EPA opens door to consider Carbon Capture and Utilization as part of new Clean Power Plan; algae industry locks on
04 August 2015
EPA’s newly released voluminous final Clean Power Plan rule (earlier post) has established the first national standards to limit CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants (Electric Generating Units, EGUs), with a target of a 32% reduction against a 2005 baseline by 2030.
The plan calls for each US state to establish a plan to meet the targeted reductions. Within the text of the final CPP rules, EPA opened up the possibility of allowing “affected EGU (Electric Generating Units) to use qualifying CCU [Carbon Capture and Utilization] technologies to reduce CO2 emissions that are subject to an emission standard, or those that are counted when demonstrating achievement of the CO2 emission performance rates or a state rate-based or mass-based CO2 emission.”
The Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), an algae industry trade association, quickly issued an enthusiastic statement hailing the option as “a huge win for the algae industry, and one we have been working towards for more than a year. The rule gives new certainty to a number of companies across the nation that are commercializing algae-based technologies that convert carbon dioxide generated at power plants into fuels, feeds, fertilizers and other valuable products.”
Algae biofuel company Algenol, whose pathway for algae-derived ethanol received EPA approval earlier this year as as advanced biofuel (50% greenhouse gas reduction) (earlier post), issued its own statement heralding the CPP for acknowledging “for the first time the value of carbon utilization, the cornerstone of Algenol’s Direct-to-Ethanol technology, as a method for utilities to reduce emissions from electricity production and comply with the Clean Air Act requirements for CO2 emissions.”
The actual text of the CPP rule is, however, more reserved. In a section discussing the potential for the application of CCU (VIII.I.2), EPA noted that potential alternatives to storing CO2 in geologic formations—i.e., carbon capture and storage, CCS—are emerging and may offer the opportunity to offset the cost of CO2 capture.
Examples the agency first adduced in the section included the storage of captured anthropogenic CO2 may be stored in solid carbonate materials such as precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) or magnesium or calcium carbonate, bauxite residue carbonation, and certain types of cement through mineralization.
EPA cited the Skyonics Skymine project as an example of captured CO2 being used in the production of carbonate products—in this case, sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.
However, consideration of how these emerging alternatives could be used to meet CO2 emission performance rates or state CO2 emission goals would require a better understanding of the ultimate fate of the captured CO2 and the degree to which the method permanently isolates the captured CO2 or displaces other CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.
Several commenters also suggested that algae-based CCU (i.e., the use of algae to convert captured CO2 to useful products – especially biofuels) should be recognized for its potential to reduce emissions from existing fossil-fueled EGUs.
Unlike geologic sequestration, there are currently no uniform monitoring and reporting mechanisms to demonstrate that these alternative end uses of captured CO2 result in overall reductions of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. As these alternative technologies are developed, the EPA is committed to working collaboratively with stakeholders to evaluate the efficacy of alternative utilization technologies, to address any regulatory hurdles, and to develop appropriate monitoring and reporting protocols to demonstrate CO2 reductions.
In the meantime, state plans may allow affected EGUs to use qualifying CCU technologies to reduce CO2 emissions that are subject to an emission standard, or those that are counted when demonstrating achievement of the CO2 emission performance rates or a state rate-based or mass-based CO2 emission. State plans must include analysis supporting how the proposed qualifying CCU technology results in CO2 emission mitigation from affected EGUs and provide monitoring, reporting, and verification requirements to demonstrate the reductions. The EPA would then review the appropriateness and basis for the analysis and the verification requirements in the course of its review of the state plan.—EPA CPP