There is growing consensus within the energy community that net-zero technologies to help keep global temperatures from rising above the 1.5° C to 2° C target established in the 2015 Paris Agreement will be insufficient in achieving that goal, according to former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. 

Moniz, who spoke at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) in Washington, D.C., Oct. 30 to discuss his organization’s report on CO2 removal technologies, also called negative emissions technologies, said, “We need to think about not only net-zero, but carbon dioxide removal and even reversal.” 

The report from the Energy Futures Initiative, which Moniz chairs, proposes a $10.7-billion research, development and demonstration program to enable emerging CO2 removal technologies to find new pathways toward quick commercialization. “We need a doubling or tripling of the [existing] energy innovation budget,” he said. 

The report follows the 2018 National Academies of Sciences report on negative emissions technology and sequestration, which recommended that CO2 removal be used at a scale of approximately 10 billion metric tons per year globally by 2050, and at 20 billion metric tons thereafter to be able to achieve climate goals. 

In the Moniz report, first released in New York in conjunction with the U.N. Climate meetings in late September, the Energy Futures Initiative provides a framework to develop these technologies on a significant scale. Carbon removal at the scale recommended by NAS “would require the creation of new industries comparable in size to the steel, concrete and petroleum industries of today,” the authors concluded. 

Technologies addressed in the report go beyond traditional climate adaptation or mitigation strategies, and include direct air capture, CO2 removal from seawater, carbon capture and storage or utilization, and chemically enhanced mineralization. Some direct air capture plants are operating in Canada, Texas and Scandinavia, but their applications so far have been fairly limited.  

The 10-year proposed initiative would allocate $1 billion per year to and be overseen by a broad coalition of 12 federal agencies, spearheaded by the Depts. of Energy and Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The funds would be used to determine which of the many emerging technologies would be most effective and could be built to commercial scale quickly. “We think in 10 years, with this kind of focused and significant R&D program, we will see major cost reductions in scalable technologies,” Moniz said. 

The DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy agency (ARPA-E), which provides early funding for promising technologies that aren’t proven enough to attract private sector support, would be a key component of such a program, he said. 

The Trump administration has cut funding for the agency in its annual budget requests, but congressional appropriators have steadily increased the amount of funding, says Addison Stark, the BPC’s associate director of energy innovation. The House and the Senate Appropriations Committee bumped up ARPA-E funding to $428 million for fiscal 2020, from $366 million enacted in 2019. There appears to be bipartisan support in both chambers for ARPA-E, Stark added.