Big oil is racing to scale up carbon capture to slash emissions

A standard drilling rig that Chevron will be drilling its first onshore test well for the 14,000-acre Bayou Bend CCUS project is photographed on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Winnie area. It is expected to have the capacity to store more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in underground geologic structures.

Yi-Chin Lee | Houston Chronicle | Hearst Newspapers | Getty Images

A paper mill in a small Mississippi town could help demonstrate whether capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing it deep underground is a viable path to fight climate change.

The proposed project at International Paper‘s mill in Vicksburg was chosen by the Department of Energy in February to receive up to $88 million in taxpayer funding. If successful, the system would capture and permanently store 120,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of 27,000 gas-powered cars, according to the companies behind the project.

Amazon, a partner in the project, sources containerboard from the mill for its boxes and packaging. SLB, the oilfield services giant formerly known as Schlumberger, is designing and engineering the carbon capture system in collaboration with RTI International, a nonprofit that developed the technology.

The Vicksburg paper mill project is just one example of how $12 billion in funding from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law is supporting the development of carbon capture technology across the United States, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Carbon capture and storage technology today is expensive, logistically complex and faces controversy over its role in the energy transition and safety concerns in communities where pipeline infrastructure would be expanded.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency has described carbon capture and storage as “critical” to achieve global net-zero emissions, while also warning the oil and gas industry against using the technology as a way to maintain the status quo on fossil fuels. Some climate activists accuse the industry of simply investing in carbon capture as way to extend the use of oil and gas.

The technology typically uses chemical absorption to capture carbon dioxide emitted from the chimney of an industrial plant. The emissions are condensed into a fluid for transport, normally through a pipeline, and are stored thousands of feet below ground in depleted oil wells or geological formations such as saltwater reservoirs.

The challenges to implementing the technology are immense. The world needs to capture more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030, more than 20 times the 45 million metric tons captured in 2022, according to the IEA. By 2050, the amount of carbon that’s captured needs to reach 6 billion tons — more than 130 times the 2022 level, according to the agency.

But the track record of carbon capture and storage so far has been one of “underperformance,” with only 5% of announced projects having reached a final…

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