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The infrastructure bill could boost the industry removing carbon dioxide from the air

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To get climate change under control, the scientists say humans must not only stop putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we also have to take the extraordinary step of actually removing CO2 that's already there. There is a tiny industry that does this now, but it is not profitable. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, the infrastructure bill President Biden signed this week could start to change that.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: President Biden aims to zero out greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035, but his administration still expects the country will burn fossil fuels for decades. It's the same for other countries, which is why world leaders at the Glasgow Climate Summit did not call for an end to coal, opting instead for a phase down of unabated coal. That's where the carbon capture business comes in, as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told NPR this week.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM: The question about coal is always whether it is unabated, meaning no technology attach that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reduces CO carbon pollution, or whether it has technology.

BRADY: Test projects with this technology in the U.S. have struggled. A carbon capture facility at a Mississippi coal plant never worked. It was torn down with a dramatic implosion last month. Another project in Texas actually worked, but it shut down because it wasn't making money.

The infrastructure law includes more than $12 billion for carbon capture and removal. The coal industry supports this, hoping it may keep power plants running longer. That's exactly why some environmentalists oppose carbon capture. They want all fossil fuels left in the ground.

But scientists have concluded that finding a way to capture and remove carbon will be necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. That will require a lot of new infrastructure, such as pipelines to transport CO2 and places to safely store it. Madelyn Morrison, with the Carbon Capture Coalition, says the new law will help pay for that.

MADELYN MORRISON: It enables the deployment of this essential backbone of CO2 transport and storage infrastructure that's going to be needed to really scale the industry at the rate necessary to meet those climate obligations.

BRADY: There's also money for research and demonstration projects. Giana Amador co-founded the group Carbon180 and says the industry is growing fast.

GIANA AMADOR: When we were founded in 2015, funding was at effectively $0. And now, with this infrastructure bill, we're seeing billions of dollars allocated to carbon removal solutions.

BRADY: Amador says there's also money in the law to plant about 1.2 billion trees that will naturally remove carbon and $3.5 billion to build four regional direct air capture hubs. These will use large fans to pull in air and chemically remove CO2. Some of these plants exist now.

AMADOR: There are about a dozen direct air capture plants across the globe today. Most of them are capturing carbon at very, very small scales, thousands of tons of CO2. We need to be capturing billions of tons of CO2.

BRADY: Amador is among those hoping for even more government money for this growing industry. Democrats have a budget bill that would allocate more if it passes Congress. This is just one element of what scientists say is needed to meet the climate challenge. After more than a century of humans putting ever-increasing amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, it's going to take a lot of work to remove it.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF METRONOMY SONG, "THE LOOK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.