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ATP3 members discuss EPA proposal and Carbon Capture and Utilization

More than nine months after the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule in June of 2014, disagreement remains around the federal agency’s proposed regulations on carbon capture and recycling. Some algae leaders and organizations call for a change to the EPA’s ruling to support algae and carbon capture and recycling technology as a viable means to capture and use excess CO2. Others do not find the ruling to be impactful to the algae industry and applaud the current proposed ruling.

As it stands, the EPA’s plan states that waste carbon emitted from plants will need to be captured and stored permanently, rather than used to feed algae crops or used to create other products such as solar fuel.

“The algae industry is asking EPA to include Carbon Capture & Utilization (CCU) in Section 111(d) of their Clean Power Plan final rule as one option of addressing the need to reduce GHG emissions,” said Martin Sabarsky, CEO of algae biomass developer Cellana, a partner of the national testbed, Algae Testbed Public-Partnership (ATP3). “If this is complemented with federal tax reform that would provide credit to utilities and algae companies for recycling existing CO2, it could go a long way into turning CO2 into an asset instead of treating it only as a liability and thereby accelerate investments in CCU and reduce GHG emissions simultaneously.”

Carbon capture and utilization or recycling is beneficial to the global health because it may help the world slow the exponential growth of waste carbon dioxide emissions. Using captured carbon for valued products could potentially develop a market which would offset the cost of carbon capture technologies, thus resulting in a wider prevalence of the practice of capturing waste carbon dioxide.

Using captured CO2 will also diminish the necessity to locate safe and viable storage locations for containers of captured carbon.

Ellen Stechel, a professor of practice at Arizona State University who specializes in carbon capture and reuse, said these regulations should be applauded but could nevertheless hamper developments in carbon capture and reuse technologies. The best way to ensure the policies spur innovations and do not hinder the algae industry or others that use carbon as a resource is to network, educate and discuss in order to find a middle ground between the different industries and opinions.

“The public isn’t talking about it because it’s little known thing that we can consider using CO2 as a value resource rather than just as a liability that we must eliminate or bury,” she said. “Even in the small community that knows about carbon capture and reuse there isn’t a universal sense of whether this is a viable commercial strategy. If we can’t drum up more people to be interested in this as an issue, carbon capture and reuse may be eliminated from the mitigation tool box and the algae community could be limited in where it can get its CO2.”

Like many, Stechel submitted commentary to the EPA encouraging leaders to consider revising the plan. In her commentary, Stechel said the ruling could be used as a boon to bolster the development of technology in the market.

“The proposed rulemaking provides a unique opportunity to promote the development of technology that will reduce CO2 emissions in an efficient, market-oriented way,” she wrote. “The conversion of CO2, water, and sunlight to produce drop-in replacement fuels using algae or solar fuel technologies are promising such technologies, with algae approaching commercial viability now. Unfortunately, by foreclosing the beneficial reuse of captured CO2 to produce such fuel, EPA has not only failed to take advantage of this unique opportunity, it has eliminated the option, stifling innovation, and almost certainly dooming already existing companies into market failures and future companies from being established.”

Now that the commentary period is over – it closed in December – Stechel said she hopes the algae and carbon capture industries will work together to improve the ruling with a united voice.

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Martin Sabarsky, CEO of Cellana and Ellen Stechel, professor of practice at Arizona State University, both members of ATP3, talk about carbon capture and utilization and the proposed ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency.