DOE launches Earthshot for carbon removal

Image: Jay Mantri

By Erin Burns, executive director

Last Friday at COP26, Secretary Granholm announced the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Carbon Negative Shot initiative, part of President Biden’s broader climate plan. This goal — the third official DOE Earthshot — will span carbon removal solutions, from direct air capture (DAC) to soil carbon sequestration. The initiative aims to lower the cost of removal to $100 per ton or less (for capture and storage), prioritizing high-quality lifecycle accounting, equity and justice, and durable storage for at least 100 years. Ultimately, this is DOE’s largest coordinated effort to catalyze gigaton level deployment of carbon removal.

When Carbon180 launched our DC office almost three years ago, DOE had spent about $11.5 million on negative emissions technologies — ever. Since then, Congress has established the first-ever federal carbon removal program, appropriated hundreds of millions for RD&D, and just passed the bipartisan infrastructure deal with another $3.5 billion for DOE to build out four regional direct air capture hubs. Now is the right time to launch the Carbon Negative Shot.

This administration and DOE have recognized the essential role that carbon removal will play in meeting global climate goals from day one. The FY22 budget included fundamental changes in DOE’s approach to carbon management, including refocusing from “traditional fossil combustion-centric activities” to “climate-centric activities” and renaming the Office of Fossil Energy to include Carbon Management (now known as FECM). Several recent appointments at DOE also underscore a deep commitment to science-based climate action.

If you haven’t been pouring over every FECM budget for the last decade, let me tell you: that’s a massive shift. FECM has also begun to include community engagement requirements in their funding opportunity announcements and DOE has also launched new efforts like the Local Energy Action Program (LEAP) to support energy-burdened communities. And the FECM leadership — including Dr. Jennifer Wilcox, Dr. Emily Grubert, and Dr. Shuchi Talati — with their deep technical expertise and commitment to engaging with environmental justice issues, are some of the best people we could imagine to lead this Earthshot.

DOE has a strong track record of success with initiatives like this. Most notably, the SunShot Initiative aimed to reduce the cost of solar power to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour within a decade; it reached that goal in just seven years.

Today, we are at the beginning of what will be an enormous effort to pull billions of tons of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. That we do this quickly and in ways that benefit communities, center environmental justice, and don’t delay aggressive mitigation is absolutely necessary. As this administration pushes for bold emissions reductions and Congress pours funding into carbon removal, the Carbon Negative Shot can play a central role in getting us to gigaton-scale removal and net-negative emissions.

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