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The University of Alabama

UA Receives DOE Grant for Carbon Storage Research

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama has been awarded a U.S. Department of Energy grant totaling more than $4.85 million for a multidisciplinary project that will characterize geologic formations for carbon dioxide storage in Alabama.

With the addition of matching funds from industry partners, the total project cost is expected to be $6.5 million. A part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the overall project goal is to increase knowledge about the potential for these formations to safely and permanently store carbon dioxide.

In an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, researchers are investigating ways to store carbon dioxide underground. Carbon dioxide, which is a major greenhouse gas, contributes to Earth’s global warming. Its concentration levels have increased due to the consumption of fossil fuels.

Geological formations are considered the most promising carbon dioxide storage sites, but the storage capacity and long term storage stability must be assessed.

Carbon dioxide capture and storage research includes methods of capturing carbon dioxide from petroleum and coal burning plants and storage methods using underground reservoirs or other types of geological sinks.

Recent DOE grants are expanding geological research projects that identify possible new sites that are not necessarily as large as previously characterized sites but still vital to the carbon storage inventory due to location.

UA’s project will investigate the possibility for storage in an underground reservoir in the vicinity of the Alabama Power Gorgas Plant. Successful completion of the project has the potential to extend the useful life of coal-fired power plants throughout the region. By investigating the geology near existing power plants, transportation costs to a carbon dioxide storage area would be greatly reduced.

Through the multidisciplinary award, researchers from UA’s colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences are collaborating with the Alabama Geological Survey and Rice University.

During the next three years, the team will analyze geophysical data, build geological and reservoir models, and drill, complete and test a 4,000-foot well. This work will help define an estimated 28 gigatons of carbon dioxide storage capacity underlying northwest Alabama. The team will also develop guidelines that can be used for national site characterization projects to better determine which scientific tests are needed to identify storage sites.

Dr. Peter Clark, associate professor of chemical engineering at The University of Alabama, is the lead investigator and will oversee the project and design the drilling and completion of the test well, and analyze the well test data.

Dr. Eric Carlson, associate professor of chemical engineering at UA, will build a computational reservoir model of the site based on all of the data generated from the other segments of the project. This model will be used to predict storage patterns and capacity.

Dr. Andrew Goodliffe, associate professor of geological sciences at UA, will direct the acquisition, processing and analysis of surface and downhole geophysical data. The reflection seismic aspect of this work will be particularly important in creating a detailed image of the subsurface that extends beyond Gorgas Plant.

Dr. Jack Pashin, director of the Energy Investigations Program with the Alabama Geological Survey, will direct the geological characterization and geological model development.

Dr. Mason Thompson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, will conduct studies leading to the prediction of mineralization of carbon dioxide in the various formations found at the site. This work is important in predicting the long-term storage stability of carbon dioxide in the reservoirs.

The project’s final steps include drafting the guidelines for national site characterization testing.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that a conventional power plant could reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by almost 80-90 percent compared to a plant without carbon capture and storage. The IPCC also estimates that carbon dioxide storage in well-selected and designed sites are likely to retain more than 99 percent of the injected carbon dioxide for more than 1,000 years.

In September 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory announced the award of 11 projects worth more than $75.5 million to conduct site characterization of promising geologic formations for carbon dioxide storage. For more information about the U.S. Department of Energy’s site characterization projects, visit http://www.fossil.energy.gov/recovery/projects/site_characterization.html.

Alabama Power and Southern Company, industrial partners in the project, are actively focusing on developing technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-based electricity generation. In May 2009, Southern Company announced it would manage and operate the U.S. Department of Energy’s new National Carbon Capture Center, which is located at the Southern Company Power Systems Development Facility. With more than 4.4 million customers and more than 42,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is the premier energy company serving the Southeast.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.