Thursday, April 3, 2008

Carbon Sequestration in Australia

In a recent article from CNN they describe a new project in Australia in which they are starting to do carbon sequestration of industry emissions. This is the first sequestration plant in the southern hemisphere and is being heralded by industry, but the environmentalists are disappointed that instead of reducing emissions they are burying the emissions underground. It seems like sequestration is going to be another way of us trying not to change our lifestyle and habits but rather move our problems further into the future. I don't know any numbers but I wonder how much gas can be sequestered underground. I also wonder if it is really worth the money and the energy to do this on a large scale. It is an interesting problem to research but this technology cannot have a measurable effect on the global amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. I agree with the environmentalists in that we need to focus on other ways of reducing our emissions rather than pumping the carbon dioxide underground. If sequestration becomes a way that companies can look "green" then what incentive do they have to cut emissions? They can just keep emissions high, put it underground, and forget about it. I feel that in the long run carbon sequestration is not a good alternative to working toward cutting emissions and should not be seriously pursued.


mnoibi said...

I understand that carbon sequestration might not be the silver bullet solution to CO2 emissions around the world, but I would like to add that it is a way of reducing emissions.
This is because the CO2 being trapped underground is not going into the atmosphere, as long as this tehnology is tried and proven, and there are no leaks (or insignificant leaks) to the atmosphere from the underground storage of CO2.
I agree that the best we can do for now, until this technology is tried and proven, is to try reduce atmospheric emissions...and with our lifestyles (in western countries, as well as developing countries) this will probably never be the solution either.

Which leads me to conclude that with Carbon sequestration is a favorable option in the long run.

Stephanie Freeman said...

Albert and mniobi,

I read your post and follow-up comment and I would like to add a few things to the discussion. First off, I am a grad student research the carbon capture side of CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration), but I am familiar with some of the sequestration that your article brought to light.

Albert, I must correct some of the comments you made. First off, the technology of sequestering CO2 underground is the most promising way of permanently removing CO2 from the air. The ocean is the best-CO2 sink we currently have and rock formations underground are the second best. CO2 is not simply pumped into the ground only to quickly seep out through the earth’s crust and re-join the atmospheric CO2. Appropriate rock formations are chosen for their ability to sequester CO2 for 100-1000+ years. Salt domes, saline aquifers, etc have been discussed with salt domes being the most common.

UT has been testing CO2 sequestration in ground rock for years and currently has a pilot operation where CO2 was injected 5-10 years ago (I don’t remember the exact date) and the CO2 hasn’t moved. The important thing about sequestration is to remember that the CO2 is injected beneath rocks that are slightly to non-porous. The pores in the rocks have water in them, so the capillary action in the pores due to the water prevents any CO2 from rising through the rock at any significant rate.

Sequestration is the ONLY technology/approach we have to take care of the CO2 problem we are already producing now. Now, being the operative word. Reducing and eliminating CO2 emissions is of course crucial, but in the mean time, while we are phasing out of coal and the main CO2-generators (which I can’t imagine happening in the next century), sequestration can keep CO2 out of the atmosphere and safely tucked away.

I think it’s a little cynical to assume that generators will just “…keep emissions high, put it underground, and forget about it” as you say. I think most people are still focused on the big picture of reducing emissions while sequestration can help us mitigate some of the damage in the meantime.