Scientists develop tech to track carbon dioxide

Jun 14, 2010 By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Scientists have developed a method for detecting and tracking carbon dioxide deep underground, giving the federal government an important tool as people look for ways to keep carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from crowding the atmosphere.

Scientists working with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory used colorless, nontoxic liquids called perflourocarbon tracers to essentially fingerprint that was injected into a coal seam in northwestern New Mexico.

They followed the carbon dioxide's movement by tracking the tracers.

Using the tracers would help eliminate some of the uncertainty surrounding and sequestration, said Brian Strazisar, a physical scientist at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

"There is going to be some sort of requirement that we verify that the carbon dioxide is going where we expect it to and that it's not going back into the atmosphere or into geologic zones that weren't intended. The tracers help with that," he said.

With about one-third of the United States' coming from and other large polluters, scientists have been looking at underground fissures, caverns and coal beds as places where those emissions can be stored to reduce a buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It's those gases that are being blamed for global warming. The Obama administration established a task force on carbon capture and sequestration and has pledged $4 billion for related research, the goal being to get CCS technology widely deployed within 10 years.

At Pump Canyon near Aztec, N.M., scientists injected about 18,400 tons of carbon dioxide along with the tracers into a coal layer about 3,000 feet below the surface.

Special units set up at three nearby coal bed methane production wells and in shallow bore holes throughout the area monitored for the tracers and the injected CO2. The project lasted about a year.

The technology can measure concentrations as small as parts-per-quadrillion. It can also tell the difference between injected carbon dioxide and CO2 that is naturally produced.

A handful of Western states have started developing laws to regulate the so-called pore space beneath the ground where CO2 can be stored.

But in the New Mexico Legislature this year, critics were concerned about unknowns surrounding carbon capture and storage, related property rights and potential effects on water and oil and natural gas development. They had questions about who would be liable if injected CO2 contaminated an aquifer or mixed with oil or gas, and what would happen if it found its way back to the surface.

The tracer technology can address some of those questions better than other geophysical tools like seismic imaging, said Brian McPherson, a University of Utah professor who was involved in the Pump Canyon project.

"The tracers are a direct observation. They're less subjective and less interpretive," he said. "We can actually forecast how much a tracer is going to go where and then measure it and watch for it. They will help nail down the uncertainty."

Sean McCoy, manager of the Carbon Capture and Sequestration Regulatory Project at Carnegie Mellon University, wasn't involved in the study but said it appears from the findings that the tracer technology will improve scientists' ability to characterize places where they're thinking of storing CO2 over long periods of time.

"There's great potential, and in the real world, we're definitely going to see carbon capture and sequestration happening. But I think there's going to need to be a concerted push to remove some of the obstacles that are out there right now to get this technology rolled out on a large scale," McCoy said.

He pointed to the cost, pore space ownership issues and liability.

McPherson agreed, saying carbon capture and storage is a "real possibility" for limiting the but not a silver bullet.

"CO2 storage in the subsurface is just part of everything else that needs to be done, like increasing efficiency and developing better coal combustion technologies that produce less CO2. ... It can be done and these tests and positive results like these tracers are just more evidence that it's something that we should continue examining," he said.

Explore further: TRMM Satellite calculates Hurricanes Fay and Gonzalo rainfall

1 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New CO2 'scrubber' from ingredient in hair conditioners

Mar 24, 2010

Relatives of ingredients in hair-conditioning shampoos and fabric softeners show promise as a long-sought material to fight global warming by "scrubbing" carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the flue gases from coal-burning ...

Underground is a great place to store greenhouse gas

Jun 26, 2004

A new approach that is one of the first to successfully store carbon dioxide underground may have huge implications for global warming and the oil industry, says a University of Alberta researcher. Dr. Ben Rostron is part ...

Carbon study could help reduce harmful emissions

Feb 14, 2008

Earth scientists at The University of Manchester have found that carbon dioxide has been naturally stored for more than a million years in several gas fields in the Colorado Plateau and Rocky Mountains of the United States.

Underground CO2 storage study to begin

Oct 25, 2007

The University of Texas has received a $38 million subcontract to conduct the first U.S. long-term study of underground carbon dioxide storage.

Recommended for you

Tropical Depression 9 forms in Gulf of Mexico

5 hours ago

Tropical Depression Nine formed over the western Bay of Campeche, Gulf of Mexico and is forecast to make a quick landfall on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. NOAA's GOES-East Satellite captured the birth of the ...

$58 million effort to study potential new energy source

10 hours ago

A research team led by The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded approximately $58 million to analyze deposits of frozen methane under the Gulf of Mexico that hold enormous potential to increase ...

And now, the volcano forecast

11 hours ago

Scientists are using volcanic gases to understand how volcanoes work, and as the basis of a hazard-warning forecast system.

User comments : 0