Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released a report (1/30/2020) that states by employing an active policy and investment strategy, there are many routes to achieving carbon neutrality with CO2 removal costs that could be below $10 billion per year.

The study, commissioned by the ClimateWorks Foundation, suggests that developing State policies and infrastructure to be entirely carbon-neutral would bolster local industry as well as California’s global reputation:  

California can add to its growing legacy of pioneering practices, technologies, and policies that are required worldwide in order to meet the global climate challenge.  With active policy and investment, there are many routes to carbon neutrality with CO2 removal costs below $10 billion per year, which can easily be considered a bargain for California to lead the world in climate mitigation.

The study says, however, that costs could range from $8 billion to $14 billion per year, which is roughly 0.4 percent of the State’s gross domestic product but about five times what Governor Newsom has proposed in his 2020 budget.

California is aiming to go entirely carbon neutral by 2045, a goal established via executive order by former Governor Jerry Brown.  The report calculates the state will need to find about 125 million metric tons of emissions reductions per year on top of the trajectory that will get it to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

According to the study, the bulk of the reductions, roughly 84 million tons per year, could come from converting agricultural waste, woody biomass, manure, trash and municipal solid waste to hydrogen, electricity or liquid fuels, the study states.  Another 25 million tons could come from restoring forests, wetlands and other natural carbon sinks — the cheapest reductions available, estimated at $11 per ton, but limited by the amount of land available. Direct air capture could kick in another 16 million tons, which the report suggests could be sequestered in oil and gas fields and saline aquifers in Kern County and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 

It should be noted that the plan relies on some technologies that are only in the demonstration phase.  Direct air capture, which absorbs carbon dioxide into a liquid or solid material and uses heat to extract the CO2 in a pure form, currently costs about $600 per ton, according to the report.  The report projects costs will eventually come down to $150-300 per ton. Because it requires so much electricity to power, the report authors recommend using locally produced natural gas and geothermal where available.

Not part of this plan is perhaps the most important matter – how will California pay for this and who gets the bill?