The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) are teaming on a notable five-year-long initiative to accelerate development and demonstrate low-carbon technologies that they say are needed to help private companies and governments achieve increasingly ambitious decarbonization goals by 2050.
The Low-Carbon Resources Initiative (LCRI), officially launched on Aug. 10, is a “unique, international collaborative spanning the electric and gas sectors that will help advance global, economy-wide deep decarbonization,” the organizations said in a joint statement. The LCRI will leverage the collaborative research model that both organizations have fostered for decades and bring industry stakeholders together to conduct “clean energy R&D for society’s benefit,” they said.
The initiative kicked off with $10 million from the EPRI collaborative, but the organizations have set a $100 million funding target, which they plan to procure through public and private collaboration. Also notable is that the LCRI already has 18 “anchor sponsors”—including several power and gas utilities, investor-owned and public power producers, and at least one major power equipment manufacturer.
The list so far includes: American Electric Power (AEP), Con Edison, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Exelon Corp., Lincoln Electric System, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Missouri River Energy Services, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems-Americas, National Fuel, New York Power Authority, Portland General Electric, PPL Corp., Salt River Project, SoCalGas, Southern California Edison, Southern Co., and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Hydrogen a Key Focus
While several companies on the list—including Southern Co., Duke, AEP, and Dominion—have so far publicly announced a commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, how they will achieve their ambitious targets has come under scrutiny by environmental think tanks, as well as by potential shareholders, which are increasingly weighing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks.
Some companies have moved to close, divest, or phase out coal generation, increase their renewables share, and invest in electrification infrastructure. But according to EPRI and GTI, more is needed. “Deep decarbonization will require fundamental technology advances, a refocusing of energy investment to low- and zero-carbon resources, and dramatic changes throughout the global energy system,” they said.
“Achieving ambitious targets will require technologies and processes beyond those widely available today,” Arshad Mansoor, EPRI’s president and newly elected CEO, explained on Monday. Efforts must also take into account a need for “affordable” pathways to economy-wide decarbonization,” he noted.
GTI Senior Vice President Mike Rutkowski echoed the emphasis on affordability, but he also highlighted industry’s need to achieve decarbonization safely and reliably. The effort, he said, will require a “deeper integration of energy infrastructure as well as new technologies that address the needs of all sectors of the economy.”
LCRI plans to begin its mammoth task first by identifying and accelerating fundamental development of “promising technologies.” The initiative will then demonstrate and assess the performance of “key technologies and processes.” Finally, it will inform key stakeholders and the public about “technology options and potential pathways to a low-carbon future.”
More insight into the direction of future research will likely be revealed on Sept. 1, when EPRI and GTI hold a virtual roundtable on low-carbon resources. But for now, it appears LCRI’s efforts are likely to focus on “ low-carbon electric generation technologies and low-carbon energy carriers—such as hydrogen, ammonia, synthetic fuels, and biofuels.”
A Holistic View
Technical areas that LCRI may address include production, transport, delivery, and storage of these energy carriers, as well as end-use applications for power generation, transportation, buildings, and industry. Research will also cover the safety, environmental aspects, materials, and inspection technologies associated with new approaches to fuels and energy carriers. However, LCRI may also look into carbon mitigation technologies, including carbon capture, utilization, storage, and direct air capture.
LCRI’s efforts to identify and accelerate fundamental development of these technologies was welcomed by key industry participants. In statements issued on Monday, several utility participants lauded the opportunity to collaboratively explore technologies that promise to decarbonize a wide set of assets associated with their different businesses. Mark Webb, Dominion’s chief innovation officer, noted, for example, that hydrogen “is one of the most promising of these innovations because of its potential to decarbonize many sectors, including power generation, heating, transportation, shipping and manufacturing.”
Others, like Edison International President and CEO Pedro J. Pizarro, who also serves as chair of EPRI’s Board of Directors, also pointed to benefits new modes of delivery and efficient electrification could offer. One of LCRI’s key objectives is to explore pathways to decarbonize “hard or expensive–to-electrify end-uses that are projected to comprise as much as 40% of energy use.”
Jeff Lyash, Tennessee Valley Authority president and CEO, meanwhile, stressed that the development, demonstration, and performance evaluation of clean energy technologies will be crucial to inform long-term planning. “To build long-term success, it is critical to have clearly defined plans to reach zero carbon goals,” he said. “We are pleased to be a part of an initiative that provides a realistic roadmap to help drive our nation from where we are to where we want to be.”
Low-Carbon: New Emphasis for EPRI, GTI
The collaborative is also a noteworthy new direction for EPRI and GTI, which are globally recognized nonprofit research and development organizations with similar missions.
Since it was formally established in 1973, EPRI has served as an independent but collaborative resource for the power sector, and its research objectives overwhelmingly reflect major issues affecting the industry. Today, EPRI’s members make up power sector entities that generate more than 90% of all power generated and its members represent more than 90% of U.S. power generators. It also has participants from more than 38 countries.
GTI is an independent technology organization formed in April 2000 through the combination of two major research and technology development organizations serving the natural gas industry: the 1976–founded Gas Research Institute (GRI) and the 1941-founded Institute of Gas Technology (IGT). An interactive history feature published on the organization’s timeline says the GRI and IGT were at the forefront of major historical breakthroughs in gas technology, including coal gasification, gas engines, coalbed methane production, hydraulic fracking (which it begun research on in 1983), biomass gasification, and fuel cell research. Today, the GTI’s focus areas range widely from unconventional gas and oil production to pipeline integrity, but the organization is also placing remarkable emphasis on gas’s role in a world increasingly inundated with renewable power.
“As we invest to help shape these transitions, GTI is focusing on the roles that gases, fuels, and infrastructure will serve in low-carbon, low-cost energy systems now to mid-century—and how these resources can be leveraged to make these shifts safely, reliably, affordably and with deliberate speed,” GTI says in its most recent annual report.
It notes, for example, that this year, it established a new Hydrogen Technology Center “for enabling expanded use of hydrogen and other low-carbon gases economy wide.” Other initiatives include SunGas Renewables, which serves to commercialize GTI technologies for producing renewable methane, hydrogen, and other fuels and chemicals from biomass resources.