We now have the technology to capture 90 percent of carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, but energy experts argue that until the cost of this ground-breaking technology improves, the phrase "clean coal" will remain oxymoronic.
According to energy experts, recent advances in the longstanding technology should be followed by federal incentives to increase the affordability of carbon-capturing.
"What we have now is a public policy challenge," says Brad Crabtree, vice president for fossil fuels at the Great Plains Institute. He argues that in order to spread this technology more widely and bring the cost down, we need "a whole new set of policies."
Reducing the amount of human-produced carbon dioxide is crucial in our fight against climate change. Coal- and gas-fired electrical generators produce about 30 percent of CO2 from human activity. Yet until we figure out how to reduce these extreme carbon emissions, there is no way we will return to pre-industrial levels, says John Thompson of the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force.
"If you don't tackle [carbon emissions] you really can't constrain warming on the planet to one-and-a-half to two degrees on anybody's likely scenarios," Thompson said.
Carbon-capturing technology has been proposed as a solution to climate change for a while, but thanks to recent and successful applications, the longstanding technology has finally revealed its viability.
In Colorado, a successful 13-megawatt pilot project has spurred on the development of a series of projects that seek to reduce the cost of carbon-capture from $100 per metric ton to $40 by 2020.
Meanwhile, a federally-funded project outside of Houston has successfully installed a $1 billion carbon-capture system that is currently "breaking even", according to NRG Energy spokesman David Knox.
"We're very interested in the technology, but until the economics work, we're not committed to a second one," Knox said.
Even though routine use of the technology is still at least a decade away, energy experts think now is the time to argue for bigger tax credits or other incentives in the U.S. power sector.
In Congress, bills that now have 64 bipartisan sponsors would raise carbon-capture tax credits from $10 or $20 per metric ton to $35 or $50, depending on use. Supporters of the legislation argue that it will incentivize companies to invest in carbon-capture technology by removing the cap on the amount of captured carbon eligible for the tax credit.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican and co-sponsor, says such a measure could help protect the coal industry and expand oil production while reducing emissions at the same time.
When asked about the chance of such legislation passing, Capito said it's "too early in the process to know whether those priorities can advance together or separately."
With a federal government that continues to support the growth of the coal industry, carbon capture and storage technology will be pivotal in our country's ability to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord.