“It’s Critical To Educate People On Carbon Capture” – Jennifer Diggins, 8 Rivers VP of Public Affairs

“It’s Critical To Educate People On Carbon Capture” – Jennifer Diggins, 8 Rivers VP of Public Affairs - Carbon Herald

8 Rivers, a leader in providing decarbonization solutions, particularly in the realm of carbon capture and carbon dioxide removal (CDR), has been making strides in the development of its climate technologies. 

The company was recently named among the winners of Phase 1 of the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Carbon Dioxide Removal Purchase Pilot Prize and has been hard at work on the Alabama regional DAC (direct air capture) hub led by Southern States Energy Board.

To better understand what 8 Rivers is up to today and how the company is helping shape the carbon management sector in the US, we had a chat with Jennifer Diggins, VP of Public Affairs.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Jennifer, what is 8 Rivers’ core business and mission and what sets it apart from other players in both the clean energy space, as well as in climate tech?

8 Rivers is a carbon capture based technology company, located in Durham, North Carolina. What sets us apart in what is becoming a very crowded space is the fact that we’ve been here for 16 years, inventing and developing technologies long before people were really talking about carbon capture, or getting really serious about climate change for that matter. So I like to say that we’re the teenager in the room – we’re not quite the startup, but we’re not a grownup yet.

We invented the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle, which was commercialized as with its natural gas applications into a company called Net Power, which went public last summer. We remain a minority shareholder of Net Power, I think that has proven our capabilities in the technology space.

The EPA recently announced its rules for existing coal and new gas-fired power plants, which basically mandate them to use carbon capture or shut down. What is your opinion on these new regulations?

I think the reality is that there are very powerful arguments on both sides. Coming from the carbon capture space, we obviously appreciate the support of the Biden administration, that’s really critical for a company like 8 Rivers to reach a point where we’re able to economically commercialize our technology, absolutely important. 

The utilities are making valid points in terms of what they can and cannot do in what is a timeline that’s being dictated to them through the EPA. And what they’re saying is: ‘We want to partner with industry, we aren’t in a position where all of these costs can be realized by us.’ So they ended up getting costs passed along to the taxpayer, and the question becomes, how do you do this in a meaningful manner, whereby you’re able to deploy this technology at scale and at a price consumers can afford? 

Relevant: 8 Rivers’ Calcite Technology Wins Department Of Energy DAC Hub Grant Funding

I think there’s merit in the argument that really needs to be explored around how these actually get deployed. But I think the thing that people aren’t talking about enough, in addition to this history making intervention on EPA rulemaking by groups we’ve never seen enter the fray before, is that we’re still not talking about some of the regulatory challenges that still exist around deployment for companies like 8 Rivers.

On one hand, we have all of the funds that have been made available to us through these two huge key pieces of legislation. We have the EPA guidelines that are saying we recognize the important role that carbon capture plays in meeting the 2030 goals, etc. We recognize all that, but we’re still not tackling some of those key roadblocks that we are going to see long term in deployment of these projects, such as permitting. 

As you know, there are currently 25 Republican states suing the EPA, for these exact rules. What implications do you believe these lawsuits will have for the industry?

I think long-term lawsuits will create delays in the implementation of the rules. For a company like 8 Rivers that’s been doing this for 16 years, we keep moving. We have announced an ultra low-carbon hydrogen facility in Port Arthur, Texas, our direct air capture (DAC) technology called Calcite is part of the SEDAC Hub through the Biden administration, we’re moving ahead, we are looking at final investment decision dates of when we will actually deploy these projects. 

How do you believe this will affect the energy sector?

That’s a really good question. The energy sector is making points that are very valid to their business case, which is not everybody’s. And coming from the same place on the playing field, you’ve got utilities, whose fleets look wildly different from others, whose service territory is different, whose fuel mix is incredibly different. And I think what they’re saying is, hold on, we need to be more a part of this deliberative process. 

When you look across the utility industry, you see many that have made pretty impressive commitments, about decarbonizing their energy fleet. Longer term, they’re looking to have more of a seat at the table around how these rulemakings are written and then administered. 

I think all of this is going to create meaningful dialogue around what this means, where the DOE is headed, where the EPA is headed. But you’re not going to see a slowdown, in fact, this space is only going to get more and more crowded.

You mentioned that education is an issue. What is it like to educate citizens and governments about carbon capture in a deep red state?

I cannot state enough how critically important it is that this industry gets it right with community and key stakeholders. There is a lack of awareness around these technologies because for many people, they’re new. To me, the most important thing that we can do is listen, meet people where they’re at, and understand their concerns. 

When you look at where a lot of these carbon capture projects will go longer term, it makes sense they go in places that have the pipeline infrastructure already in place from whether it be larger LNG facilities or chemical plants.

Relevant: 8 Rivers Appoints Christopher Richardson As Its New CEO

But at the same time, these are the same communities that have borne these projects, these very large, large projects for decades. And here comes the new industry to say, ‘Hey, look at us, we’ve developed this great technology you’ve never heard of and is now coming to your community.’ 

So having that dialogue with people and giving them an opportunity to learn about the project and being frank about the impacts, whatever those may look like, is incredibly important. I’m also a huge advocate for community working groups. When you make an announcement around a project, it is critically important that you’re also taking into account the community you’re coming into, becoming a part of them and leaving them better than you found them.

Are you seeing more of this happening? Are companies making more of an effort to really engage with communities?

There has been a huge change in the last year. Whenever I’m at conferences, there are entire panels dedicated to community outreach and engagement. I’m moderating a panel in London at a conference in June that is exactly on this idea of what it looks like globally to have a robust stakeholder management program, and lessons learned from community engagement. So people are finally talking about this, recognizing the importance of getting it right in the beginning.

As 8 Rivers has gained support for its DAC facility in Alabama from the US Department of Energy (DOE) via the DAC Hub program, could you tell us more about this project, as well as the program itself?

There have been two announcements around our Calcite technology. The first was, you know, being part of the SEDAC Hub during the larger DAC Hub program that the Biden administration announced last year. So the Calcite technology is one of the anchor technologies for that hub. 

We are still in the process of negotiating longer term what that looks like with the DOE. But we’re really excited to be part of that. The announcement just came in last week, where the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), through the DOE announced what they’re calling the Carbon Dioxide Removal Purchase Prize Phase 1 semi-finalists, and calcite was again on there with other companies like Climeworks, Heirloom, etc. 

We’re really excited to be part of that process as well. We are in the process of building a pilot facility that will be based close to where the DAC hub is in Mobile, Alabama, and the reasons for that are the great infrastructure and perfect weather.

How do you believe this initiative of the FECM will impact the carbon removal industry at large now and in the next few years?

When you look at the list of the companies that have been selected, it’s really encouraging just to see the different technologies represented. You have companies like us that do direct air capture. 

But then you’ve also got companies nominated that are using Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, geological weathering, and then carbon sinks. So the scope and breadth at which they’re embracing the diverse technologies that fall under CDR is really encouraging and, frankly, what a newer industry needs in order to create that certainty that then enables you to scale up.

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