Advances in CCS

Can sequestered carbon storage method become affordable? 

In the ongoing effort to regulate carbon emissions, there’s nowhere to go but down. Scientists trying to figure out ways to keep CO2 out of the air have been developing ways to store it in the ground. This method is called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

CCS involves the capture of CO2 from power plants or industrial processes, then the transport of that CO2 via pipeline to designated underground storage areas. The geologic sequestration of the CO2 injects it deep into underground rock formations. These formations are often a mile or more beneath the surface and consist of porous rock that holds the CO2. Overlying these formations are impermeable, non-porous layers of rock that trap the CO2 and prevent it from migrating upward. If you prefer videos to reading, thanks for powering through this paragraph and listen to this well-informed British narrator describe the process:

After being transported to the sequestration site, the compressed CO2 is injected deep underground into solid, but porous rock, such as sandstone, shale, dolomite, basalt, or deep coal seams. Suitable formations for COsequestration are located under one or more layers of cap rock, which trap the CO2 and prevent upward migration. These sites are then rigorously monitored to ensure that the CO2 remains permanently underground. The safety and security of CO2 geologic sequestration is a priority for EPA.

One of the world’s first carbon storage projects focused on basalt formations, the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership is based out of Montana State University’s Energy Research Institute and is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. The project has completed successful injection of almost 1,000 tons of CO2 into the Grande Ronde basalt formation and so far the results have been good, as reported by Utility Dive earlier this week.

According to the project’s post-injection findings, modeling efforts indicate the injected CO2 remains within the targeted formation and at a depth between 2,720 feet and 2,785 feet. “This study further supports the idea that one of the major rock types on the planet—basalts—can be used to store carbon dioxide permanently and safely,” study lead author Pete McGrail told Climate Central.

Some critics counter, though, that it is not a foolproof long-term solution (it has been called a method of “sweeping under the rug” the carbon emissions concern) and can still yield hazards at times when the carbon escapes its storage areas.

Above all, the main issue with CCS is that it is too expensive. In September, for instance, a DOE concluded it would cost at least $1.2 billion to turn the Colstrip coal plant in Montana into a clean coal plant.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that anywhere from 1,800 to 20,000 billion metric tons of COcould be stored underground in the United States. That is equivalent to 600 to 6,700 years of current level emissions from large stationary sources in the United States.


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