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Essays address the need for CCUS to save environment and jobs

Applicants for 2022 Boilermakers scholarships were asked to write an essay of 500 words or less addressing this issue:

Renewables alone won’t help the world meet global emission reduction standards on the timetable needed. Explain why and how a mixture of “all of the above” energy sources, including carbon capture, use and storage, can set the world on a path to a clean energy future.

Following are the essays* that were submitted by Luke Smarra, winner of the United States’ Charles A. Jones Scholarship Award, and Seth Perez, winner of the Canada’s Edward Power Scholarship Award.

Luke Anthony Smarra, Son of Paul Smarra, L-154, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

By Luke Anthony Smarra
Son of Paul Smarra, L-154, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

There’s no denying it: renewable energy is “in.” Policies such as the Green New Deal and
multibillion-dollar investments in clean energy by international megacorporations make it clear that sustainable power is popular. However, despite a binary mindset towards energy, this doesn’t mean that fossil fuels are “out.”

Those who criticize use of fossil fuels are inherently alienated from the experience of the worker. They fail to realize that rushing towards a total “greenification” of the North American energy sector would be disastrous for coal miners, oil refinery workers, natural gas extractors, and the Boilermakers who build their infrastructures. As a Pittsburgh native, I’ve witnessed firsthand what happens when a nation phases out an industry. When Pittsburgh’s steel production collapsed in the 1980s, its population and economy collapsed with it.

Though much of my city has recovered in recent years, our landscape is blotted with former steel towns, once centers of prosperity now home to decaying buildings and families of ex-steel workers languishing in generational poverty. Ultimately, abandoning an industry means abandoning its workers.

Yet for some, environmental concerns outweigh the catastrophic job loss that would result from the dissolution of the fossil fuel sector. However, there is a path that eliminates both of these problems with one solution: carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) technologies. Essentially, CCUS involves the capture of CO2 from fossil fuel-burning plants. Once captured, the CO2 can be diverted to manufacturing plants or underground reservoirs through pipelines. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, implementing this process could eliminate more than 90% of CO2 emissions, which would drastically slow the effects of climate change.

Additionally, CCUS creates and preserves jobs. Boilermakers and construction workers will be employed to build CCUS infrastructures, and fossil fuel sector workers will remain to staff them.

Lastly, CCUS paves the way for exciting new chemical processes. Theoretically, captured CO2 could be converted into a hydrocarbon fuel that, when burned, would produce energy and more CO2, which in turn could be recaptured and recycled. This process could create a carbon-neutral fuel, which would revolutionize modern energy. Similarly, Mitsubishi Power is developing a project in Utah that will extract hydrogen from CO2 emissions, where it will be stored in a salt cavern and used to produce electricity, with its only byproduct being water. Of course, investments in other green energy sources are also worthwhile. 70% of France's power is generated by nuclear reactors, and 98% of Scotland's electricity comes from various renewables, indicating that North American reliance on fossil fuels can be successfully curbed. However, with that being said, as we move towards a more sustainable future, it is paramount that we move at a pace that allows Boilermakers and all energy sector workers to have their jobs safeguarded.

Though the integration of renewable energy will save our planet, more efficient usage of fossil fuels will save our jobs. An “all of the above” approach, with a special focus on CCUS technology, is the only answer to our energy question.

Seth Therezz Palamares Perez, Daughter of Rainer Perez, L-D331, Exshaw, Alberta

By Seth Therezz Palamares Perez
Daughter of Rainer Perez, L-D331, Exshaw, Alberta

The current net global total emission of 40 million tons of CO2 per year is estimated to increase without a transition to green energy and carbon capture. Even with a rapid transition towards renewable energy, it would only reduce global temperatures to the well documented 1.5 degrees global increase of temperatures by 2050. There has already been an increase in the frequency of climate disasters that are affecting global populations, which are estimated to increase until the end of the century. Future net-zero emissions requiring carbon emissions and carbon capture in the future, cannot fully balance the next decades of increasing global emissions that are produced. In order to prevent the likelihood of the global temperature exceeding 1.5 degrees, it is essential to overshoot the estimated net zero emissions by balancing the global emissions, as well as actively extracting carbon from the air to achieve negative net zero emissions.

Carbon capture is an immature industry that has not been fully realized as a required tool towards net zero. Any efforts towards further developing these technologies over the next 30 years is required to help offset human activity. This cleaner carbon capture future involves technology-based forms of carbon capture, such as Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and storage (BECCS). DACS can be extremely useful because it utilizes the captured carbon for other processes. DACS chemically extracts carbon from the atmosphere and stores it geologically, achieving negative net-zero emissions. The captured carbon in combination with hydrogen aids in food processing and the making of synthetic fuels. BECCS is another viable source of carbon-capturing because it involves using organic matter that extracts CO2 from the air that can be used as a power source through burning. The emissions from the bioenergy are then captured and stored in geological formations as well. A more natural approach, and less energy-intensive approach, requires photosynthetic organisms (commonly trees) to naturally sequester and store CO2 from the atmosphere. In order to increase the rate at which carbon is naturally captured, it requires a focus on maintaining current mature ecosystems, reclaiming ravaged lands, and creating a new variety of carbon capture products that sequester CO2 such as concrete, soap, ink, or other chemicals.

Storage and transmission for a variety of renewable energy production remains a technological challenge for the global society to overcome, especially with the increasing presence of climate disasters. Tidal energy may be optimal near the ocean, solar nearer the equator, hydro near bodies of water with elevation change, nuclear power when land is limited and technology is refined, and wind energy where land for turbines is available. The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), or net present value of the generated electrical energy over the lifetime of an electricity generating plant is becoming globally favorable towards greener energy. It is imperative to continue the development of technologies like carbon capturing and storage in order to achieve negative net-zero emissions to attain a cleaner energy future, alongside implementing other means of renewable energy.

*Editor’s note: These scholarship essays are the original work of the student authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinions or standings of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.