Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is getting a big push from an unexpected patron: ExxonMobil. The oil and gas giant announced on Thursday that it had tightened an existing relationship with tech firm FuelCell Energy, to reduce the CO2 emissions from power plants through CCS.
Exxon didn’t disclose the amount of the investment, and any commercial development is years away, cautioned Vijay Swarup, vice president for R&D at Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering. However, he added, “We think it’s got the possibility to be a game changer.”
This is a welcome reversal from CEO Rex Tillerson’s infamous statement to investors last May that the company doesn’t invest in renewable energy because “we choose not to lose money on purpose.”
FuelCell said it will provide 15-20 scientists for the project, while Exxon said it would devote as many of its scientists as needed, without providing a specific number. The companies expect to have a pilot system in operation within four years, according to Bloomberg. And in contrast to existing CCS technologies that consume about 50MW of power to extract and bury the CO2, Exxon estimates that a typical 500MW gas plant using the fuel cell technology could extract 90% of the CO2 while producing 120MW megawatts of electricity.
“We’re going to be burning fossil fuels for the vast majority of our electricity for some time to come, whether we like it or not. We desperately need CCS,” said Emily A. Carter, founding director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University.
Likewise, Graciela Chichilnisky said at the 2015 Blouin Creative Leadership Summit that reducing GHG emissions is not sufficient to avoid catastrophic climate change; carbon must be removed from the atmosphere. Thus CCS should be part of the solution, regardless of who bankrolls its development.