live in the same ” no money = you die ” society that the rest of us do.

      If we want them to accept a public policy of green-driven mass jobicide for their fossil jobs, we will have to pre-engineer for them jobs of equal pay/retirement/respect/everything else and have those jobs ready to go and to show them before we can expect them to give the suggestion a respectful hearing.

  13. drumlin woodchuckles

    For all the steel that would go into the Great Carbon Capture Pipeline, how many stainless steel pressure cookers could you make out of that instead? And how much less fuel does a pressure cooker need to cook something than a normal pot to cook that same thing? That many pressure cookers would help a lot of people lower the collective carbon cookprint. How much carbon would be emitted building the GCCP? And how much more fossil fuel burning would the GCCP make possible and encourage?

    Cancel the pipeline and make that steel into pressure cookers. And rocket stoves.

    Cookprint –>

    rocket stove –>

  14. David Mills

    This reeks of pork and the power to run it will also emit carbon.

    For a fraction of the cost, the US could switch to Molten Salt Reactors. ThorCon is an American company pitching to do MSR nuclear in Indonesia at a cost lower than coal.

  15. Henry Moon Pie

    Makes sense to me. Remove the CO2 from the air that has been deposited there by burning fossil fuels. Then collect that CO2 and pipeline it down to the Permian where you use it for tertiary recovery in old, previously water-flooded (secondary recovery) oil fields to retrieve more fossil fuels to burn to put more CO2 in the air. Fabulous idea.

    Or the upper 20% could ditch their SUVs, airplane vacations, monstrous McMansions and dining out on juicy steaks three times a week.

    What happened? Was the CO2 in the McElmo and Bravo domes depleted? That’s what has been used for this purpose since the 80s.

    America: no boondoggle left behind.

  16. ckimball

    If carbon cannot be captured from the from the air commercially then this plan can be designated as a A Bridge to Nowhere in terms of a constructive solution to our
    climate crisis. Surely it will become transparent to everyone as it is to those of us here…I hope.

Comments are closed.