Scientists urge pursuit of carbon sequestration

September 22, 2009   by PLANT STAFF

A simplified overview of the geo-sequestration process.

Photo: CO2CRC

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: Scientists are urging government leaders heading to Copenhagen for climate talks later this year to pursue carbon capture and sequestration (technology that harnesses emissions and pumps them deep into the soil) as a way of addressing global warming.

Climate scientists who were gathered in Iceland for a two-day conference on carbon sequestration in Reykjavic, Iceland in September, said as levels of planet-warming carbon dioxide continue to rise, this technique for removing excess carbon dioxide from the air and storing it safely underground must be part of the solution for solving climate change (see video).

“We are in a mess with CO2,” says Wallace Broecker, a climate scientist at Columbia University, “a mess that is cheaper to clean up now, than meeting the consequences of global warming later.”

Several research and pilot projects on carbon capture and geological storage were presented at the conference, including the CarbFix project aimed at developing the technology and expertise for the permanent storage of CO2 as a mineral in rocks. This project will inject CO2 into the volcanic rock 30 kilometres east of Reykjavik, Iceland.

The University of Iceland is leading the CarbFix project in cooperation with CNRS in Toulouse and Columbia University. Reykjavik Energy, the leading geothermal company in Iceland, is the main sponsor. The goal of the CarbFix project is to develop an industrial solution for storing carbon as a mineral in rock, where it is stable for thousands of years. It also aims to train young scientists to carry this development forward in the future.

Scientists are already storing carbon dioxide in other ways. The Norwegian oil company Statoil Hydro has injected more than 11 million tonnes of CO2 deep under the North Sea since 1996.

CO2 can be collected from industry gas streams or it can be collected directly from the air. To date, most research has focused on capturing CO2 from the source, such as electrical power plants. This requires local storage and transport. However, at the conference, Klaus Lackner, a scientist at Columbia, showed his designs for artificial trees that can soak carbon out of the air, offering the possibility that CO2 could be collected anywhere on the planet, including close to geological storage sites.

“The costs of global warming will grow, the longer we wait to do something about it,” says Wallace Broecker.

He foresees an eventual global agreement on carbon emissions—a carbon pie in which nations divide the pieces. “When we see the limited slice each nation is going to receive, we better have the means to meet the limits.”

Skeptics of carbon sequestration raise concerns about the greenhouse gases leaking back into the air and the long-term effect it might have on the soil. However, a paper published in the Nature journal (April 2) notes scientists studied nine gas fields in North America, Europe and China found gases had stayed in underground pools of water for eons.

In Canada the federal government has allotted $375 million to help development of carbon capture and sequestration technology, and has budgeted a $1 billion green technology fund and eight projects are underway in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Alberta government has also contributed $2 billion of its own to help fund three projects involving seven companies.

A report by the Alberta Carbon Capture and Storage Development Council estimates an investment of between $1 to $3 billion per year will be needed from the Alberta and Canadian governments to promote further carbon capture and storage projects after the first wave of demonstration projects. Industry will also need to shoulder significant additional investment, it says, noting energy consumers “will ultimately bear a large share of the burden of the costs.”
Click here for a copy of the report.

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