In December, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published Roads to Removal: Options for Carbon Dioxide Removal in the United States, which explores pathways to permanently remove carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere. The report provides a granular, county-by-county look at the potential for atmospheric carbon to be captured and stored across the U.S., and highlights the fact that the best places for carbon to be captured, and stored, are frequently not the same.
On the podcast, two report authors explore the need to develop a nationwide, multi-modal transportation network to move carbon dioxide and a related climate commodity, biomass, at scale, and potentially over great distances, to permanent geologic storage sites.
Pete Psarras is a research assistant professor in chemical and biomedical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Hélène Pilorgé is a research associate whose work focuses on carbon management.
The two explore the geography of carbon removal and storage, the challenging logistics of a future, multi-modal carbon transportation network, and how that network might be most economically built.
Andy Stone: Welcome to the Energy Policy Now podcast from the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m Andy Stone.
In December the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in conjunction with a nationwide contingent of scientists, published a report that explores pathways to permanently remove carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere on the way to reaching a net-zero carbon economy.
The report titled “Roads to Removal: Options for Carbon Dioxide Removal in the United States” provides a granular, county-by-county look at the potential for atmospheric carbon to be captured and stored across the US. One chapter of the report which we’ll focus on today considers the reality that the best places for carbon to be captured and stored are frequently not the same, and that as a result, carbon will need to be transported at scale, potentially over great distances, to locations where it can be permanently buried underground.
Today’s guests are two authors of the chapter that explores the infrastructural and economic considerations that will accompany the development of a national transportation network for carbon dioxide and the related climate commodity, biomass. Pete Psarras is a Research Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Hélène Pilorgé is a Research Associate, whose work focuses on carbon management. The two will explore the geography of carbon removal and storage, the challenging logistics of a future multi-modal carbon transportation network, and how that network might be most economically built.
Hélène and Pete, welcome to the podcast.
Pete Psarras: Thanks, Andy.
Hélène Pilorgé: Thank you.
Stone: You two worked on a recent report called “Roads to Removal.” Tell us about that report, and what issues are explored?
Psarras: Sure. I think you covered it a bit. It’s a report that explores various carbon removal options across the US and why we are involved. So just take it back a few years. We did an analysis with, again, Lawrence Livermore, on California, titled “Getting to Neutral California.” It’s a simple premise that you’ve got to stay within that zero goal, like many goals, making the claim is one thing. You really need to outline an actual plan to get there. So you take a look at the state, you take a look at the resources available, you take a look at the CDR technologies — and really that space is so vast and growing; it’s really an exciting and robust field right now — and then you can decide which of these approaches make sense, which don’t, and develop a merit order of sorts.
The report received rave reviews. We received a Secretary’s Achievement Award, which was really kind of a cool thing.
Stone: That’s the Secretary of Energy?
Psarras: Yes, the Secretary of Energy. So it’s kind of validating, but the great response, it is an intuitive and compelling exercise to do. You should do this potentially for every state. Why not? And so you see the motivation for why this is necessary at a national level, and I think you explore not only other regions and how these conclusions might transfer and not transfer, you also recognize that there might be a lot of interstate cooperation in this whole thing.
So the birth of the Roads to Removal idea, again through Livermore, expanded this on steroids, really. Twenty-some institutions and national labs across the US, with various expertise coming together all across the carbon removal value chain. There is a lot of government support from the Department of Energy, Office of Proficiency of Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technology Office, ARPA-E, and of course the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management are all supportive of this.
The report is free, and it covers a number of chapters. We took some technologies and approaches that we thought were viable, yet you had to draw a line at some point, when we think there’s enough data. We wanted to make sure we were at county-level resolution, and so we keep up with some nature-based solutions. You have forest management. You have storage in soils, but you also have engineered approaches, like direct air capture and BICRS, which we may explore in a little bit. Plus, what we did, which is for the downstream aspect, which has much lesser scholarship in terms of transport, and where to actually store the carbon dioxide that you’re capturing, but then it expands even further. You’ve got things like cross-cutting themes that examine resource needs and environmental impacts. And those are super-important.
Of course throughout the report, there is a huge focus on energy equity and environmental justice, which is really necessary to ensure that we’re doing this in a just deployment fashion. You’ve got basically 22 regions of the US, and conclusions just like that original California report. It is really quite a feat and quite a resource. I say kudos to the entire team, but especially Jennifer Pett-Ridge, who has had impeccable leadership. She’s the Senior Staff Scientist at Livermore. All of a sudden, we realize it’s only a snapshot, and it won’t be the last of these we ever do, but we are really quite excited about it.
Stone: So Pete, broadly the report is about carbon dioxide removal. The chapter that you two have worked on, that you wrote together with another group, looks at the need for transportation infrastructure for carbon dioxide that is captured. Before we get a little bit more deeply into that issue of transportation, Hélène, could you tell us why CDR, carbon dioxide removal, is so important itself?
Pilorgé: Carbon dioxide removal is part of a portfolio of carbon management approaches. The U.S. has the goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and CDR is part of the solution to reach net zero. The US is emitting today about 6 billion tons of CO2 equivalents per year, and these emissions can be reduced or captured by different ways. First you can reduce emissions by replacing fossil fuel power plants, by renewable energy sources, or increasing the efficiency of buildings and additional processes. We are also replacing cars with internal combustion engines with electric vehicles.
There are some sectors that are more difficult to abate, for instance industries that have process emissions. Process emissions are those emissions that come from chemical reactions, that are happening when you’re producing different types of material, like cement, lime steel, chemicals and others. So I’m going to take the example of cement and make that clear.
In the cement industry, you burn limestone, which is CaCO3. When you burn it, it produces lime, CaO, and it has a byproduct that is CO2. So that chemical reaction itself produces the carbon dioxide. These process emissions can be partly addressed by capturing CO2 emissions directly at the facility with carbon capture storage and utilization approaches. There are other sectors, like aviation, shipping, and agriculture that are small distributed sources of greenhouse gases that are also difficult to abate and to capture from the source. Added up together, all these small distributed sources represent a significant part of the U.S. carbon budget. So this is where CDR has a role to play. It can be used to bridge the gap between these remaining emissions and the goal of net-zero emissions by removing the excess CO2 released in the atmosphere by human activity.
Stone: So again, we’re going to need transportation to move some portion of this carbon dioxide from where it is captured, to where it can be stored. And as Hélène, you and Pete have both already mentioned, there are two primary means of capturing carbon dioxide that the report considers, and that would be the source of the carbon dioxide that would need to be transported by the networks that you will be discussing. Those two methods are DAC, direct air capture, and BICRS, which is bioenergy with carbon removal and storage. Pete, I wonder if you could dive in and tell us what those two are and how they are different?
Psarras: These are two engineered approaches. We do consider other, more natural, more nature-based approaches. But if we look at these two that are going to be generating pure streams of CO2, that would have those transport and storage implications, starting with DAC, direct air capture. I like to think of it as just vacuuming CO2 out of the air, though that’s not physically what’s happening. I think it’s illustrative enough. Think of large, engineered machines with large intakes, and you get ambient air coming in one side, and you’ve got carbon dioxide in the air, albeit very dilute. And that’s part of the problem, that it’s such a dilute target, but all the same, it’s still wreaking havoc, even at that dilution. And then that will interact with some specialized chemistry, and basically out of the back end, you get less CO2 back into the atmosphere.
So it’s a simple process. It’s not new by any means. NASA has been removing CO2 from space chambers for decades. We’d just never done it at this scale. We’re excited to see the space growing. I think 10 or 15 years ago, we would say, “Why would you do this? You should just block it at the source.” We still feel that way, but I think our hand has become forced today. A technology, in fact, that emerged from our lab, Heirloom and Noah McQueen, recently became the first commercial direct air capture plant in the United States in Tracy, California, so we’re super-excited about that.
[INTERRUPTION BY CELL PHONE; LAUGHTER WITH OFF-MIC COMMENTS]
The other technology you mentioned, BICRS, which stands for biomass with carbon removal and storage. It’s the sort of new, and dare I say “preferred” acronym? I think people are probably more familiar with the former, which is BECCS, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and there’s a subtle but important difference in those two. BECCS would be considered a subset of BICRS, and I think that BICRS is then much more expansive in terms of using biomass for carbon removal. This all hinges on something that’s known as the “Aines Principle,” which was actually coined after Roger Aines, who happens to be one of the leaders of the project from Lawrence Livermore. It’s actually an economic argument that simply states that at a certain carbon price, the value of using biomass for removing carbon from the atmosphere may exceed the value of using biomass for energy.
So in summary, you’re saying, “Is the conversion of biomass into energy the best use here?” BICRS says there are other opportunities, hence a more expansive definition.
Stone: That’s interesting, because when you think about BECCS, you’ve got a product, right? You’ve got an energy product that you can get a revenue stream out of. With the broader BICRS, if you’re not using it as a product, the carbon dioxide, where does the revenue come from if revenue is the critical component of this?
Psarras: It’s important. BICRS is still producing a product. It just might not be energy, per se. You may produce maybe a bio-oil. You may be pyrolyzing to other forms. Maybe you’re yielding sustainable aviation fuel or hydrogen, right? So there is that co-product that has a revenue stream, but really what BICRS is insinuating is that there is value actually in the CO2. That is the product that you could get some incentive, and we’re seeing incentive to store carbon dioxide, that that may be more valuable in the long run than the co-product that you’re producing.
Stone: So Hélène, coming back to you, the challenge here — one of the related challenges — is that BICRS and DAC may not be located in the same place where the storage facility would be, underground storage. What are the geographic limitations on the storage of carbon dioxide, and where is storage potential greatest in this country?
Pilorgé: There are limitations for carbon storage that are mainly due to the geology of the subsurface. One storage technique that was investigated in depth in this report is in-situ storage in sedimentary rock formations. So this is when you inject CO2 underground, and it’s trapped into sedimentary formations.
The way it works, and it has been working for millions of years for oil and gas, is that you can picture the subsurface as a Napoleon pastry, with all its layers. So the sedimentary formations are a series of permeable and impermeable layers. In the permeable rocks, you can trap materials like oil, gas, brine, but also carbon dioxide. And this is where the CO2 can be injected and stored. The impermeable layers of that formation act as a seal to prevent CO2 from rising back at the surface, then back up to the atmosphere.
So the succession of layers, permeable and impermeable, effectively traps CO2 underground. There are also other options that were not investigated and detailed in the report and that are also viable storage options. This can help finding closer storage options when the CO2 is forced from DAC and BICRS. So CO2 can be stored underground in basalts. These are abundant in the Pacific Northwest. CO2 can also be reactive with a number of peat strata from carbonates and lock the carbon dioxide in a mineral form. So this peat stratum has to be poor in carbon and rich in calcium and magnesium. These are, for instance, mafic and ultramafic rocks, mined for purpose, mine tailings with mafic and ultramafic composition, industrial byproducts such as steel slag, fly ash, for cement coal dust.
And so in the United States, the areas that have been identified for geologic CO2 storage are along the Gulf Coast, up to Arkansas, in the Central Valley in California, in the Mt. Simon formation under Michigan, Illinois, or Indiana, and on the East Coast from Southern New Jersey to North Carolina, but really on that coastal part.
Stone: So the areas where there is underground storage are pretty much set in stone — excuse my pun. You can’t really change those, but theoretically, I guess, you could site the DAC, the direct air capture machinery, the technology anywhere you want. They’re just a bunch of machines. But that’s in an ideal world, yet this really isn’t always possible or even preferable, Pete. Can you tell us why?
Psarras: Yes, you hit it on the head. I think that’s the argument we see. The atmosphere is everywhere, so the argument is, why would you ever place DAC where there isn’t storage? And the answer to that is, you need just enormous amounts of energy to power direct air capture, and that needs to be renewable energy if you want the carbon math to bend all correctly. And so you realize that the storage map isn’t the only one that you need here, right? You need a second map of that renewable energy by ability. Where are those zones economic? Where is transmission infrastructure likely, right? Metal has impact, as well.
You really need a third, fourth, fifth map beyond that when you bring in equity and environmental justice concerns, and you need to bring those in here. The point is, there are many layers here that, when you add them all up, you result in a far more constrained picture than it might have originally appeared. BICRS, same extent. That biomass is disparate, right? You’ve got sources, municipal salt waste. You’ve got agricultural residue, forest residue. While these are sort of everywhere, they may not also be co-located, so you might have to move some.
Stone: So Hélène, what is the actual scale of carbon dioxide and biomass that we’re contemplating here, that needs to actually be processed and transported and stored? How much is out there?
Pilorgé: So the overall estimate that we have for biomass is about 900 million tons that will have to be processed. And for CO2, it’s in the order of magnitude of a billion tons per year. But then, because we can co-locate some of these processes like the biomass harvesting, the processing, the CO2 capture and the CO2 storage, the amounts that need to be transported are less than the overall estimate. So the order of magnitude at which biomass and CO2 has to be transported is on the order of magnitude of hundreds of millions of tons for both communities.
So for the transport of CO2, it is equivalent to what is transported right now for hazardous Class 2 liquids. CO2 is within that category of hazardous material which also includes diesel fuel and methanol, for instance. For the transport of biomass, hundreds of millions of tons are equivalent to the amount of biomass that is transported today for the corn ethanol industry and for the pulp and paper industry combined.
Stone: So these transportation networks already exist to some extent. They’re not completely new, but I’m gathering here that there would be — and I’m not sure about the numbers here — a doubling, a tripling? What order of magnitude of additional build-out would be needed for the new carbon dioxide and biomass that we’re considering to actually be transported? How much bigger does this network need to get, compared to what it is today?
Pilorgé: Well, this also depends on what is the use of the network today, and what the use of that network will be in the future. If you look at the coal industry, for instance, it’s declining more and more, and coal is one of the commodities that is the most transported in the US. So looking into that commodity, biomass and CO2 could replace some of that capacity, that coal capacity that is transported right now.
Psarras: Yes, and I’ll just chime in on that. We recently found if you consider all of the coal that is moved via rail in the country, and that we have to aggressively transition away from that, if you were — just as a thought experiment — going to replace all of that coal freight with CO2 on rail, you could achieve a hundred million tons without creating an additional line, right?
So there are opportunities. If you look at pipeline today, you’re at about 50 million tons, so we’re going to be moving a fair amount more than that, but not orders and orders of magnitude. Trucking moves about 10 million tons today. Rail, as it exists, moves about 1. So there are opportunities here. We may need to create new infrastructure, but I agree. Let’s look at existing infrastructure and see if we can’t repurpose.
Stone: I want to jump in here. This is an important point. We’ve been talking about, kind of by the way, about pipelines. We’ve been talking about trucking. We’ve been talking about rail. And that gets to the next question I have for you, which addresses the fact that this is a multi-modal transportation solution that you’re considering or looking at for, again, biomass and carbon dioxide. The types of transport that will be used really come down to the logistics of that transportation modality, as well as the costs. So Pete, tell us what again are all of the options that we’re looking at here, and what are the relative economics of each?
Psarras: Let’s start with the major one. You mentioned pipeline. It’s a huge focus here, really the major, and I dare say only focus for years. IPCC and other reports, if you look at the transportation chapter, really pipeline and little else. For the reasons that might appear obvious to the audience, the economics of a really massive pipeline are quite impossible to beat. I’ll throw some numbers out in a second, but these other modes aren’t really as competitive.
I think a reader of the report would be, though, surprised to learn that some of these modes, particularly the kind of bulk transport modes like barge, which is moving via waterways, and rail freight transport can actually close the gap more than perhaps we were letting on in the literature. And then you have trucking that I mentioned before, which is kind of a fill-in for smaller scales. Yet there are those modes that are sort of isolated, but the reality is you may need multi-modal configurations from a logistics standpoint. For example, you may not be on a rail line, right? Those aren’t everywhere, and you may need to truck that first leg to a terminal — and the last leg. That’s known as “first mile, last mile transport.” So we realize that it can become more complicated.
The costs — and you have to be careful talking about costs — is it academic? We’re really good at just getting those formulae out, but in reality, there are certain escalators that I could mention. But very generally, it’s safe to say that, again, these massive trunk pipelines are going to be the cheapest, followed really by barge, rail, and then trucking, in that order. If you wanted numbers, you’re looking at about — and we like to speak in terms of ton-miles, basically the cost to move 1 ton of a commodity by 1 mile. Those massive trunk pipelines can get down to 1 cent. You’re talking about a penny to move a ton of CO2 a mile. That looks pretty good, but if you’re going thousands of miles, it starts to add up.
Barges are around 2 to 3, rail 4 to 5, and then trucking is up there at 18. But again, the multi-modal configuration has changed things, and there are actually cross-overs. One thing I should mention is we didn’t consider these smaller pipelines in the report at all. And there’s kind of an important reason there. We’re reading the tea leaves about what’s happening in Iowa, in the Midwest. There are 250 tributaries that feed the Mississippi. That’s sort of what you’re asking with these smaller pipelines. Do you really imagine these if there would be public license, social license? You could run these all over the place, but we just didn’t think that was realistic, so we didn’t include those. But if you did, those very small pipelines are actually cost-competitive. In fact, there’s a cross-over point at which trucking becomes more economic. So it becomes interesting there, right?
One thing I will just say really quickly is that again, the danger is the actual pricing is different for many reasons, one being that a freight or service provider may hold you captive. We call this “ballpark pricing.” Why are you paying $14 for a hotdog at a ballgame? You know, I take my kid to the concession stand, I drop $40 without blinking. I’m like, “What just happened?”
Stone: We know about that, yes.
Psarras: Right? Well, that happens in the transport industry, as well. One of the nice things about actually adding options, you have some leverage to walk into those negotiations because there’s going to be a ceiling on what they can actually charge.
Stone: One interesting part of this puzzle, as well, is deciding when biomass should be transported as biomass, or first converted into carbon dioxide, and then transported. What are the considerations here?
Psarras: This is a really interesting question to me, and the question is, “Okay, I’ve got this biomass resource,” and let’s just say for example it isn’t co-located with storage. You can see in the report that that is often the case.
Stone: And this could be like agricultural waste, forestry waste, stuff like that. Is that right?
Psarras: Right. Municipal solid waste, right. A number of different sources in a number of different locations. BICRS, that we covered, says that we’re going to convert that into some value source, plus a co-product stream of carbon dioxide that can be stored.
Stone: Where do you do that conversion, though?
Psarras: And so this is the question. You can do it at the location of the biomass, so the source. And that’s totally do-able. You just have to now transport that CO2 via some mode to the nearest storage basin, right? Or you could put all that biomass into covered hoppers or on trucks and truck that to the nearest storage basin, and do the conversion right then and there. And then you don’t have to move the CO2 anywhere, you can just send it right into the ground. But if you follow that, you’re always moving something. You’re not going to get out of moving. It’s just which is cheaper.
And interestingly, you might add, “Oh, why not put the conversion process halfway between?” It is always cheaper to do it at one of the bookends, never cheaper to do it in-between. So the question then becomes, do you convert at the source, or do you move the biomass? And the answer is it’s complicated, of course. And that’s because BICRS, and again, part of the point of that new acronym is that there are so many different options. Really, we cover something like 26 different conversion technologies in the report. We’ve talked about a few of them. Hydrogen, hydrolysis, you know, conversion to sustainable aviation fuel. You can convert it right into a bio-oil, and then inject that underground. There’s a company called Charm that does this.
Each one of these conversion technologies generates a different amount of CO2 per unit biomass, right? So if you’re on one end of that spectrum, where you’re not generating a lot of CO2 in that conversion, you might choose to move that CO2, since it’s actually not going to cost you a lot to do that. You’re not needing to move a lot. On the other end of the spectrum, something like hydrogen, which generates a lot of CO2 per unit biomass, you may want to then instead move the biomass, and then convert in place, so you don’t have to deal with all that CO2 movement. So it enters the optimization problem.
Stone: I also want to note here that there are some non-economic and non-logistical challenges that are also important to consider in developing and thinking about these transportation pathways, going into issues such as environmental justice, as well. Hélène, could you introduce us to some of these other issues that also have to be taken into consideration?
Pilorgé: So first, CO2 is a hazardous material. It has been classified as a Class 2.2, so that means that it’s a non-toxic and a non-flammable gas. For transportation, it is compressed into a dense liquid state. At high concentration in the air, CO2 can be an asphyxiant, so it has to be manipulated in a well ventilated area, where it can get diluted in the air, so it doesn’t endanger any person who is handling it.
Stone: Just to make sure, so you’re saying that if it’s dilute, it’s not toxic, but if it is highly concentrated, then it can be. Is that correct?
Pilorgé: Yes, absolutely. Also if large quantities of CO2 are released at once, then the compression of CO2 can result in the formation of dry ice, and also CO2 is denser than the air, so it will tend to accumulate at low points. Another point is that DOT is keeping track of the incidents that are related to CO2 leakage, and when we look at this data, we show that there’s a very low number of incidents that are actually releasing CO2. It’s about 20 incidents per year over the past 20 years. And half of these released less than 10 kg. of CO2, so really small quantities that would be diluted in the air quite fast. So it’s minimum risk.
Then these quantities released can be limited by the type of transport that you’re using. For trucking, the containers are 20 tons, and for rail, the containers are 100 tons of CO2. And so the maximum release that can happen is the size of the container. The largest spill that can happen is with pipelines. We have the case of the Denbury pipeline that ruptured in Mississippi in 2020. That released several thousand tons of CO2. This shows that the risk for CO2 leakage is really small. There still need to be regulations on the handling of CO2 to minimize the risks.
I also want to talk about the benefits and trade-offs to community to have CO2 transported through the community. It can increase the tax revenues. It can also increase direct and indirect jobs related to transportation, but that can also be a source of inequity because we know that pipelines have been historically routed through disenfranchised communities, and it would be good to not repeat the same mistakes from the past while routing CO2 pipelines.
Comparing the different modes of transportation, trucking would be the one that provides the most jobs, but it’s also the one that increases the air pollution the most, and the congestion of roads due to increased traffic. So these options all have trade-offs, and in the end, the communities have to decide what options suit them the most.
Stone: I want to ask a related question. We’re talking about the impact on communities. There has to be some oversight. Who exactly, or what government agencies at the state or federal level actually have jurisdictional oversight of these — not only of the pipelines, but as well the rail and the sea-going transportation of CO2 and biomass?
Pilorgé: So for pipelines, in the case that the pipeline is crossing state lines or is going through federal land, it’s FERC, so it’s the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that is handling the permitting process. FERC is not involved if it’s an intrastate pipeline, though. And then FERC coordinates federal, state, and local agencies to ensure compliance with all regulations, so the agency involved would depend on which land would be impacted by the routing of the pipeline. So it can involve agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service. If it crosses rivers or if there are endangered species on the route, it can be the Army Corps of Engineers, and also the Fish and Wildlife Services. Other agencies can also be involved in the process. That process can also involve other stakeholders, like state resource agencies, tribal governments, local governments, public interest groups, and private citizens.
Stone: Pete, I want to jump to you. The Department of Energy has launched what it calls the “Carbon Negative Earthshot,” and that effort aims to lower the cost of carbon capture and sequestration based on direct air capture, in this case to 100 dollars per ton. Why is the 100-dollar target so important, and how much of the total cost ideally is going to be due to transportation?
Psarras: It’s a great question. We get this question a lot in terms of why 100 dollars? I think the target in itself is important for several reasons, but I don’t think it’s any secret that economic viability continues to stand in the way of widespread deployment of these technologies today. I think in a way, you’re likely to gain more public and private investment support if you can demonstrate a clear pathway to viability, but that will include sort of playing out the tape, so to speak. I think we’ve spent so much time focusing on capture costs, reducing those or showing pathways to those reductions. And with those numbers that are in the public discourse I think are almost entirely the capture and removing of CO2 from the source.
So point taken, what really does happen when you add in transport and storage? We’ve shown in our research that these can be quite significant. In fact, you could blow right past the Earthshot target in transport and storage alone. In the report, we have, for example, storage costs established at $4 per ton, but certainly over $40 and growing, depending on where you are. And when you add transport into that, particularly if you’re a significant distance, I’d say over 250 miles, you’ve got to combine that with some of those economic ton-mile numbers I threw out earlier, and you could easily add another 50. So there you have it.
It is really important. You need to pay attention to the downstream carbon management. We’re seeing this as sort of a maturation point, where we kind of play out that entire value chain, piece it all together, and see where we stand.
Stone: So Hélène, ideally when will all this capacity and the related transportation infrastructure need to be up and running?
Pilorgé: The goal is to be carbon-neutral by mid-century. So in less than 30 years, this infrastructure should be ready, if we want to meet our climate goals. Between the route selection, the permitting, and the building of the pipelines, this construction can take several years if there is no public pushback against the projects. These projects can also be accelerated by using existing right-of-ways.
Stone: So a final question for the two of you. We’ve talked about the challenge of building this transportation infrastructure for carbon dioxide and biomass. A lot of considerations here. Are there key policy recommendations that you would offer to accelerate this process? Pete, let’s start with you.
Psarras: You heard Hélène go through all the parties involved in siting and permitting. You’re going to need massive interagency cooperation and interstate cooperation. There is a fair amount of jurisdictional complexity, when you think about it, and that’s all very time consumptive. That’s in part why we wanted to add more modes into the mix, to give ourselves some opportunities and flexibility to work around these.
I think there’s an important distinction that should be made here, and it can be said very loudly about any approach to climate. There is a clear distinction between on-paper solutions and viability on the ground, right? We’re not fighting this battle on paper, and I think that’s where you see a lot of these choke-holds rearing their ugly heads. For example, there are no federal regulations for CO2 pipelines, like there are for natural gas. We need clear guidelines for permitting, construction, operation, and decommissioning, particularly from a safety standpoint. If you compare CO2 and natural gas pipelines — we talked a little bit about eminent domain, right? There’s a much clearer path for natural gas because that’s a public good. There is no public use requirement technically for CO2. Generally people talk about public use requirement as increasing the general public welfare. Well, I don’t think we’re quite at the point as a society where we’re treating climate and climate mitigation as something that could increase the general public welfare, right?
More specifically, you’ve got things like mobile-specific items. We’ve got the Jones Act. The Jones Act, basically summarized, there are a number of reasons and benefits to it, but like ships when you’re transporting from port to port in the US, those ships must be US-built, owned, and crewed. This can present some delays and can present some issues in innovation and that sort of thing. So there could be delays. Obviously it strengthens national security, a maritime industry, but perhaps that could be revised to consider carbon dioxide.
In rail we’ve often come across things like the common carrier obligation. This refers to the legal duty imposed on certain transportation companies, again, to offer services to the general public. So you keep coming back to this bottom line. If this is going to be a general public good, perhaps we need to put more work into advancing that social license. I think that’s part of the goal of the report. If it starts with transparent story-telling, that’s what we set out to do.
Pilorgé: I think it would be interesting to revitalize the rail industry because I think that’s going to be a viable alternative to pipelines for the time that the pipelines are being built. Or if pipelines cannot be built, like what we saw in the Midwest where some pipelines were cancelled, actually most of these ethanol plants are connected to rail already, so they could use rail as a viable option for suitable transport.
I think it would also be interesting for any construction projects to mandate involvement of communities from this part so that the communities are shaping the project with the company together. That would also limit confrontations and lead to more successful projects.
Stone: Hélène and Pete, thanks for talking.
Psarras: Thank you.
Pilorgé: Thank you.
Stone: Today’s guests have been Hélène Pilorge and Pete Psarras of the University of Pennsylvania’s Clean Energy Conversions Laboratory.