Why the carbon capture subsidies in the climate bill are good news for emissions
But in the fierce debate over carbon capture, it’s often lost that the technology can also play crucial roles in accelerating emissions reductions across a variety of industries. That includes cleaning up heavily polluting industrial sectors like cement, steel, and fertilizer. The measures can also support the development of low-emissions fuels and what’s known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, which the UN climate panel’s models rely on heavily in sketching out feasible scenarios that prevent the planet from warming more than 2 ˚C above preindustrial levels.
Finally, the subsidies should spur the development of carbon dioxide pipelines and storage facilities that will be necessary to move and reliably sequester growing volumes of carbon dioxide in the coming decades, says Paulina Jaramillo, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
That will be critical for driving down the cost of other carbon capture efforts, making it more affordable to clean up a broader array of products. It will also provide a big boost to the growing efforts to suck the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere on massive scales, which a growing body of research finds will also be essential for keeping global warming in check. (This type of technology, known as carbon removal, is distinct from capturing emissions before they leave a power plant or factory.)
The Repeat Project, a Princeton-based effort to model the impact of climate policies, estimates that the package will drive about $28 billion in annual capital investments in carbon dioxide transportation and storage projects, as well as power plants with carbon capture equipment, by 2030. At that point, US facilities would trap and sequester some 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, a 13-fold increase over what would likely occur with just the infrastructure bill that passed last year. The amount of captured carbon will more than double again by 2035, according to the analysis. (By way of comparison, the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions totaled about 5.6 billion tons in 2021.)
“The IRA creates an opportunity for the US to do [carbon capture and storage] right,” says Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct, a research, investment, and advisory firm focused on carbon removal. “It provides opportunities to reduce pollution in communities, to grow and test technologies, to create clean jobs, and to be globally competitive on trade and technology.”
The IRA includes hundreds of billions in grants, loans, federal procurements, and tax credits designed to drive research and development efforts, renewable-energy projects, electric-vehicle sales, buildup of a clean-energy manufacturing sector, and more. In addition, it could accelerate the development of carbon capture and storage in several ways.
Most notably, it increases the so-called 45Q tax credits for projects that capture, remove, and store away carbon. With those bigger subsidies, companies in certain sectors could break even or even profit from adding the necessary equipment and managing the resulting carbon.
Specifically, the credit increases from $50 a metric ton to $85 a ton for industrial facilities and power plants that permanently sequester carbon dioxide in deep underground geological reservoirs, according to an analysis by the law firm Gibson Dunn. It also raises that credit from $50 to $180 for facilities that remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it away permanently, a process known as direct air capture.
The Download: AI films, and the threat of microplastics
The Frost nails its uncanny, disconcerting vibe in its first few shots. Vast icy mountains, a makeshift camp of military-style tents, a group of people huddled around a fire, barking dogs. It’s familiar stuff, yet weird enough to plant a growing seed of dread. There’s something wrong here.
Welcome to the unsettling world of AI moviemaking. The Frost is a 12-minute movie from Detroit-based video creation company Waymark in which every shot is generated by an image-making AI. It’s one of the most impressive—and bizarre—examples yet of this strange new genre. Read the full story, and take an exclusive look at the movie.
—Will Douglas Heaven
Microplastics are everywhere. What does that mean for our immune systems?
Microplastics are pretty much everywhere you look. These tiny pieces of plastic pollution, less than five millimeters across, have been found in human blood, breast milk, and placentas. They’re even in our drinking water and the air we breathe.
Given their ubiquity, it’s worth considering what we know about microplastics. What are they doing to us?
The short answer is: we don’t really know. But scientists have begun to build a picture of their potential effects from early studies in animals and clumps of cells, and new research suggests that they could affect not only the health of our body tissues, but our immune systems more generally. Read the full story.
Microplastics are everywhere. What does that mean for our immune systems?
Here, bits of plastic can end up collecting various types of bacteria, which cling to their surfaces. Seabirds that ingest them not only end up with a stomach full of plastic—which can end up starving them—but also get introduced to types of bacteria that they wouldn’t encounter otherwise. It seems to disturb their gut microbiomes.
There are similar concerns for humans. These tiny bits of plastic, floating and flying all over the world, could act as a “Trojan horse,” introducing harmful drug-resistant bacteria and their genes, as some researchers put it.
It’s a deeply unsettling thought. As research plows on, hopefully we’ll learn not only what microplastics are doing to us, but how we might tackle the problem.
Read more from Tech Review’s archive
It is too simplistic to say we should ban all plastic. But we could do with revolutionizing the way we recycle it, as my colleague Casey Crownhart pointed out in an article published last year.
We can use sewage to track the rise of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, as I wrote in a previous edition of the Checkup. At this point, we need all the help we can get …
… which is partly why scientists are also exploring the possibility of using tiny viruses to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections. Phages were discovered around 100 years ago and are due a comeback!
Our immune systems are incredibly complicated. And sex matters: there are important differences between the immune systems of men and women, as Sandeep Ravindran wrote in this feature, which ran in our magazine issue on gender.
Welcome to the new surreal. How AI-generated video is changing film.
Fast and cheap
Artists are often the first to experiment with new technology. But the immediate future of generative video is being shaped by the advertising industry. Waymark made The Frost to explore how generative AI could be built into its products. The company makes video creation tools for businesses looking for a fast and cheap way to make commercials. Waymark is one of several startups, alongside firms such as Softcube and Vedia AI, that offer bespoke video ads for clients with just a few clicks.
Waymark’s current tech, launched at the start of the year, pulls together several different AI techniques, including large language models, image recognition, and speech synthesis, to generate a video ad on the fly. Waymark also drew on its large data set of non-AI-generated commercials created for previous customers. “We have hundreds of thousands of videos,” says CEO Alex Persky-Stern. “We’ve pulled the best of those and trained it on what a good video looks like.”
To use Waymark’s tool, which it offers as part of a tiered subscription service starting at $25 a month, users supply the web address or social media accounts for their business, and it goes off and gathers all the text and images it can find. It then uses that data to generate a commercial, using OpenAI’s GPT-3 to write a script that is read aloud by a synthesized voice over selected images that highlight the business. A slick minute-long commercial can be generated in seconds. Users can edit the result if they wish, tweaking the script, editing images, choosing a different voice, and so on. Waymark says that more than 100,000 people have used its tool so far.
The trouble is that not every business has a website or images to draw from, says Parker. “An accountant or a therapist might have no assets at all,” he says.
Waymark’s next idea is to use generative AI to create images and video for businesses that don’t yet have any—or don’t want to use the ones they have. “That’s the thrust behind making The Frost,” says Parker. “Create a world, a vibe.”
The Frost has a vibe, for sure. But it is also janky. “It’s not a perfect medium yet by any means,” says Rubin. “It was a bit of a struggle to get certain things from DALL-E, like emotional responses in faces. But at other times, it delighted us. We’d be like, ‘Oh my God, this is magic happening before our eyes.’”
This hit-and-miss process will improve as the technology gets better. DALL-E 2, which Waymark used to make The Frost, was released just a year ago. Video generation tools that generate short clips have only been around for a few months.
The most revolutionary aspect of the technology is being able to generate new shots whenever you want them, says Rubin: “With 15 minutes of trial and error, you get that shot you wanted that fits perfectly into a sequence.” He remembers cutting the film together and needing particular shots, like a close-up of a boot on a mountainside. With DALL-E, he could just call it up. “It’s mind-blowing,” he says. “That’s when it started to be a real eye-opening experience as a filmmaker.”