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Dr. Birol’s Most Vital, Most Critical Technology



February 4, 2021 - For any “Groundhog Day” fans, watching Dr. Fatih Birol testify before Congress catches us all in a Bill Murray moment.

For the last three years, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Executive Director, Dr. Fatih Birol, has testified in front of Congress on energy issues and the climate challenge. Each time he testifies he is as clear as possible about the need for innovation to produce globally replicable emissions solutions. And what technology does he come back to again and again and again as irreplaceable to these efforts? That would be carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

In 2019, he called CCUS the “most vital” technology to reducing emissions.

In 2020, again in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, when asked what technology is most essential to tackling emissions, he said, “if I had to pick one technology as the most critical, if I had a magic touch to make this technology mature and [gain] market share,” it would be carbon capture.

And then yesterday, when speaking to the technologies that must be advanced to meet global emissions reduction targets, he said, “for me, the critical – perhaps the most critical one – is carbon capture utilization and storage. Extremely important one looking at the current energy infrastructure we have around the world.”

Cleaning Up What We Already Have

In his
written testimony, he expanded on the urgency of developing solutions for the energy infrastructure we have—the very infrastructure that will provide the foundation for the global energy system for some time to come.

“Solving climate change cannot be just a question of building clean from now on. It is also a question of cleaning up what we already have. Coal-fired power plants can operate for 50 years and longer. Iron and steel or cement plants have typical lifetimes of 40 years. And many of those in operation today, especially in many parts of Asia, are still very young,” he said.

Fossil fuels use – which meets 80% of global energy demand – isn’t falling despite the growth of renewables. The world is firmly in an era of energy addition where renewables are being added on top of traditional fuels, largely not in place of them. Global energy demand is expected to grow by 50% by 2050, with global electricity demand expected to grow by a staggering 79% in the same period.


Coal remains the world’s leading fuel for electricity generation and new coal plants are being added by the dozen every year. Coal consumption in Asia has grown by a quarter in just the past decade and Asian countries now account for 77% of all coal use. In 2020, China alone added 38 GW of new coal capacity.

Technology Solutions of Tomorrow Hinge on Innovation Today

Despite the assurances of the renewable or nothing crowd, the world does not have the replicable solutions it needs to reach net-zero emissions. In fact, not even close.

The IEA is very clear that the energy technologies the world needs for tomorrow hinge on innovation that must happen today. In
recent analysis, the IEA found that fully half the technologies needed to achieve global emissions targets aren’t currently commercially viable. CCUS is one of the technologies right at the top of the list.

Director Birol knows the world needs great leaps forward with CCUS. Elon Musk has apparently
gotten the message too. President Biden, on the campaign trail, called to “double down on federal investments and enhance tax incentives for CCUS.” He wrote that he shared the goal to, “make CCUS a widely available, cost-effective, and rapidly scalable solution to reduce carbon emissions.”

The rubber is now about to meet the road. Action to advance CCUS is a place of broad bipartisan support in Congress. The Biden administration has signaled its intention to make it an energy and climate priority. As Dr. Birol has so passionately told us again and again, there’s no technology more vital to producing replicable global solutions. Is this the February Washington finally gets the message?