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Carbon storage research gets $601,158 federal grant

Nov. 19, 2009

KALAMAZOO--Armed with more than $600,000 in new federal funds, a Western Michigan University-led effort to store greenhouse gas emissions deep below the ground is picking up steam, positioning Michigan in the forefront of states exploring carbon capture and geological sequestration and providing the geological background for tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to the state.

WMU researchers, led by Dr. Dave Barnes with Drs. Bill Harrison and Duane Hampton, and graduate students and staff in the Department of Geosciences and the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education, have been actively pursuing the security and validation of this new technology since mid-2004. Their efforts were greatly enhanced by a recently awarded federal earmark sponsored by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton. Previous and subsequent grants from the U.S. Department of Energy are contributing to the effort to help Michigan actively address greenhouse gas emissions from stationary emission sites, such as electric power plants, ethanol production plants and chemical and refining operations.

"Michigan is extremely well positioned to shift to clean energy and be seen as a world leader in environmental management," says Barnes, a WMU professor of geosciences, who has become WMU's point person in the effort.

Barnes says that funding to date for all Michigan-based carbon capture and geological sequestration research is in the $10 million to $20 million range with the potential of an additional $300 million to $600 million of federal funding. Carbon capture and geological sequestration entails capturing carbon emissions from power plants or other large, stationary, industrial emissions sources, purifying the stream and delivering the liquefied CO2 into deep geological reservoirs, thousands of feet beneath the surface. Researchers at WMU have been focused on defining the locations and procedures to assure the storage is adequate, safe and long lasting.

"Carbon capture and geological sequestration is one of the critical strategies currently being developed globally to address energy security and environmental concerns regarding climate change," Barnes says.

Upton says that in an era when energy is vital to maintaining a healthy economy, it's imperative that the nation's vast reserves of coal be used in ways that are affordable, yet environmentally responsible. Capturing and storing CO2 emissions from electric power plants fueled by coal is the right, environmentally responsible solution.

"Everything must be on the table as we seek to reduce carbon emissions and promote the development of clean energy--whether it be clean coal technologies, nuclear power and greater use of renewables like wind and solar," Upton says.

"Western Michigan University is at the forefront in the development of groundbreaking new carbon capture and sequestration technologies that will not only keep costs down for consumers, but also foster new jobs and a strong economy. [WMU President John M.] Dunn and his impressive team of dedicated professors and researchers are trailblazers in the development of green technologies that will help transform our society for the better."

Barnes says Michigan can effect substantial geological storage in the microscopic void spaces of deeply buried rock formations, creating a huge repository for the essentially inert, liquefied carbon dioxide. This resource provides Michigan the ability to store all CO2 from large point sources for more than 200 years, although it is hoped that rapid development of cost-effective, renewable energy technologies will render CO2 storage unnecessary much sooner than that.

For more than four years, WMU researchers have been partners and technical contributors to the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, one of seven regional partnerships supported by the Department of Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory. Recently, they have been busy assessing the potential and feasibility of geological sequestration in Michigan as technical contributors to work led by Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, which was recently awarded $65 million to continue sequestration partnership efforts, including deployment of a large-scale injection demonstration project in the Midwest.

As a result of this work and with the help of the federal earmark, WMU researchers have, in the past six months, received more than $500,000 in additional federal funding for geological sequestration projects. One project involves a demonstration project at a proposed electric power plant in northeastern Michigan. A second-phase award for that project could result in another $150 million to $200 million in additional funding for the project in the state.

All of the projects are being conducted in collaboration with the likes of Battelle, the Illinois Geological Survey and Wolverine Power Cooperative and demonstrate the critical public-private collaboration that is ongoing in this important research area. In another project, WMU researchers are involved as geological consultants in a large Department of Energy proposal involving the Holland Board of Public Works and Praxair Corp. If successful, that project would bring several hundreds of millions of research dollars to the state for an industrial scale demonstration project in Holland, Mich.

"Fossil energy has been fundamentally responsible for development in modern industrialized societies, but the associated greenhouse gas emissions are seriously threatening our environment," Barnes says.

"Capture and deep geological storage of greenhouse gas emissions provides a critical bridging technology as we move, as aggressively as possible, to renewable energy technologies," he continues. "It is an extremely exciting time for technical research addressing the feasibility of carbon capture and geological sequestration, but this initiative is an even more important policy issue relative to energy security, economic vitality and environmental stewardship in Michigan."

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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