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An Important Step Forward for CCUS

November 20, 2012 - 1:29pm

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Schlumberger technicians and rig crew lowering monitoring instrumentation into a well. | Photo credit to the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Schlumberger technicians and rig crew lowering monitoring instrumentation into a well. | Photo credit to the Illinois State Geological Survey.

As the U.S. transitions to a clean energy economy that develops every source of American energy safely, responsibly and sustainably, the Energy Department is partnering with industry to advance the technologies that will make the U.S. more competitive in the global energy marketplace while protecting our air and water. At this time last year, the Energy Department helped launch a large-scale research project in Decatur, Illinois, on the development and deployment of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies (CCUS). The research focused on ways to effectively capture, transport and permanently inject carbon dioxide (CO2) into deep undergroundgeologic formations.

Three days ago this project completed its first year of injecting supercritical CO2 at a large-scale injection test in Decatur. Supercritical CO2 is carbon dioxide that has been cooled to a near-liquid state for purposes of transporting and injecting.

This test is part of the Development Phase of the Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships (RCSP) program, an initiative managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and launched in 2003 to determine the best approaches for capturing, utilizing and permanently storing captured CO2. But more importantly, the Illinois Basin-Decatur Project, led by the Illinois State Geological Survey and using CO2 captured from an Archer Daniels Midland Co. ethanol production facility, is the first demonstration-scale project in the United States to use CO2 from an industrial source and inject it into a saline reservoir.

Proving the sustainability of all aspects of CCUS over the long-term is crucial for necessary commercial deployment on the large power and industrial plants, where emissions reductions are central to any strategy for meeting aggressive CO2 emissions reduction targets. A one-year demonstration is not long-term -- but it is an important first step, and the results thus far are extremely encouraging. Most significantly, continuous monitoring of the site has revealed that after one year and an injection of 317,000 metric tons of CO2, the receiving Mount Simon Sandstone Reservoir is performing as expected, with very good injectivity and excellent storage capacity.

With continued success and additional data collection over time, the Illinois Basin-Decatur Project will make an immense contribution to the body of knowledge necessary for building public and industry confidence in the technologies and advancing CCUS toward general commercialization. In addition to monitoring the location of the underground CO2, groundwater, the shallow subsurface, the above-ground land surface and the atmosphere around the injection site are also being continually monitored, thus far with normal results.

In the final analysis, the technologies applied and lessons learned from this project will support industry in the region looking to develop CO2 capture and transport infrastructure, whether it is for carbon storage or Enhanced Oil Recovery in the mature oil fields of the Illinois Basin. This has energy and economic benefits, as well as providing an incentive through utilization for industry to adopt the technologies. But most importantly, it will prove the viability of CCUS as one of a portfolio of options -- along with greater use of renewable and nuclear energy and improved energy efficiencies -- as a part of a strategy for effectively confronting the increase of global temperatures. And that is a step forward that will not only benefit all Americans, but people around the world, for generations to come.

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