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Storing CO2 Underground In Basalts — Regional Experiment Begins In Southeast Washington

One of the first large-scale experiments to test the feasibility of safely storing carbon dioxide in underground rocks is now under way in southeastern Washington state — about 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide are right now being injected half a mile down into the ground on property owned by Boise Inc. The CO2 is being injected directly into old geological formations which mostly consist of ancient basalt flows — the enormous lava flows lie under the ground of much of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.

The experiment — which is being led by researchers from Montana State University (MSU) — is being done primarily to test the safety and permanence of such storage methods. “We are excited to be conducting, through our partners, the world’s first injection of pure carbon dioxide into basalts,” stated Lee Spangler of MSU, director of the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership which is managing the research project. “Basalts have the potential to store over 300 years of the carbon dioxide emissions in the six-state Big Sky region. Perhaps more important is their storage potential in countries with rapidly increasing energy use, specifically China and India.”

This current experiment is what is considered to be a ‘Phase II project’ — one relatively small when compared to the approaching ‘Phase III project’ where one million tons of CO2 will be injected into the ground at Kevin Dome in Montana’s Toole County.

The Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership is being funded primarily by the US Department of Energy (DOE), in partnership with Boise Inc, Praxair Inc, and Battelle. The project — which relies only on already available/proven technology — has the stated goal of finding cheap, effective, and safe, means of storing the country’s CO2 emissions.

"The Twin Sisters outcrops near Wallula, Washington, are made of basalt. MSU and its partners will inject carbon dioxide into other basalt that’s found in southeast Washington and half a mile underground." Image Credit: Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership

“We have been conducting laboratory tests on basalts from the region for several years that have conclusively demonstrated the unique geochemical nature of basalts to quickly react with carbon dioxide and form carbonate minerals or solid rock, the safest and most permanent form for storage in the subsurface,” stated Battelle project manager Pete McGrail. “However convincing the laboratory data may be, proving the same processes operate deep underground can only be done by conducting a successful field demonstration. We have taken the very first steps to do that here in Wallula.”

Over the next couple of weeks, the researchers and technicians will work to inject the carbon dioxide — compressed into a liquid-like state — into the porous layers of basalt that are found deep underneath their feet. “Thick and impermeable layers of rock above these porous layers will act as barriers or seals to prevent the gas from traveling vertically upward. Over the next 14 months, scientists will examine fluid samples from the injection well to look for changes in chemical composition. They will also compare results to predictions that were made using PNNL’s supercomputer. ”

"Caption Praxair technicians make adjustments to the carbon dioxide piping. The injection well for a regional experiment involving MSU and others is in the foreground at left." Image Credit: Boise Inc

Montana State University has more:

At the end of the monitoring period, rock samples from the well are expected to show the formation of carbonate mineralization, or limestone crystals, as a result of carbon dioxide reacting with minerals in the basalt.

The Boise pulp and paper mill, located in the Columbia Basin between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, Washington, sits on top of dozens of volcanic lava flows, extending down 8,000 feet or more. Like a stack of pancakes, these geologic layers were formed as volcanic lava flowed and cooled. In 2009, an injection well at the site confirmed that basalt flows located immediately above and below the injection zone were nearly impermeable. Additional research in late 2012 indicated that the location is well suited for the pilot test now being conducted.

According to recent estimates released by the DOE, the United States and portions of Canada have enough potential capacity in geologic formations to store as much as 900 years of carbon dioxide emissions. If the Wallula demonstration is successful, basalt flows in many parts of the world may serve as storage locations for carbon dioxide emissions from a variety of industrial facilities.

Roughly 80% of the experiment is being funded through the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory — with some financial support coming from Schlumberger, Royal Dutch Shell, Boise Inc, and Portland General Electric.

On a similar — but also very different — note, Washington state is also currently experimenting with the use of porous underground rocks for energy storage, see Compressed Air Energy Storage In The Northwest — Enough Wind Energy To Power 85,000 Homes For 1 Month Can Be Stored In Porous Rocks.

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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