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18 Feb 2011

The debate surrounding carbon capture and storage intensifies as scientists from the Earth Sciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) examine the capacity for storing carbon dioxide underground, in a study published today in the new journal Greenhouse Gases: Science & Technology.

The study debates some of the conclusions drawn in an earlier study by Ehlig-Economides and Economides1, countering their claims that carbon dioxide cannot feasibly be stored underground. These earlier findings, according to the Berkeley Lab researchers, only considered closed-system subsurface formations, with limited mechanisms for relieving the pressure.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is controversial in the eyes of the general public. Pressure build-up in the subsurface induced by the injection of carbon dioxide from industrial-scale projects is a key constraint for the amount of carbon dioxide that can be safely stored underground.

In their paper, the Berkeley Lab researchers considered a full-scale deployment scenario in which enough carbon dioxide is stored to make relevant contributions to climate change mitigation. Modelling studies illustrating the scale and magnitude of pressure build-up are presented for hypothetical CCS projects in two representative basins currently being investigated for future deployment of carbon dioxide storage in the US.

According to lead researcher Dr Quanlin Zhou, although large-scale pressure build-up may have a limiting effect on storage capacity, it is not as significant as claimed previously by Ehlig-Economides and Economides. Dr Zhou and fellow researcher Dr Jens Birkholzer considered three different types of storage reservoirs: closed, partially closed and open. They indicate that the storage of carbon dioxide deep underground will occur mainly in partially closed or open formations, where pressure build-up is relieved naturally by movement of native saline waters into regions far away from where carbon dioxide injection occurs.

The authors conclude that CCS can still be considered as a practical means of mitigating carbon dioxide emissions as there is more capacity to store carbon dioxide underground than suggested in the study of Ehlig-Economides and Economides.

The study also concludes that pressure management strategies may feasibly be undertaken to relieve a pressurised system.

'This investigation furthers our understanding of the extent and magnitude of pressure build-up induced by large-scale underground carbon storage,' said Dr Zhou. 'Using natural open and partially open formations will help attenuate such pressure build-up to a manageable degree.'

1 Ehlig-Economides C and Economides MJ. Sequestering carbon dioxide in a closed underground volume. J Petrol Sci Eng 70, 123-130 (2010)


This study is published in Greenhouse Gases: Science & Technology. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact physicalsciencenews@wiley.com

Media Contact: Michelle Martella, E: physicalsciencenews@wiley.com T: +1-781-388-8577

Full citation:
Quanlin Zhou and Jens T. Birkholzer; On scale and magnitude of pressure build-up induced by large-scale geologic storage of CO2; Greenhouse Gases: Science & Technology; 2010; DOI: 10.1002/ghg3

About the Authors:
Dr Quanlin Zhou and Dr Jens Birkholzer are both research scientists in the Earth Sciences Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Berkeley, California.

Dr Curtis M Oldenburg, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Greenhouse Gases: Science & Technology and Head of the Geologic Carbon Sequestration Program at LBNL, will be available for interview about this topic. To arrange an interview, please contact Jon Weiner from the LBNL press office at jrweiner@lbl.gov

About the Journal:
Launched in February 2011, Greenhouse Gases: Science and Technology (GHG) provides an important resource exploring the methods for capture, storage, transportation and utilisation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The journal also offers analyses of relevant economic and political issues, business and industry developments, case studies and features.

GHG is a partnership between Wiley and the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI). The journal aims to facilitate communication between academic researchers and engineers and technologists in power generation and heavy industry. Communication will help to bring the latest breakthroughs to commercialisation as soon as possible, and also address head on the many challenges involved with carbon dioxide capture and storage in an objective and multidisciplinary manner.

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