Underground Storage of CO2 : Attempts to Eliminate Carbon Emissions

by Nour Bundogji

Postdoctoral researcher Yossi Cohen and Professor of Geophysics Daniel Rothman, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently published an article in the Royal Society Proceedings on the effectiveness of storing carbon dioxide underground in an effort to decrease carbon emissions in our atmosphere. When I first read this I immediately envisioned suction cups elevated high into earth’s atmosphere connected to long pipes extended deep within earth’s crust. Yet, you guessed it, the technology is quite different. Instead, greenhouse gases emitted by coal-fired power plants would be pumped into salt caverns 7,000 feet underground where these gases would react with the salt water and solidify (Cohen and Rothman, 2015). The U.S. Environmental Protection agency estimated that this technology could eliminate up to 90 percent of carbon emissions from coal-fired facilities. Considering the current state of our ozone layer and the drastic climate changes we’ve been experiencing these past years, this seems like a promising step forward in saving our environment. However, commentators on this technology, like Christopher Martin from Bloomberg, pointed out a few flaws. I knew it was too good to be true.

Cohen and Rothman expected that much of the carbon dioxide would solidify. However, upon micro and macro-scale analysis and numerical simulation, they noted that solidification of these greenhouse gases only occurs at the surface of these salt caverns creating a barrier that prevents more gas from reaching the brine. As Martin simply puts it, “it’s clogging up the process” (Bloomberg.com). If these carbon gases do not reach these saltwater pockets, the carbon sources remain in the gaseous or liquid phase and can escape back into the atmosphere very easily, putting us back to square one with respect to controlling climate changes.

Although these clogs can occur, I don’t feel we’ve hit a roadblock with this advanced storage process. Instead, I feel like this is a strong move in the right direction especially since significantly less carbon dioxide will precipitate with this technology.

Cohen, Y. and Rothman, D.H. 2015. Mechanisms for mechanical trapping of geologically sequestered carbon dioxide. Royal Society Proceedings A. Jan 21, 2015. http://rspa.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/471/2175/20140853

Martin, Christopher. 2015. “Underground Carbon Dioxide Storage Process Faces Clogs, MIT Says.” Bloomberg. Jan 21, 2015

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-21/underground-carbon-dioxide-storage-process-faces-clogs-mit-says.html

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