Safe storage of greenhouse-gas carbon dioxide

Nov 17, 2008

To prevent global warming, researchers and policymakers are exploring a variety of options to significantly cut the amount of carbon dioxide that reaches the atmosphere. One possible approach involves capturing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide at the source — an electric power plant, for example — and then injecting them underground.

While theoretically promising, the technique has never been tested in a full-scale industrial operation. But now MIT engineers have come up with a new software tool to determine how much CO2 can be sequestered safely in geological formations.

The work will be reported Nov. 18 at the 9th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies (GHGT-9), to be held Nov. 16-20 in Washington, D.C.

According to the 2007 MIT study, "The Future of Coal," and other sources, capturing CO2 at coal-burning power plants and storing it in deep geological basins will mitigate its negative effects on the atmosphere.

However, injecting too much CO2 could create or enlarge underground faults that may become conduits for CO2 to travel back up to the atmosphere, said Ruben Juanes, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) and one of the authors of the work. "Our model is a simple, effective way to calculate how much CO2 a basin can store safely. It is the first to look at large scales and take into account the effects of flow dynamics on the stored CO2," he said.

Already Juanes and co-author CEE graduate student Michael L. Szulczewski have applied their model to the Fox Hills Sandstone in the Powder River basin straddling Montana and Wyoming. They found that the formation would hold around 5 gigatons of CO2 — more than half of all the CO2 emitted by the United States each year.

A geological basin is a large underground bowl between 100 and 1,000 kilometers wide and 5,000 kilometers deep that has filled over millennia with layers of sand, fine-grained clays, and other sediments that are eventually consolidated into porous rock. Some of the layers contain brine and are called deep saline aquifers. CO2 would be injected into the aquifers through wells.

The MIT model predicts how much a plume of CO2 will migrate from its injection well and the path it is likely to take due to underground slopes and groundwater flow.

"A lot of people have done studies at small scales," Szulczewski said. "If we're going to offset emissions, however, we're going to inject a lot of CO2 into the subsurface. This requires thinking at the basin scale."

"Despite the fact that our model applies at the basin scale, it is very simple. Using only pen and paper, you take geological parameters such as porosity, temperature and pressure to calculate storage capacity," Szulczewski said. "Other methods suffer from major shortcomings of accuracy, complexity or scale."

Juanes studies a phenomenon called capillary trapping, through which CO2, liquefied by the pressure of the Earth, is trapped as small blobs in the briny water (picture bubbles of oil in vinegar). The CO2 dispersed throughout the basin's structural pores eventually dissolves and reacts with reservoir rocks to precipitate out into harmless carbonate minerals.

CO2 has been sequestered in small pilot projects in Norway, Algeria and elsewhere. In 2004, 1,600 tons of CO2 were injected 1,500 meters into high-permeability brine-bearing sandstone of the Frio formation beneath the Gulf coast of Texas. Current proposals call for injecting billions of tons within the continental United States.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Explore further: Five anthropogenic factors that will radically alter northern forests in 50 years

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Prospective carbon capture site lacks ceiling

Jan 31, 2014

Researchers' early attempts to find a Perth Basin site to sequester carbon have detected a suitable porous aquifer, but they are yet to find a non-porous cap rock to contain it.

Field test could lead to reducing CO2 emissions worldwide

Jul 29, 2013

An injection of carbon dioxide, or CO2, has begun at a site in southeastern Washington to test deep geologic storage. Battelle researchers based at Pacific Northwest National Laboratoryare injecting 1,000 tons of CO2 one ...

Recommended for you

More, bigger wildfires burning western US, study shows

15 hours ago

Wildfires across the western United States have been getting bigger and more frequent over the last 30 years – a trend that could continue as climate change causes temperatures to rise and drought to become ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Arkaleus
3 / 5 (8) Nov 17, 2008
". . .capturing CO2 at coal-burning power plants and storing it in deep geological basins will mitigate its negative effects on the atmosphere."

This sort of thinking belongs in a comic book or SF dime novel. The very concept of carbon sequestering is absurd. The hysterical fear generated by certain interests about CO2 is nonsensical and harmful to our societies. Our planet's cycles are not relative to human needs. Our world is recovering from an ice age, and the warming of the planet would only serve to encourage the growth of vegetation. This is how nature finds equilibrium, which is what it has done for eons. Climate quacks put man at the center of the earth, and thinks that his influence on the earth can be somehow reformed by taxation and forced social conditioning.

The panic induced by media manipulation for those who wish to convert ecology into a political means to power and control needs to be countered, resisted, and discredited before these quacks start doing real harm to our liberties and economies.

Look at the injustice this sort of ecological quackery is doing to our friends in the UK! There are real doubts associated with the science behind the climate alarmists, but the reluctance of any real and open debate about the matter shows the true malice of those behind the lies.
hudres
2.7 / 5 (7) Nov 17, 2008
This is a bogus concept that was already rejected once, but, like a bad dream, it keeps re-surfacing.
A better plan is to stop generating CO2 rather than injecting it into the ground where it will eventually come back to haunt us (literally

More news stories

Six Nepalese dead, six missing in Everest avalanche

At least six Nepalese climbing guides have been killed and six others are missing after an avalanche struck Mount Everest early Friday in one of the deadliest accidents on the world's highest peak, officials ...

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

There's something ancient in the icebox

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...