As U.S. EPA holds a series of public hearings on its Clean Power Plan this week, stakeholders will have the opportunity to argue their cases before senior agency officials. During today's OnPoint, Matthew Carr, executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization, discusses his group's plans to press EPA to include algae carbon capture as part of its final rule for existing power plants. Carr also talks about his organization's new Washington, D.C.-based lobbying push.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Matt Carr, executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization. Matt, thanks for coming on the show.
Matthew Carr: Pleasure to be here, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Matt, you'll be attending this week's public hearing in Washington for EPA's Clean Power Plan. What message are you hoping to deliver to the agency about algae's potential role in helping states meet that regulation?
Matthew Carr: Well, Monica, I think I speak for all of our member organizations when I say that the opportunity here in regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants is one that I think the algae industry is ready and excited to address. Algae can be a not only effective but cost-effective mitigation strategy for CO2 from power plants. Our concern is that the rule as it's proposed does not address carbon utilization, that is using CO2 to make products such as biofuels from algae, and our ask for EPA is to, in their final rulemaking, be sure to recognize the important role that algae and carbon utilization can play in addressing emissions from power plants.
Monica Trauzzi: So address that more specifically. What is the process, what is the role that algae could play?
Matthew Carr: Well, we already see today, in a number of states and actually throughout the world, projects that are on the ground demonstrating that you can capture CO2 from power plants, from other industrial sources, feed that CO2 to algae, and algae are photosynthetic organisms. They just need sunlight and CO2, and you can produce fuels and other products from that algae that avoid the emissions from the power plant and actually can substitute for other fossil fuel emissions as well.
Monica Trauzzi: How broad of a reach does the process have and the technology have in terms of the number of states that could utilize it? Or could it be used across all 50 states?
Matthew Carr: Well, the beautiful thing about algae is it can be used in a range of situations. You can use salt water, you can use wastewater, and thanks to the evolution in the underlying biology, we're seeing projects that are being deployed in the Midwest, in the Gulf region, in Hawaii, even in Minnesota. And so I think the opportunity there is one that can be applied anywhere where the conditions are right.
Monica Trauzzi: Have specific states expressed interest in the process as it relates back to this Clean Power Plan?
Matthew Carr: We're in the process now of reaching out to state regulators to ask them, in fact, to come back to EPA to make the request that they clarify that carbon utilization is an eligible strategy for complying with the rule.
Monica Trauzzi: There are some questions about the economic viability of all of this. Make the economic case.
Matthew Carr: Well, it's relatively straightforward. If you look at one of the alternatives that EPA proposes in carbon capture and sequestration, you have to pay for the capture of the CO2, you have to pay for the burial underground. With algae, you actually have a commercial use for the CO2, and in fact, today algae producers, their No. 1 cost is the carbon dioxide that they have to purchase to feed the algae, so if algae users are willing to pay for CO2, that's a lot better than actually paying to have it buried underground.
Monica Trauzzi: So Greenwire reported last month that you're seeking to broaden the lobbying reach of ABO, the Algae Biomass Organization. You were recently brought on as executive director. You've been in that role for about a month now. Why has the organization stayed out of legislative battles up until this point, and why did you choose this juncture to jump in?
Matthew Carr: Well, I think it's a natural evolution for the organization. In the early days, the focus was really on developing the technology on research and development, but what we've seen over the past couple of years is a real jump forward in the commercial progress. We're seeing demonstrations in Florida and in New Mexico, Hawaii and Iowa and elsewhere, and so the role of federal policy in helping to make the jump to full-scale commercial a reality is all the more important now, and the timing couldn't be better for moving to Washington.
Monica Trauzzi: So we're talking incentives. What types of incentives are you looking for from the federal government?
Matthew Carr: Well, in addition to the right signals from the clean power rule, of course we have tax incentives. The -- there's a production tax incentive for second-generation biofuel which expired in 2013. We need to see that renewed. We have loan guarantees from both USDA and DOE which can help to bridge the financing gap and then, of course, the renewable fuel standard as an important foundation as well.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. And so this week you're also attending DOE's biomass conference, again spreading the message about algae's potential. Why isn't there more of an interest, and why hasn't there been more of a push to use algae in the renewable space?
Matthew Carr: Well, I think, you know, algae is still relatively new to the game. We've seen a lot of investment from DOE in cellulosic biofuels and we're beginning to see the payoff now in the first commercial plants there. Algae has the -- sort of the current generation of an investment from DOE is relatively recent, but we are beginning to see the payoff, and I think we're now at that time for commercial deployment.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Matthew Carr: Thank you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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