A Closer Look: DOE’s Pathways to Commercial Liftoff Carbon Management Part I

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Energy Capital Ventures

Beginning in 2023, the US Department of Energy began publishing special reports to discuss the commercial liftoff of emerging technologies. Each report takes the view of a single technology and is designed to provide a shared understanding on the current state, pathways to commercial scale, and challenges to liftoff for each. On April 24, the Department of Energy published "Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Carbon Management" where they quantified the carbon management opportunity at $100B by 2030 and $600B by 2050. This report provides an overview of current carbon management technologies and strategies, and outlines the steps needed to accelerate their deployment. Let’s take a closer look…

The report notes that carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies have the potential to play a critical role in reducing carbon emissions and meeting climate goals. Technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere will be needed not only to offset emissions from difficult to decarbonize sectors, but also to reduce the high levels of carbon dioxide that have already accumulated in the atmosphere. The carbon value chain includes four main components: carbon dioxide capture, transport, and storage or utilization. 


Because the cost of capture is inversely proportional to the purity of the carbon stream, point-source sequestration of flue gas, syngas, or process stream emissions from industrial facilities is most commonly used. According to the International Energy Agency, 65 percent of operating systems capture carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas processing plants. More recently, new CCUS developments are increasingly targeting different point-sources of emissions in order to expand their impact. The geographic distribution of carbon capture development is also diversifying, with new projects being developed in over 30 countries. 

In some cases, the release of CO2 is inherent to chemical reactions in the industrial manufacturing process. Carbon capture and storage is one of the only ways to decarbonize process emissions such as those released through cement production. Near- and medium-term deployment of carbon capture equipment at the nation’s largest industrial facilities, such as those with emissions sizable enough to meet current minimum thresholds for Section 45Q eligibility, can enable the greatest cumulative greenhouse gas reduction impacts over time. Section 45Q-eligible facilities can enable these major emissions reductions while taking advantage of the 45Q tax credit as well as natural economies of scale. 

GPI’s Carbon and Hydrogen Hubs Atlas

As novel carbon capture is developed, the amount of carbon dioxide that they can sequester will increase. Higher capture rates will be essential to achieving a net zero future. Current CCUS-equipped power and industrial plants are designed to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide in their flue gas. In order to capture at least 98 percent of the carbon dioxide, plants will need to install larger equipment, implement a more complex capture process, and consume more energy per ton of carbon dioxide sequestered. In order to combat these challenges, some companies have begun experimenting with chemical absorption systems, which show promise to achieve capture rates as high as 99 percent at a comparatively low additional marginal cost relative to that of traditional 90 percent capture systems.

Although it is more expensive, methods of direct air capture (DAC) will also be needed in order to sequester carbon dioxide from the ambient atmosphere. If emissions exceed the carbon budget required to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, net-negative emission levels to restore sustainable atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations could only be made possible through the use of carbon dioxide removal technology. The IEA’s Net Zero 2050 Scenario road map relies on carbon removal to account for 1.9 gigatons of negative carbon emissions. Once the carbon dioxide has been separated, it is compressed and chilled until it becomes a liquid that can be transported to another site where it can be stored or reused. Usually the liquid carbon dioxide is transported through pipelines or ships, but trains or other vehicles are sometimes used as well.


Carbon dioxide transport infrastructure is necessary for the widespread development of carbon capture. There is currently around 9,000 kilometers of carbon dioxide pipeline in service, most of which is located in North America. In order to achieve the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, transport infrastructure will need to increase at the same rate as capture and storage. As a result, transport and storage projects are often developed together. However, carbon dioxide transport and storage development has so far not been able to keep up with capture plans. Most projects either focus on capture or on transport and storage. With climate goals encouraging the implementation of carbon capture in facilities that are difficult to decarbonize, an absence of incentive to accelerate storage infrastructure development has led to a gap between the capacities of these two components of the capture and storage chain. The global demand for carbon dioxide storage could exceed supply by over 60 megatons in 2030.

Although pipelines are the cheapest method of transporting carbon dioxide, ships, trains, trucks, and barges are also being developed as scalable modes of transport. As transport systems expand, some existing pipelines could potentially be repurposed to lower costs and time of development, lengthen the life of existing infrastructure, and potentially reduce access requirements and landowner compensation fees. Multi-user transport infrastructure will likely be deployed in order to support the large-scale decarbonization of entire industrialized zones.


The United States currently leads the world in carbon management, storing over 20 million of the 45 million tons stored around the world every year. However, the country must increase storage to somewhere between 400 to 1,800 million tons annually by 2050 in order to meet its energy transition goals. With technological advancement and financial investment, this is achievable. The US has the storage capacity for trillions of tons of carbon, enough for the entirety of the country’s emissions for hundreds of years. Limitations on the availability of geologic storage is not considered to be a challenge for CCUS projects in the short to medium term. Resources for the Future estimates that there is enough storage capacity worldwide for at least the next century. In addition, the development of above-ground carbon dioxide mineralization storage can augment injection underground or replace it to minimize risks of leakage or seismic activity.

GPI's Carbon and Hydrogen Hubs Atlas


Carbon utilization technologies, which convert captured carbon into useful products, have the potential to create new revenue streams and reduce the overall cost of CCUS. Currently, 80 million tons of carbon dioxide are used for advanced oil recovery every year and another 30 million tons are directly used for food and beverage production, as well as to boost yields in greenhouses. Plans are underway for the construction of 20 new commercial capture facilities to use carbon dioxide in fuels, chemicals, and building aggregates, capturing 100,000 million tons of gas every year. The Liftoff Initiative recommends increasing investment in the development of carbon utilization technologies in order for these projects to succeed.