What is Research, Development, and Demonstration for Carbon Removal?
Like challenges to enhancing energy efficiency or battery storage, carbon removal solutions require investment in research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to support the creation of new, innovative technologies and practices or the improvement of existing ones. RD&D is important to advance technologies and practices that are proven to remove carbon long-term, identify new practices and technologies that can remove carbon, and assess and quantify the effects, costs and benefits of these practices and technologies. The National Academies of Sciences’ report “Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration” identifies the need for investment in RD&D to address key knowledge gaps, cost reductions, life cycle analysis, deployment, and monitoring and verification for successfully scaling-up carbon removal solutions.
Targeted investment into RD&D can help address knowledge gaps that hinder scaling up technological and natural carbon removal solutions to the level required to meet climate goals. Currently, few RD&D programs in the federal government focus on carbon removal, and their funding levels are insufficient to deliver major innovations and breakthroughs. Thus, federal investment in RD&D can fill knowledge gaps, support innovation, improve the risk profile of newer carbon removal pathways, and help more established carbon removal solutions reach market and scale. Increasing federal investment for carbon removal RD&D would help these climate solutions scale more quickly.
How does Research, Development, and Demonstration work?
Public investment in RD&D can occur through the congressional authorization and appropriations processes. The authorization process allows for investment through the creation or continuation of agencies, programs, or activities. Appropriations enact funding of programs established through authorization. Identifying key agencies, programs, and activities that are well-positioned to support innovation in carbon removal, and investing in them through the authorization and appropriations processes, is critical to scale up technologies and practices to the levels necessary to meet climate goals.
RD&D comprise the various stages of advancement for carbon removal technology and practices
- Research – Includes basic and applied research, which are used to fill knowledge gaps and solve specific problems or objectives
- Development – Includes prototyping and testing of a product, technology or practice
- Demonstration – Includes testing a technology, product or practice at significant scales to validate the integration of systems
Research and Development: R&D can be used to improve existing technologies, as well as identify completely new ones. For carbon removal, there are opportunities to build foundational knowledge across the portfolio of carbon removal solutions, and help reduce the costs of capturing, transporting, and utilizing CO2 by developing innovative materials and processes.
Demonstrations: Demonstrations are critical to improving technical performance and reliability of carbon removal technologies. By demonstrating carbon removal solutions in real-world applications, projects can illustrate their effectiveness in different contexts and environments. Demonstration projects should be done in a variety of different environmental conditions and markets, as different settings may impact the financial viability and ecological implications of carbon removal pathways. Lastly, demonstrations also bring to light unforeseen challenges associated with scaling up carbon removal technologies.
Key Considerations for Investment in Research, Development, and Demonstration
Which are currently the most promising carbon removal solutions, with respect to sequestration potential, scaling, and cost per ton of CO2? Which carbon removal solutions show potential at the small scale, but are not yet tested at larger scales? How can policy be designed to cast a wide net and encourage innovation, rather than committing to specific approaches in such a new technology area?
What are the greatest RD&D and funding needs for the leading carbon removal solutions? What RD&D and funding is needed for less developed solutions to advance?
How should policymakers match RD&D timelines with the needs of specific carbon removal solutions?
- Long-term research needs –– Looking down the road, which knowledge gaps must be filled in order to achieve the ultimate goal of scaling carbon removal to the gigaton (billion tons) level?
- Short-term research needs –– Which knowledge gaps need to be filled immediately, or in the short term, to set the stage to scale up carbon removal technologies to meet mid-century deep decarbonization goals? Which gaps are easier to fill in the near term? Which gaps are necessary to fill to build-up to long-term research needs?
- Medium-term research needs –– After the first knowledge gaps are filled, which are next? Which knowledge gaps need to be filled in order for carbon removal technologies to reach the mature stage?
Which public or private sector entity is best positioned to conduct RD&D for specific carbon removal solutions? Within the public sector, which is the best agency with the relevant authority to meet RD&D needs?
U.S. Experience with Public Investment in Research, Development and Demonstration for Carbon Removal
U.S. public investment in carbon removal is small compared to U.S public investment in clean energy and other climate solutions, although it has been increasing recently in growing recognition of its importance to achieving climate goals. The United States has made some investment in carbon removal RD&D through the authorization and appropriations processes by allocating funding and establishing programs and projects. FY20 appropriations doubled cumulative historic funding levels for direct air capture by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Congress has also funded the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) to do RD&D related to carbon removal through the federal appropriations process. Additionally, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service program, Economic Research Service program, and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture program have conducted research on carbon sequestration in land-based systems. As for authorizations, the Farm Bill advances land-based carbon removal RD&D through USDA programs, including the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. DOE has also contributed to carbon removal demonstration projects, such as its investments in the launch of a bioenergy carbon capture project in Decatur, IL.
While carbon removal from the atmosphere through direct air capture is not the same as carbon capture from a power plant or other point-source, it does benefit from cost and performance improvements in point-source carbon capture technologies. DOE has a dedicated Carbon Capture Program, administered by its Office of Fossil Energy, to conduct RD&D on leading carbon capture technologies of both types.