A new study by researchers at MIT shows that there is enough capacity in deep saline aquifers in the United States to store at least a century's worth of carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's coal-fired powerplants. Though questions remain about the economics of systems to capture and store such gases, this study addresses a major issue that has overshadowed such proposals.
The MIT team's analysis — led by Ruben Juanes, the ARCO Associate Professor in Energy Studies in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and part of the doctoral thesis work of graduate students Christopher MacMinn PhD '12 and Michael Szulczewski — is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Coal-burning powerplants account for about 40 percent of worldwide carbon emissions, so climate change "will not be addressed unless we address carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants," Juanes says. "We should do many different things" such as developing new, cleaner alternatives, he says, "but one thing that's not going away is coal," because it's such a cheap and widely available source of power.
Efforts to curb greenhouse gases have largely focused on the search for practical, economical sources of clean energy, such as wind or solar power. But human emissions are now so vast that many analysts think it's unlikely that these technologies alone can solve the problem. Some have proposed systems for capturing emissions — mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels — then compressing and storing the waste in deep geological formations. This approach is known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS.
One of the most promising places to store the gas is in deep saline aquifers: those more than half a mile below the surface, far below the freshwater sources used for human consumption and agriculture. But estimates of the capacity of such formations in the United States have ranged from enough to store just a few years' worth of coal-plant emissions up to many thousands of years' worth.
The reason for the huge disparity in estimates is twofold. First, because deep saline aquifers have no commercial value, there has been little exploration to determine their extent. Second, the fluid dynamics of how concentrated, liquefied carbon dioxide would spread through such formations is very complex and hard to model. Most analyses have simply estimated the overall volume of the formations, without considering the dynamics of how the CO2 would infiltrate them.
The MIT team modeled how the carbon dioxide would percolate through the rock, accounting not only for the ultimate capacity of the formations but the rate of injection that could be sustained over time. "The key is capturing the essential physics of the problem," Szulczewski says, "but simplifying it enough so it could be applied to the entire country." That meant looking at the details of trapping mechanisms in the porous rock at a scale of microns, then applying that understanding to formations that span hundreds of miles.
"We started with the full complicated set of equations for the fluid flow, and then simplified it," MacMinn says. Other estimates have tended to oversimplify the problem, "missing some of the nuances of the physics," he says. While this analysis focused on the United States, MacMinn says similar storage capacities likely exist around the world.
Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer with the MIT Energy Initiative and a co-author of the PNAS paper, says this study "demonstrates that the rate of injection of CO2 into a reservoir is a critical parameter in making storage estimates."
When liquefied carbon dioxide is dissolved in salty water, the resulting fluid is denser than either of the constituents, so it naturally sinks. It's a slow process, but "once the carbon dioxide is dissolved, you've won the game," Juanes says, because the dense, heavy mixture would almost certainly never escape back to the atmosphere.
While this study did not address the cost of CCS systems, many analysts have concluded that they could add 15 to 30 percent to the cost of coal-generated electricity, and would not be viable unless a carbon tax or a limit on carbon emissions was put in place.
While uncertainties remain, "I really think CCS has a role to play," Juanes says. "It's not an ultimate salvation, it's a bridge, but it may be essential because it can really address the emissions from coal and natural gas."
The research was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the MIT Energy Initiative, the Reed Research Fund, the Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability and the ARCO Chair in Energy Studies.
Kimberly Allen | EurekAlert!
Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.
New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
22.06.2017 | Life Sciences
22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences