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Carbon Removal: Comparing Historical Federal Research Investments with the National Academies' Recommended Future Funding Levels

Carbon removal encompasses a suite of land-based and technological approaches to removing already-emitted carbon dioxide (CO2) from the environment. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C found that all pathways that limit temperature rise to no more than 1.5° Celsius require carbon removal. Building on these findings, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a report in October 2018, Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda, that examined the state of carbon removal technology. The NASEM report concluded that significant federal research investment is necessary across a portfolio of carbon removal approaches at key federal science agencies to advance six types of carbon removal and enabling technologies, including direct air capture.

The objective of this analysis is to review the historical baseline estimates of cumulative federal RD&D investment related to carbon removal and assess how they compare with the recommended future funding levels from the 2018 NASEM report. The United States currently does not have a dedicated research program for carbon removal. What little federal research funding that has been spent on carbon removal to date has been patchwork and piecemeal. In order to turn the NASEM research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) future funding recommendations into effective solutions, it is critical to examine the historical baseline of federal carbon removal-related investments to ensure new research investments are targeted, complementary, and effective.


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The Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), established in 2017 by former Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz, is dedicated to addressing the imperatives of climate change by driving innovation in energy technology, policy, and business models to accelerate the creation of clean energy jobs; grow local, regional, and national economies; and enhance energy security. EFI’s fact-based analysts provide funders with practical real-world energy solutions.

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