West Virginia University researchers at work on a new approach to remotely monitor underground carbon dioxide storage have been approved to receive more than $1.3 million by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

Shahab Mohaghegh, a professor in the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources’ Department of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering, is the principal investigator on the project. Remotely monitoring underground storage is viewed by many as an important approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

According to DOE, coal supplies nearly 50 percent of domestic electricity. In order for low-cost electricity from coal-fired power plants to remain available, economical methods for capturing and storing the greenhouse gas emissions from these plants must be developed. CO2 storage in deep geologic formations will likely be one of the most economical ways to achieve this goal.

Once the CO2 is deposited in underground geologic formations, effective ways to monitor the deposits and protect against leaks will be critical.

“Hardware already exists to place an array of what we call permanent downhole gauges or PDGs,” Mohaghegh said. “The PDGs monitor the pressure changes in the formation and transmit high frequency data streams to the surface. Pressure changes are indicators of a potential leakage in the system.”

Mohaghegh’s project is designed to develop the next generation of intelligent computer software that will take maximum advantage of the data collected by the PDGs to continuously monitor and verify CO2 sequestration.

“The technology developed during this project will identify the approximate location and amount of the CO2 leakage in the reservoir,” he said. “Once the approximate location of a potential CO2 leakage is identified, the information is communicated for more precise detection and analysis.”

The WVU project is one of 19 efforts selected by DOE to enhance the capability to simulate, track, and evaluate the potential risks of carbon dioxide storage in geologic formations. The projects’ total value is approximately $35.8 million over four years, with $27.6 million of DOE funding and $8.2 million of non-federal cost sharing. The work will be managed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The WVU research is also being supported by CONSOL Energy, ARI, Battelle and Schlumberger.

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