As the country transitions away from fossil fuels, Wilcox was honest about the progress that has been made and what has yet to be achieved. She noted that carbon capture has yet to be demonstrated with natural gas and hoped it could someday be put to use in other industrial sectors where carbon dioxide (CO2) is less concentrated, such as pulp and paper, cement, and steel. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could help realize those goals. “[We’re really hoping to build out that program in a robust way,” Wilcox said of investing in more dedicated carbon storage. The goal goes hand-in-hand with another investment the administration is interested in, namely creating hydrogen hubs. I’ve been critical of many of these projects, but it was toward the end of Wilcox’s discussion that my ears perked up when she detailed her hopes for “sustainably sourced biomass.”
“We’re also investing in approaches where we can use sustainably sourced biomass. If you look at biomass, that can also be a feedstock for hydrogen production. One of the interesting things about that is when you capture CO2, it starts with a gasification process,” Wilcox explained, “So if you’re starting with biomass as a feedstock and go through the gasification process—it’s a little technical—you have a reaction called the water-gas shift reaction, and when you do that, you produce a stream of hydrogen and CO2, and you can capture CO2. Coupled with CCS, you have a stream of hydrogen with negative carbon intensity, and that is pretty interesting. This is something that we’re really excited about.” Negative carbon intensity carries with it a lot of promise and has been touted by researchers interviewed by MIT, the U.K.’s Carbon Brief, and, of course, the Department of Energy.
Emerging technologies are something to get really excited about, as are the ways in which the U.S. chooses to handle more antiquated means of producing fuel. Wilcox cautioned against “locking in yesterday,” and concluded her remarks by encouraging the industry to be transparent about emissions, especially when it comes to leaks. She called for bottom-up solutions, such as using sensors at well pads that monitor leaks in real-time, alongside top-down solutions like aircraft detection and satellite imagery. The only way to parse top-down data especially is by holding polluters accountable; leaks shouldn’t be a mystery if companies commit to robust monitoring and transparency. While that transparency will likely change for the better with proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules on emissions and climate risk, the Biden administration is also heeding her calls to financially incentivize greener options. According to The Intercept, the White House is preparing to draft an order invoking the Defense Production Act to boost mineral extraction in order to accelerate electric vehicle production and battery storage.