HEARING OF THE ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: THE BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES OF PRODUCING LIQUID FUEL FROM COAL: THE ROLE FOR FEDERAL RESEARCH
CHAIRED BY: REP. NICK LAMPSON (D-TX)
WITNESSES: DR. ROBERT FREERKS, DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, RENTECH CORP.; JOHN WARD, VICE PRESIDENT MARKETING AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS, HEADWATERS, INC.; DR. JAMES BERTIS, SENIOR POLICY RESEARCHER, RAND CORPORATION; DAVID HAWKINS, DIRECTOR CLIMATE CENTER, NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL; DR. RICHARD BOARDMAN, HEAD OF THE SECURE ENERGY INITIATIVE, IDAHO NATIONAL LABORATORY; DR. JOSEPH ROMM, DIRECTOR AND FOUNDER, CENTER FOR ENERGY AND CLIMATE SOLUTIONS
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REP. JIM MATHESON (D-UT): Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Ward, I wanted to ask you a question first, what do you feel is an appropriate level of environmental performance for CTL facilities that should be met in order to achieve some kind of federal financial support?
MR. WARD: I believe that the reason for pursuing coal-to-liquids is a bridge strategy to help us with energy security issues while we develop the fuels and strategies of the future. Therefore, I believe if a coal-to-liquids facility can produce a fuel that is cleaner than the petroleum fuel that it replaces from a pollutant standard and is better than the petroleum fuel it replaces from a life-cycle greenhouse gas standard, that should qualify for deployment type incentives to get these plants built. After that, these plants are going to be subject to the same regulations or regulatory regimes, whether it's a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, or whatever this Congress ultimately enacts to meet our greater goals of dealing with climate change.
These plants will also be subject to future reductions to meet that system. And we will do those things through some of the technologies that have been discussed today, like biomass co-firing and other technologies that are out there. But to qualify for deployment incentives, if what were trying to do is improve our energy security, what's wrong with a standard that says as long as you're not going backwards you qualify?
REP. MATHESON: Let me also ask you, the question about we've heard a lot in the context of coal-to-liquids about using biomass in connection with the coal for making liquid transportation fuels. Where is this technology in terms of its opportunity for commercial application now?
MR. WARD: You know, and that's really an important question for this committee where you're looking at where might research dollars be spent. Coal-to-liquids with carbon capture and storage for enhanced oil recovery is something we can do today. There are commercially available technologies or commercially finance-able technologies if we can deal with oil price risks.
The biomass co-gasification, biomass co-firing, that's earlier in the scale. That's back where we need to do demonstration projects. There's probably some more basic research that needs to be done. Those are areas where we should be spending research dollars, not deployment dollars, in order to develop that technology so that it will be useful in making future environmental improvements down the road.
REP. MATHESON: And did what are the environmental benefits of that technology combining the two?
MR. WARD: Well, when you combine the two, when you do carbon capture storage and utilize biomass strategies, you can now go from a fuel that is as good as or a little better than the petroleum you are replacing to having a liquid fuel that is significantly better than the petroleum fuel that you are replacing.
REP. MATHESON: And just this to maybe clarify what you said because the Science Committee has jurisdiction over research funding, you're suggesting that for this committee that's an important thing to take a look at?
MR. WARD: Exactly. My testimony outlined three areas that I think are most appropriate for research dollars in this area. Biomass being one of them; doing more complete work on setting standards for life-cycle assessments for comparing these technologies to other fossil fuels is a second one; and then continuing to broaden the options and knowledge of carbon sequestration activities outside of enhanced oil recovery is the third.
REP. MATHESON: Okay, I appreciate that. And I'm sorry I was not here at the start of the hearing and I wanted to welcome Mr. Ward, who is from Utah. I would have introduced you if I was here at the start of the hearing but I didn't make it here on time.
MR. WARD: No, that's okay - you would have said something disreputable.
REP. MATHESON: That's right. (Laughter.)
Just one last question I'll throw out to any witness on the committee in terms of the carbon capture and storage issue. It seems to me that these are - you know, CTL and CCS are both sort of in play right now. Can anyone talk about - give the Science Committee direction on the difference between the different commercially available forms of carbon capture and sequestration and the types of research that this committee ought to encourage to help enhance policy support for different types of carbon capture sequestration? That's for anybody who wants to answer that.
MR. BARTIS: (?) Carbon capture and sequestration is one of the great challenges of the next few decades in my view, and there are a variety of approaches to take but the big - the most important approach in terms of how much it can capture is geological sequestration, not the enhanced oil recovery. That's significant, and it's good for the first few CTL plants. It's important that they probably do something like. But if we want to go beyond that we're going to have to do something much more significant. Right now the federal budget on federal carbon capture and sequestration is about $80 million a year, and that's just way to low for the challenge that's ahead. And the critical steps here are to have very large- scale demonstrations.
And what's important if you have a large-scale demonstration is that you don't just - it's not just engineering - there's a tremendous amount of basic science, geological sciences, geochemistry, geophysics that has to accompany any of these large-scale demonstrations. Otherwise we don't really understand what we are doing. We have good scientists who are working on this. And this is the real big challenge - not just for coal-to-liquids - for everything.
REP. MATHESON: For everything, yeah.
MR. : If I could just add, the Science Committee has to, if it wants to support carbon capture and storage, should develop an accepted scientific process for identifying and certifying geologic repositories. I mean, I would point out we've spent how long trying to certify one repository for nuclear waste? We are talking about dozens of repositories for carbon dioxide, and we don't have any institutionalized process for how you identify and certify that some repository is going to be safe and permanent.
REP. MATHESON: Dr. Freerks?
MR. FREERKS: I do believe that the geosequestration partnership is doing exactly that. They are looking at sites throughout the U.S. I believe there are seven sites that have been chosen. They are going to sequester millions of tons of CO2 and prove the capture nature of that geosequestration and verify all the issues that go along with that, including any leakage and migration. And there are multiple places where this has going to be demonstrated.
In Norway, there are two major sites that have already been using saline aquifers. And Devonian shale in other areas that can store massive amounts of CO2 by the terms in which we are making CO2 right now. We can store CO2 for several hundred years, if not I think 600 years has been proposed by Dr. Scott Klara of the NETL in their study of geosequestration. So there is a lot of data supporting the sequestration of CO2 for the long term and making it a viable technology for all the ways that we produce energy through combustion and CO2.
And then now it really comes down to how do we capture that CO2 and put it into the ground. Well, coal-to-liquids offers the best opportunity for doing that, because we have to capture the CO2 as part of the process. So there is no inherent additional cost for scrubbing the CO2 out of out concentrated streams, where there would be from coal-fired power plants or from oil refineries, or even from fermentation of grains into ethanol.
REP. MATHESON: Well, Mr. Chairman, I see my time has expired but I do want to thank the panel and I would suggest as a Science Committee issue in terms of figuring out what we can do to encourage understanding of carbon capture sequestration, if any of the witnesses want to provide additional testimony that gives direction for us or any ideas, I think that's an issue that this committee ought to take a look at. And with that I yield back.
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