Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Advances in Global CO2 Sequestration

November 19, 2009

The American Chemical Society organized an excellent 90 minute program on Friday, October 30 in the Rayburn Office Building.  The relevance of these presentations to the global climate crisis is great.  The only forward-looking energy legislation passed by the G. W. Bush administration, signed in January, 2008 and read and assessed by the OPP for Representative Hoyer's office the previous fall, was a bill in which most of the actual funding was to evaluate the CO2 sequestration process.  Four excellent speakers reviewed progress in this area.


Particularly impressive was a clear presentation of the relevant science by Dr. Sally Benson of Stanford University's Global Climate & Energy Project.  She explained the characteristics of geological formations that can both contain the CO2 and provide the pressure needed to reactivate old, currently uneconomical oil wells.  All speakers agreed that initially most of the CO2 is likely to be pumped into old existing oil formations, and a new network of pipelines to convey the CO2 from remote sites to these formations is likely to be built if the process can be shown to work effectively and efficiently.


However, there are cases where it may be possible to sequester the CO2 locally, without sending it through a long pipeline to an existing reservoir.  Illinois lies at the center of one of the world's largest bituminous coal fields.  Underlying this coal field in places is a thick layer of slate and shale that should be impervious to CO2 stored underneath.  Thus, this area affords an ideal site for testing the feasibility and practicability of CO2 sequestration in situ.  If it doesn't work there, in situ storage is unlikely to work well elsewhere.  In reply to our question, Dr. S. Julio Friedman of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said that Energy Secretary Steven Chu has approved the construction of a large coal-fired electrical generating plant, called FUTUREGEN in Illinois, with support from President Obama. 


Clearly the importance of the tests underway cannot be exaggerated.  This is one area where Republicans and Democrats are both willing to invest in a green technology.  Even a "green" Democrat  knows that we will be burning a lot of coal in future years, before fossil fuels are replaced by other energy sources  One has to hope this process will work, and work economically, even if coal still has other drawbacks like mountaintop mining and acid runoff.

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