RSMAS studies Carbon Sequestration

Brittney Bomnin//Photo Editor
Brittney Bomnin//Photo Editor

The U.S. Department of Energy last month awarded $1.7 million to a team from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science to study and research new methods for storing carbon underground.

Carbon sequestration, as the method is called, involves piping and storing underground the carbon dioxide, one of three major greenhouse gases, and proves to be one of the nation’s primary tools in battling the effects of global warming.

Principal Investigator Tim Dixon leads the UM research team along with fellow RSMAS faculty members Peter Swart, Falk Amelung, Guoqin Lin and Dan Riemer.

The Rosenstiel School was one of 19 organizations awarded funds by the DOE on Aug. 24.

Research teams from other universities that received money include Stanford, Columbia and Princeton Universities.

Expected to create nearly 100 jobs over its four-year span, the project carries a total cost of $35.8 million and will be managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

“If the United States is going to continue to use fossil fuels, as most experts say that we will, it is absolutely mandatory that we sequester or store the carbon dioxide that is emitted when fossil fuels are burned,” said Joe Culver, spokesperson for the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Coal supplies nearly half of all electricity and remains the nation’s most plentiful energy resource.

In order to reduce harmful emissions from coal burning power plants, it is necessary to develop methods of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from these industrial sources.

Carbon sequestration stabilizes and potentially reduces levels of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, alleviating the effects of global warming.

“Global warming is a real problem and it’s going to be a while before we can get the economy off carbon based energy sources,” Dixon said. “In the short term we’re stuck trying out technologies like carbon sequestration.”

The technique isolates carbon dioxide from the emission streams of coal burning power plants. Once segregated, the gas is then compressed and transferred by pipeline to an underground site for permanent storage.

Potential storage sites include empty or partially depleted oil fields and natural gas reservoirs.

The research team will begin work on the project next month. The $1.7 million funding provides salaries for each of the five researchers, compensation for graduate and postdoctoral students and the purchase and installation of equipment.

The Department of Energy anticipates the operation to begin sometime next year at a location in the western United States that has not yet been selected.

Until then, the RSMAS research team will spend the first year refining sequestration techniques through research and computer simulations and then testing the methods on legacy sites where the DOE has previously injected small amounts of carbon dioxide.

“The University of Miami has expertise in all of the key areas that we need to investigate,” Dixon said. “We’re pretty excited that this project brings together a bunch of key people and reflects the expertise UM has. This is a good centerpiece for what the university is about.”