Today’s guest is Deepika Nagabhushan, Program Director, Decarbonized Fossil Energy at Clean Air Task Force, which develops policy and advocacy strategies aimed at making carbon capture, utilization & storage technologies widely available, globally by mid-century. We have a great discussion about Deepika's work at CATF, the role of big oil in the climate fight, how viable carbon capture is, what kind of impact it can have, and how close it is to being a commercial reality, and a number of other thorny topics. If you want to learn more about where decarbonizing fossil fuels (versus no longer burning them) fits into the climate fight, make sure to tune in. Enjoy the show!
Today’s guest is Deepika Nagabhushan, Program Director, Decarbonized Fossil Energy at Clean Air Task Force, which develops policy and advocacy strategies aimed at making carbon capture, utilization & storage technologies widely available, globally by mid-century.
Deepika has developed analysis and led advocacy efforts related to CCUS, including power sector modeling that studied CCS deployment in the US under various federal policy scenarios, including 45Q tax credit that the Congress passed in 2018, an assessment of the role of zero carbon technology in developing countries, and securing a CCUS protocol under the California LCFS. She works across policy, regulatory and market-based areas related to CCS.
Prior to joining CATF, Deepika spent 5 years with Schneider Electric. She led the deployment of global marketing operations across Asia-Pacific countries and managed marketing communication projects for Schneider Electric’s energy management solutions in the United States. She also helped expand the reach of Schneider Electric Access to Energy initiative “BIPBoP” by identifying partner companies and frameworks for collaboration.
Deepika graduated in 2015 from The Earth Institute at Columbia University with a Master of Science in Sustainability Management. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Bangalore University in Karnataka, India. She is currently based in San Francisco.
In today’s episode, we cover:
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You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
Enjoy the show!
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change, and try to figure out how people like you and I can help. Today's guest is Deepika Nagabhushan program director for Decarbonize Fossil Energy at Clean Air Task Force, Deepika leads CATF's Decarbonize Fossil Energy Program, which develops policy and advocacy strategies into making carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies widely available globally by mid-century.
Jason Jacobs: This is a fascinating area because what decarbonized fossil energy basically means is instead of shutting down the coal plants, for example, enables the coal plants to keep burning coal, but decarbonizing those emissions such that it can either be zero carbon, or much lower emissions than it is today. This of course a controversial topic and one where there's a big discrepancy of viewpoints, which makes Deepika's perspective, in this discussion, super interesting. We cover a lot in this episode including an overview of the work that they do at CATF and with the Decarbonized Fossil Energy Program. We talk about CCS, how it works, its history, where things stand today, where things need to go, and what some of the barriers are that are inhibiting its progress.
Jason Jacobs: We also talk about the role of startups versus the big strategics oil and gas. We talk about the role of policy versus innovation. And we also talk about just from an ethical standpoint, why Deepika feels such passion and fulfillment for the work that she does, and what her message is to the critics who might say that this technology is a distraction, or an excuse for fossil fuel to keep on burning. And I think Deepika's perspective here is fascinating, and I learned a lot from hearing it. I hope you do as well. So, without further ado, let's bring her on. Deepika Nagabhushan, welcome to the show.
Deepika N.: Thanks Jason. Happy to be here.
Jason Jacobs: I'm excited to have you. I had a good chat with your boss, Armon Cohen a few weeks ago and-
Deepika N.: He's the boss.
Jason Jacobs: ... in addition to him, I talked to Steve Oldham from Carbon Engineering recently and Jim McDermott who's on the board there, and Noah Deich from Carbon 180. I think a theme that I've been exploring is the difference between reduction of new emissions, and pulling out the emissions that are already there. And also this whole concept of carbon capture and with regardless of whether something is a bridge, or it's a longterm solution, the idea that for types of energy that do emit today given that at minimum it's going to take some period of time to transition the fact that if you do pull the carbon out, then conceivably you could get it to net zero emissions as well. When I see your title of Decarbonized Fossil Fuel, I think that's a super interesting topic to at minimum learn a lot more about.
Deepika N.: When I look at the title Decarbonized Fossil Energy, it's so obvious for me, but I have noticed this question come to me couple of times when people are like, "Wow, you're title Decarbonized Fossil Energy, that's so interesting. That's so new." And I'm like, "What?" This is kind of obvious to me. So, I love to talk more about this. And you're right, it's this thing that there's always this question about what do you do with emissions that have already accumulated in the atmosphere?
Deepika N.: And I think that that's where the whole negative emissions technologies and approaches come from. And then with Decarbonize Fossil Energy, the premise basically is that if you think about the emissions globally, emissions that have happened. So, 2017 to 2018 we had a lot of renewable energy that was installed all over the world. Billions of dollars was spent on it. But all those emissions gains if you will like all the reductions were sort of just masked or canceled out by fossil energy use across developing nations and everywhere else.
Deepika N.: So it's just that there is this growth in the world, economic growth that we sometimes see decoupling, but sometimes we don't, I think there was a period, a couple of years when we felt like there was a decoupling between growth and energy productivity or economic productivity and there was economic productivity laws and energy efficiency and those kinds of approaches helped reduce the emissions.
Deepika N.: But then just subsequent years change that and you can't... I think that there are... You need multiple approaches and especially because fossil fuels are cheap, and are vitally used by the whole world. It's just a matter of we have a time limit on meeting the 1.5 degree, I guess, climate target. So it's just a matter of using as many technology approaches as possible to have new technologies that are clean and sort of prevent the carbon emissions from continued fossil use, which if we don't... Because we don't have a magic wand to sort of stop that and there aren't competing technologies yet. And that's the whole goal. In fact, let me just rephrase the one line answer to what decarbonized fossil energy program within Cleaner taskforce does, is our job is to identify how or make this happen, make decarbonized Fossil competitive, from a cost point of view with fossil energy. That's the mandate. That's the goal.
Jason Jacobs: And can you explain the difference between traditional fossil energy and decarbonized fossil energy?
Deepika N.: Fossil energy are hydrocarbons that if you burn them, you will emit CO2 and decarbonize fossil energy is one that when you use those fossil energy sources, all we care about in the decarbonize version of the same fuel is that we don't let the CO2 to go into the atmosphere.
Jason Jacobs: How do we prevent the CO2 from going in the atmosphere?
Deepika N.: There are a suite of technologies called carbon capture and sequestration, which you said you have been exploring. Basically we did this like few decades ago with sulfur dioxide. The whole acid rain problem was because we were using coal that was emitting these sulfur dioxide emissions and that was creating [inaudible 00:06:57]. And what we did was we're like, "Okay, let's take the sulfur dioxide out." And it was scrubbed and it was sent through the solutions where the sulfur dioxide would get absorbed and then whatever would be emitted would just be without the sulfur dioxide. So, you've solved the problem in that way.
Deepika N.: So, it's a similar concept. You will take the exhaust from these emissions, whether it's coming from power plants, whether it's coming from heat that you're generating at industrial facilities, anywhere that fossil energy is being used, you can just simply scrub that emission, that exhausts the flue gas off the CO2 and then whatever... So, the CO2 is then taken away and then the remaining exhaust just goes into the atmosphere as it would have just without the CO2.
Jason Jacobs: But it's far from trivial to do this both from a complexity standpoint and cost, correct?
Deepika N.: Exactly. And that's the task at hand. How do you make it lightly available? Because that's the goal. How do you make it cost competitive so that it is actually cost competitive... That people would choose to use a decarbonized fossil fuel energy source versus, an unabated fossil energy source. That's the choice that we need to make happen.
Jason Jacobs: And why would [inaudible 00:08:17] make that choice? I mean, is it strictly a cost choice or are there... I mean, obviously the bleeding hearts will do it because it's the right choice even if it costs more, but realistically that's not how markets work at scale. So, I guess the people that are making that choice today, why are they doing it? And then directionally why would they be doing it if it's going to really make a [inaudible 00:08:37]?
Deepika N.: Those are good question. I mean we live in a market like you said, there is nobody who is going to do something that isn't fiscally right or financially right. I mean there are other goals that some shareholders I guess impose on the companies, but I think that the tools are basically to get the costs down and also put regulations and policies in place that will encourage investment in those technologies. I don't think that somebody... I don't think that we can rely on people to do the right thing. I'm just not sure that that's an approach I would bet my money on.
Deepika N.: Education is important for sure about environmental impacts of the things that we do. But I think that making technologies available... And I think that it's the role of the government to sort of push technology innovation as it has always done, and to make technologies available so that companies can adopt them, and create a push through regulations like emissions limits or incentives. There can be a variety of policies that states and national governments can utilize to actually help adoption of these technologies.
Jason Jacobs: But basically if I'm hearing right, there's fossil fuel that emits CO2 and then there's decarbonized fossil fuel that's pulling the carbon you're stripping the carbon out of the emissions that are happening at the point of emitting. And so I think what I'm hearing is that when that's pulled out, there's some complexity and costs associated with that, but the way that it would be more economical is some combination of then converting that CO2 into products that can be then gone and sold as well as putting some type of price on carbon, meaning attacks on the CO2 that's being emitted that is not being captured.
Deepika N.: You're exactly right. So, let's say it costs X dollars to capture a ton of carbon. You can either have all of that money initially as you're getting the government... As you're getting the companies to adopt this technology and to sort of get it to a point where it becomes market competitive. The government can fill that hole with incentives, that entire X amount, or the other way is to sort of leverage a market opportunity that exists and one of the largest market opportunities that exist today sort of be a part of that hole fill the part of that hole is enhanced oil recovery. And enhanced oil recovery is when oil companies that are producing oil from oil Wells and a field is sort of depressurize because you've been producing oil for decades. The volume of oil that is easily accessible is now sort of, you're coming to the end of that, but there is more oil in there.
Deepika N.: So, one of the things that oil companies would like to do is to get that oil out. And one of the ways you can get that out oil out is by injecting CO2 at really high temperatures and high pressures that would then mix in with the oil and oil would be produced because more oil from the same wells could be produced because of that. So that is a valuable activity that the industry will pay money for. They will want to buy the carbon dioxide. Now we know we have all this waste, and I'm using air quotes, waste CO2, that's just being vented into the atmosphere, which we don't want over there. It's sort of an easy match. There's this extra CO2, somebody can capture it and give it to the people that want to use it and want to pay money for it.
Deepika N.: So, that's the market. And so, while that can drive some of the technology adoption, what we're noticing is that there are still gaps. And that's one of the reasons we supported and sort of led the charge on pushing for an incentive such as the 45Q that was passed in 2018, which practically puts a price on carbon. They say that there's this incentive if you capture and sequester one ton of carbon dioxide that would have otherwise gone into the atmosphere, you're going to get $50 per ton.
Deepika N.: And then if you utilize it through enhanced oil recovery, you get $35 a ton if you utilize it in other mechanisms like turn it into fuel, turn it into plastics, you'll get $35 a ton. CATF thought that was like a very important step in pushing CCS forward. So now there's a price on carbon and emitters can now find ways to leverage that incentive and find a way to capture that CO2 that they would have otherwise emitted.
Jason Jacobs: Now, how much of the way there does 45Q get us based on current technologies?
Deepika N.: How much of the way?
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, some [inaudible 00:13:33] math work whether with 45Q paired with the value that the carbon can be sold for when it's converted to products or is there still a gap?
Deepika N.: So, first of all I think carbon capture it's going to cost different. There's going to be different costs associated depending on where you're putting carbon capture systems. Is it going to be on coal fired power plant? Is it going to be in a natural gas fire power plant? Is it going to be at a refinery? Is it going to be at ethanol plant. All of these sources have different characteristics, different concentration levels of CO2 in their gas emissions.
Deepika N.: So, the cost that the capture equipment will impose on a business wanting to capture, will differ and hence the impact of this 45Q incentive will be bigger in some areas and relatively smaller in other areas. So say for instance, ethanol production where the stream of CO2, the stream of emissions that come out is pretty pure CO2. So, you have to spend less money on separating it out, or cleaning it up and basically you're spending... So, relatively you're spending less money to capture the CO2 at an ethanol plant versus a coal fired power plant. [inaudible 00:14:46] to clean up the flue gas a lot more before you can actually strip the carbon out.
Deepika N.: So, cost will differ. So the impact of 45Q is bigger at a pure source CO2 facility, like ethanol versus a power plant, and the enhanced oil recovery industry will pay depending on the oil price at the time because, it's a fluctuating market. So those prices also sort of differ. And depending on how far you have to transport the CO2 and all of those things. So these economics sort of differ in general by location and type of CCS and where you're putting the [inaudible 00:15:24] not in the ground. So, there are going to be a set of facilities that will look good economically with just that EOR price on carbon and the incentive from the 45Q tax credits. But, it's not going to make every possible facility put CCS on. It's going to make some.
Jason Jacobs: Just ballpark if you had to guess what percentage of facilities will be in the green... Get in today's conditions?
Deepika N.: I don't know if I can get a percentage for you, but here's a study that we did at CATF. So we studied power plants in the US we studied what impact 45Q incentives would have on the power plants in the US. So, we saw 49 million metric tons being captured on an annual basis in the year 2030. And it came from about 45 units. And the units are not plants. Multiple units can exist in a plant. So 45 units, we're retrofit. Now, I know that I can easily come up with a percentage, but I don't know what the denominator is of how many plants, or how many units were in the green as you asked, but I think it was a total of 10 gigawatts, 10 gigawatts of approximately 10 gigawatts of fossil fired generation. That was then fitted with carbon controls.
Jason Jacobs: And then what are the criteria that make a plant a good fit to be in the green. And then when you think about levers going forward, what are the different levers we have to play with that can get a higher percentage of plants into the green over time?
Deepika N.: Definitely, the cost per ton will depend on just how difficult it is to strip the CO2, sometimes when you're thinking about refineries, there may not actually be a single source of CO2. There may be multiple sources. So, just how difficult would that be, or which of those sources are the highest concentrations? Those kinds of choices will determine the cost. And one other thing that I've learned is that even just engineering design can change a lot. In fact, there are two big coal fire power plants that have CCS on them. One is the Boundary Dam Power Plant in the Northern part of the US and in Texas there's Petra Nova.
Deepika N.: And each of those plants, they have different designs, although they both are coal fired power plants, they use different designs and they both have said something to the effect of, if they did this again, they could reduce costs by about 30 to 60% between the two of them and all because they figured out that they can sort of engineer things differently. It's just learning by doing. So just with that one plant they're like, "Oh, we can fix this, we can change this, and the cost can come down." So those kinds of engineering choices can also determine the cost. So, there are lots of factors that can sort of help you determine which is a good candidate. And of course proximity to where the CO2 is going to be stored.
Jason Jacobs: I would assume it also matters what price you're getting for the products that you're converting the carbon and also what incentives there are. And if the incentives go up, then that's another way to bridge the gap?
Deepika N.: Right. So, for instance, let's say if there's a state that wants to... Has this sort of goal that they want to decarbonize their emission sources and let's say they have power plants plans as one of the targets to reduce emissions from. You can look at 45Q, and go like, "Okay, 45Q can give this much incentive, what's the gap left for these plants in our jurisdiction that we want to see carbon capture on." And then see how they can feel at the state level, that gap, or they can...
Deepika N.: That is if they can't get the money, and if they can get revenues for CO2, or if that can be made possible then there are... Costs is not also the only factor that can make things happen. There are so many other factors as well. Like, where does the ecosystem exists now for sequestration most of the... From our report, what we saw was that all the CO2 needed EOR revenue to be green, be in the green. So, and we kind of tend to believe that in the beginning EOR revenues are going to play an important role. So the EOR infrastructure exists in specific locations. There's that Permian Basin and there are pipelines that already exist. So, having a facility that captures CO2 somewhere around there, or somewhere close to the pipeline infrastructure can can also make it a good... That's a good thing. So, you can reduce costs of building an entire network of pipelines right away. So there are low hanging fruits relative to things that can be harder to do relatively speaking.
Jason Jacobs: I don't really fully understand the nature of it, but I've heard some concern expressed from different voices in the climate community around EOR. Is that your understanding? And if so, maybe talk a bit about what's behind that.
Deepika N.: So, I think that some of the concerns may come from the fact that it's counterintuitive on the surface if you think about wanting to reduce carbon emissions and also producing oil that we know is associated with more carbon emissions. So, it looks like a funny idea, but the truth is that we... So, the best available signs on life cycle analysis or life cycle emissions comes from the International Energy Agency. They did a study in 2015 where they figured out that anthropogenic CO2 when used for CO2 to EOR has a net reducing impact. So, if you say, "I'm going to put a ton of CO2 in enhanced oil recovery." You can't just be like, "Well, there you go. I reduced an entire ton of CO2." There are some offsetting factors that you have to consider. So, obviously you're using more energy to inject the CO2, so emissions from that energy that you need to inject that CO2 will need to be considered as an offset.
Deepika N.: You're probably producing more oil and probably more people are going to consume more oil and you need to consider those emissions from the additional oil consumption. I actually figured when you look at it from the entire life cycle perspective, even considering all these additional emissions, you'll not sort of mitigate... You'll not offset that entire time that you injected. You will offset a part of it. So, the numbers are, if you put a ton in EOR, the offset from these additional emissions is 0.37 so you get 0.63 as an net reduction.
Jason Jacobs: Are there other categories besides EOR that are also compelling today? I mean I've heard talk of converting carbon to concrete or to using it for tires with carbon black or things like that. I mean, is any of this stuff more than a science project at this stage?
Deepika N.: I think that we'll probably need all of these ideas. I don't think that any of these ideas are... None of them can be like, "Well, we'll dismiss this is not important." It's not like that. But why EOR gets all the attention is because it's the largest possible market and it has the highest ability to pay money for CO2. And that's what we need in the near future to kickstart the CCS industry if you will, or the infrastructure that will be needed... So the IEA says... Sorry, the IPCC I'm sorry, I keep confusing these. So the IPCC did a two degree scenario and they figured out that globally... Of course CCS was part of the mix and in terms of what solutions will be applied. And their two degrees scenario says that in the US power sector, so not even just the US like US power sector, they need... Let me actually look at this number really quick for you.
Deepika N.: This is about, 46 million tons or 50 million tons or something like that in that range is how much you need to capture in the year 2030 and then you have to keep rising off of that on an annual basis. These are really large numbers and so I don't think that there's... And I think that overall, the IPCC 1.5 degree scenario says that globally we need to capture between 350 billion metric tons cumulatively to 1.2 trillion metric tons. Now, I'm not saying that EOR can fill all of that need, and it can.
Deepika N.: In fact it can. There isn't that much available storage capacity with an EOR but it can do a large share of [inaudible 00:24:08]. I think the IEA estimates about 140 billion tons and that's below the low number that we need to hit according to the 1.5 degrees scenarios. So, 1.5 is 350 to 1.2 trillion. So, EOR won't even meet the low end of that total estimate. So, the point is that even EOR is not a silver bullet. That's why we need all the other things that you mentioned, the cement, the plastics, all the other things. And of course we need ceilings sequestration, which is when you don't even take anything out, you just put the CO2 underground. So, that's the end game.
Jason Jacobs: Is decarbonized fossil fuels... Is that just focused on point of emission meaning that something like direct air capture for example is completely separate and distinct, or is there any overlap?
Deepika N.: The overlap is the sequestration part, but because it's decarbonizing fossil, we're talking about emissions from fossil energy and direct air capture isn't, it's emissions in the air. It can be anywhere. But the sequestration part is common part.
Jason Jacobs: So, there's a lot of voice in the climate community that say that we need to get off of fossil fuels completely as quickly as possible. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
Deepika N.: I would love to get off of fossil fuels. I don't know if we have the ideas to get to that tomorrow. It's such a hard thing. It's a hard problem to solve and we don't have... It's such a big problem. I think that there are... We obviously have renewable technologies that are growing in their share of electricity that they provide and there's going to be cleaner transportation. I would love to see a world in which we are not using any fossil fuels, but I just don't know if that's something that we can dream about, like right away. I feel I'm using a more pragmatic sort of perspective and saying that while, that's a nice to have or that's a nice goal to have, I don't know if that's the approach we need necessarily to address climate change. Because at the end of the day, like I said, the point is to keep the CO2 out of the air rather than to stop using fossil fuels. I just think that they're not the same things.
Jason Jacobs: If we used 100% renewables, let's say, are you saying that 100% decarbonized fossil fuels would be no worse for the environment than if we got off of fossil fuels completely?
Deepika N.: For the climate, yes. Because we're talking only one metric here and that's CO2 emissions.
Jason Jacobs: Are there other downsides then that we're not discussing that are important to understand the full picture?
Deepika N.: There are, you need regulations to do a lot more. I think every technology has all of these other things that you need to manage. Whether it's mining or, regulations that control mining or regulations that control methane leakage in oil and gas or how do we... Everything needs regulation to make sure that it's as environmentally safe as possible. But right now we're talking about decarbonization we're talking about carbon emissions.
Jason Jacobs: Right, but I guess what I'm confused about is people that devote their whole careers and lives to decarbonization, the majority of them, it seems proclaim boldly that we need to get off of fossil fuels. They're not proclaiming boldly that we need to decarbonize fossil fuels, they're saying we need to get off of them entirely. And I guess what I'm trying to poke at is if what you're saying is true, then why aren't they saying that we need to decarbonized because it seems that's an easier step than to get off of them entirely. So, what am I missing or what are they missing?
Deepika N.: I think that maybe, they're worried about a lot of other issues we've had. I think people consider oil companies evil and then that's there... It's an ideological issue that they have, or... I don't know really why... I don't want to speak for those that want to advocate for getting off of fossil fuels completely. And as I said, I don't think that that's a terrible idea, but we just need other technologies to ensure that they can serve those needs.
Deepika N.: We have energy needs, we have growing energy needs. We need energy at an affordable cost across the world. If there were other technologies today, we'd be doing that instead and getting off of fossil fuels right now. I'm just not sure that the rate at which renewables are growing, are we going to get there in time? And I think that there are lots of studies that already say that relying only on intermittent sources could be a bad thing for the electricity grid.
Deepika N.: And in fact, there are studies that also say that if you had a portfolio approach of using multiple technologies that had multiple different kinds of benefits, zero carbon technologies, you'd have decarbonize the energy system at a much lower cost. I don't know which one it is, IPA, IPCC or IEA I'm probably going to get it wrong, but I think it was the IPCC. It says that if you did a scenario without say carbon capture and sequestration, you would decarbonize the world at a cost that's 138% more than if you were to use technologies that are going to decarbonize fossil.
Jason Jacobs: I understand that it's difficult and that you don't think we'll get there in time and so therefore this can help as a member of the portfolio. Earlier in the discussion you said that you would love to get off of fossil if you thought it was possible to do so in time. So, why would you love it? What is more attractive about being off of fossil than doing fossil with carbon [inaudible 00:30:09]?
Deepika N.: It's one way to address climate change.
Jason Jacobs: Are they equal? I understand the practical realities of the fact that it's going to take us some time and that we need all the help we can get, but I'm still really trying to better understand the different and the downsides of CCS. If we did have the time... It's bad emotionally because it's a fossil fuel, but is that it? Just that it's bad emotionally or there're actual legitimate concerns?
Deepika N.: I think that what I meant by that was that I love it if it were practical, if that was an easy solution, that if... But the truth is I don't actually care. I don't actually care what solution we use. For me, what matters is that we're able to do it affordably, do it in time and get to that sort of carbon target. I really don't think that I have a preference myself as to which one is better, or I don't know, morally better or even... For me it's a matter of what's practical, what's fast and what can be done right now, what technologies do we have.
Jason Jacobs: So I'm going to try to [inaudible 00:31:23] back what I think I'm hearing, just to make sure I understand it, which is that I think what I'm hearing from you is when the critics say, "By enabling the fossil fuel companies to use carbon capture, that is going to disincentivize them from transitioning more rapidly to renewables." What you're saying is who cares? Because as long as we get there... You're not saying it will disincentivize and you're not saying... No, you're not saying it won't disincentivize you're saying, "Whether it disincentivizes or not, it doesn't matter to me because to me all that matters is we get there and I don't care if it's through 80% CCS or 20% CCS or zero CCS, as long as we get there as quick as possible." Is that right?
Deepika N.: That is exactly right. And the truth is we have no way of knowing is it going to be 80% CCS, is it going to be 80% enabled? We have no way of knowing. We can know all the modeling, we want, things are going to change that we didn't predict and the mix that we actually ended up using by the time it's 2100, your guests is as good as mine and we don't even need modeling to make a guess. We have no idea.
Jason Jacobs: So, but why bother to transition to renewables at all?
Deepika N.: Because it's a tool. It's a clean energy tool, why not? We have technology.
Jason Jacobs: Well we're already burning fossil fuel, and so it's like an object in motion stays in motion. If we're already burning fossil fuel, if we could just do carbon capture. If what you're saying is true, then isn't that an easier path and trying to transition to other sources of clean energy?
Deepika N.: In many cases it's an easier path, in many locations, it's an easier path in many geographies it's... The same case would be true for renewables in many places. I think that we can't rely on any one technology. I don't know why we keep wanting to have this one thing that we'll be doing all the work, why do we have this attraction towards a silver bullet? I just feel that it's not needed, it's not what will help. That's not the criteria by which we will solve, or find the right approach to solving climate change. I think that having multiple options is always great. And as I said in some places some approaches will work better than the others. So, for instance, I mean this is a silly, silly analogy I'm going to give you, but this is how I'm thinking about it.
Deepika N.: I have a very crazy attraction towards water bottles, and I keep buying new water bottles as in when I keep seeing like someone who's figured out a new way of... It's a cooler way. I have one water bottle that tells me at what point in the day I needed to have drank that much water. So I can track how much water I'm drinking. I have a water bottle that is shaped like an iPad so it can go in my bag. What I'm trying to say is that when there's a need, there isn't one technology, and we're done. Let's just never think about this problem again, you can't do that. People will constantly want to innovate and find new ways of solving the same problem over and over again because that's what innovation is.
Deepika N.: You can't just sit and say, "Yes, we figured it out now, and now we'll deploy this one technology." That's not how you solve anything. If we can do that with water bottles. Can you imagine how many kinds of water bottles there are everyone claiming to have solved the problem? Here's one that fits in your bag. Here's one that that reminds you. Here's one that connects to your iPhone. There's innovation in the smallest of things and trying to solve the smallest of problems. And people will continue to solve that problem because, someone will think that this is the problem to solve. So I think it's the same thing with energy technologies. Why do we have to stop at any point and say, "We're done." Why can't we continue to innovate?
Jason Jacobs: When it comes to decarbonizing fossil fuels how much of that is being done by the hydrocarbon companies themselves? And how much of that is being done by startups? And what is the nature of the relationships between the two?
Deepika N.: I am seeing that fossil fuel companies are starting to innovate. I know that shell has started to go into the clean energy business, with renewables and electricity, Occidental Petroleum in the US has invested in carbon engineering and net power. Net power is a natural gas power system that is based on the allam cycle you know that. I think they're starting to see that there's going to be a benefit. Some of the oil companies are seeing that there's going to be a benefit to sort of getting into this game to being part of the new markets where they can survive by providing a service that makes them money and meets future regulations, which will... There will be future regulations that will help reduce carbon emissions.
Deepika N.: I think that there are lots of startup companies. I know that there's apparently a lot of startups, and I'm not familiar so much with nuclear, but there's a lot of startups that are working on say advanced nuclear technologies that will generate electricity with no carbon emissions and solve a lot of the other issues of traditionally that we know of nuclear technology. Of course there's carbon tech that's picking up where people are working to find ways to convert CO2 into products, whether it's plastics, or fish feed and proteins. There's a lot of that technology that is being explored. So I think that there's sort of an innovation all around.
Jason Jacobs: I guess given where we are and where we need to get to, what are the biggest things holding us back? And then what is CATF's role in helping us get there faster and more effectively?
Deepika N.: So what is holding CCS back?
Jason Jacobs: Yes. I mean you're focused on decarbonizing fossil fuels. It sounds like there's only a small percentage of fossil fuel emissions that are decarbonized today, what is holding us back from getting to 100%? I assume that when you look at your charter, but I don't want to put words in your mouth that you're picking off things that you think can help us, help that transition occur faster and more effectively. But, if you're charter is something different than that, then I'd love to know what it is.
Deepika N.: Our charters is as I said, we have to make sure that decarbonize fossil is cost competitive with fossil and make it widely available. So wherever it is needed, it can be deployed. So to do that, we work on policy and we understand the technology, we understand business models that will make the technology deploy and then sort of figure out what the gaps are in making those business models a reality. And we tend to advocate for policies to fill those gaps. What's holding CCS back at this point is we... I think we just started down the policy path with 45Q tax incentives. California state has a lot of programs. One of them does incentivize the use of carbon capture sequestration technologies. The low carbon fuel standard that is, they allow a pathway to reduce emissions through CCS.
Deepika N.: I think that in general there's going to have to be more of a push from an incentive and policy side in the initial stages to get this technology deployed. And to get the infrastructure needed built. So, we'll probably need pipelines to connect sources and sinks. We'll need better understanding and better sort of industry learning on sequestration not just in EOR but also in sequestration. This is where what I said earlier about just putting CO2 underground in brine formations like two miles deep, or a mile deep. And storing it there. There's a lot of other barriers like, helping companies get financing. So sort of maybe the government can do loan guarantees and, for instance, if some fossil fired power plants are wanting to do CCS, sort of incentivizing them through, I don't know giving them contract for differences for their power.
Deepika N.: Because they'll have to make up their costs. And then of course most importantly, I think that the government can do some R&D spend on sort of getting some transformational technology development going, invest in new ideas that can bring some radical transformation in how we capture the CO2, how we decarbonize.
Jason Jacobs: So what types of projects are you focused on, on the policy side?
Deepika N.: We spent few years on 45Q and then I shifted my focus. Once that was done, I shifted my focus to California. California was working on developing something called the CCS protocol and that was sort of defining what companies would need to do in order to certify that storage is permanent it would mean, how do you select sites? And how do you monitor? And so on.
Deepika N.: That was something that CATF was involved in, and I was involved in personally to engage with the California Air Resources Board and participating in the public comment process there. Right now we're sort of trying to sort of go back to 45Q and we're going to start to talk to companies to understand how they're building their projects, what barriers they continue to face.
Deepika N.: So, I think for us what's important is to always keep our eyes on what the gaps are, and then come up with ideas to fill those gaps. That's what we'll be doing going forward. That's what my focus is right now.
Jason Jacobs: And if you look out at the landscape, who are the people or companies that are on the front lines with decarbonized fossil fuel that you think knows the most about it, and are doing the best jobs of pushing the innovation forward?
Deepika N.: So, decarbonize fossil there's so many parts to it. There's capture, there's sequestration, there's utilization. In terms of enhanced oil recovery or utilization, I think that Occidental Petroleum is definitely the leader. They're the largest EOR company. They have learned about it from all their decades, I guess 40, 50 years of experience in terms of capture.
Deepika N.: I don't know if there's one single entity that I can point to that has expertise in that because there's so many kinds of capture, and I guess so many sources that you can put capture on. So, I don't really have an answer for that. Sequestration, I know that there's one project, Archer Daniels Midland Ethanol facility in Illinois that captures CO2 and puts it in a ceiling formation in Illinois. There's a lot of government funding that went into that project as well. So there's learning from there that I hope will help other projects do that.
Jason Jacobs: For the people out there that are pushing to divest from fossil fuel companies, what message do you have for them? Or what are your thoughts on those efforts?
Deepika N.: I think that if you're divesting from fossil fuel companies... I guess the whole point is that either you have found other avenues that can make as much money for you, in which case I hope it's some other climate friendly energy economy that you're investing in. Other than that... If it's an ideological thing that I don't really have much to say because I don't think that I can make a difference there.
Jason Jacobs: But I think that the question I'm getting at is for people that say that they care about climate change and what we need to do is divest, what I'm hearing from you is that you don't agree and that the fossil fuel companies, maybe one of our best paths out of this jam is to lean hard into working with them as important subject matter experts with big reach and resource and expertise to help solve the problem that in many ways they helped create.
Deepika N.: It's a traditional argument [inaudible 00:43:51] of divestment versus staying, which means you have a seat at the table and you can ask the companies to do the right thing or to make the right investments. I don't have anything new to say there. It's a traditional... I guess it's a cliche now almost. Stay and push as a shareholder or a stakeholder push companies to do the right thing. And if there're technologies require that the companies spend on R&D require that companies find ways to decarbonize.
Jason Jacobs: I guess given some of the withholding information and misrepresenting information and things that have occurred historically... The way I think about it, you can think that it was criminal, what's occurred in the past and still think that they're important partners for the future. Like it's not an either, or situation. So, they may well be important partners for the future, but I certainly understand why there's distrust.
Deepika N.: I understand this concept of distress, but I just don't know if that is relevant in the space of getting them to do the right thing. So, the tools at hand, I think for us are regulation. Am I going to expect any corporation? And here in this case it's the oil corporations. Am I going to expect them to just act in good faith? Am I going to put my trust in them? Or am I going to expect that regulations are enforced, that there are right regulations that are enforced. So for me, I feel like, while trust is... And this whole emotional aspect of the conversation is an important thing to consider. But I just, from a decarbonization point of view, I just feel like that the problem is really, really large. And I think that we need to focus on the right tools.
Deepika N.: And I don't know about trust, how I will use the trust or the emotional feeling that I have in this space. But for me, what I would want to use is tools that are like regulation and policy pushing that [inaudible 00:46:01] kind of technology development so that these technologies are available and at which point an economic decision is made. Well, we don't any longer need this technology that is polluting. We can use this, which doesn't pollute and it's as cheap or is even cheaper or it looks good in the world where there are incentives on a current price.
Deepika N.: I just feel like when you create that environment with making technologies available, incentives or penalties through regulation, you create an environment where those... You're forcing those choices and that's, for me those are the kinds of tools I want to rely on rather than just expecting that... Or not wanting to work with someone because whether or not I trust them. I don't know, am I making sense?
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I told you [inaudible 00:46:46] that if you're not going to trust them, you shouldn't trust any big multinational corporation and let policy and regulation do his job.
Deepika N.: I think in a way, that's what I'm saying. I think that those are the right tools to use according to me.
Jason Jacobs: And so if you had a big pot of money, let's say $100 billion, and you could put it towards anything to maximize its impact on decarbonizing, the global economy, where would you put it? How would you allocate it?
Deepika N.: Definitely R&B definitely R&D. In fact I just read an article this morning about fusion, that they're beginning construction. And I know this isn't related to decarbonizing fossil, but it is related to climate. It's interesting because it's a technology that sounds like fantasy, but they're actually building the plant in France and apparently in the next 15 years it could be real, but it's going to take 15 years. So I'm sure it takes a lot of money to get to that point with a whole new technology that people have been studying for years and decades.
Deepika N.: And imagine, I'm just saying I don't have... Again, I don't know much about nuclear, it's fascinating. Imagine if that works. How much of clean electricity we can have. So I just think that, like I said, R&D is where I would put that money. We need to think more, think harder about solving these problems with newer ideas of how we generating energy in the world. That's what I think.
Jason Jacobs: And what if we take that a step deeper in terms of where within R&D or what criteria and also is that investments in government entities for that R&D or private sector. How do you think about that?
Deepika N.: I mean government led, but of course I think private sector participation is very important. That's one of the things that we do at CATF, we don't work in a vacuum. We always engage with the doors. In fact, there's no point in sort of just having this password system thing. We engage with businesses, understand their needs and gaps and, what are the economic issues that they're facing to change their behavior? Understanding that requires that partnership and then we figured out what we can do to fill those gaps. I think that public private partnership is important, but we still need to learn more about newer technologies, or develop further our technologies make better carbon capture technology better. Make it so cheap.
Deepika N.: What if we made carbon capture and storage technology so cheap that we didn't even need EOR anymore? We just went directly to... I don't think that in reality we can skip the EOR phase because we need the private money to help building industry out. But at one point we can say, "Well, we're done." It's so much cheaper now to just injected in saline formations and we're going to get incentive from the government to do that. That's a world that I would love to have reached, which I think is possible. This isn't really far. I don't think that this is a fantasy. This is definitely a very logical outcome of how I think we can we... It can be a very possible. It's a possible thing and that's what we're working towards.
Jason Jacobs: And for anybody who's listening to the podcast, who's concerned about climate change and wants to figure out how they can help in the most impactful way, maybe just talk to them for a minute. What advice do you have?
Deepika N.: I think that it comes down to electing representatives that will commit to solving this issue. and will commit to developing policies that will address this issue in the right way, and will commit to being open to a whole bunch of technologies. I think that first, even just the people that are listening to this podcast need to acknowledge that we will need multiple technologies to solve this humongous problem and then sort of hope that their elected officials will also be open, and will design policies and regulations in such a way that it can incentivize us to solve this problem. I think that's my simple answer, to that question.
Jason Jacobs: Great. Well, I'll tell you, I really enjoyed this discussion. I think that you also bring quite a different perspective than we've had on the podcast before even though we've had Armond already from CATF. I think this discussion covered some new ground for sure. So, it's definitely going to get people talking and hopefully no matter where people come out on this issue, I think listening to this episode will help them make more informed decisions and have more informed opinions, which is exactly the goal of the pod. So thank you so much.
Deepika N.: Thanks Jason. Thank you.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. No, that is .co not .com. Someday we'll get the .com but right now .co. You can also find me on Twitter at jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode, or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that, thank you.