Armed with a $1.1 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, West Virginia University’s Tim Carr is hard at work evaluating geologic formations that could be suitable for the underground storage of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas captured from burning fossil fuels like coal.
Carr, the Marshall S. Miller Professor of Energy in the Department of Geography and Geology in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, said he believes when it comes to energy, the U.S. and the world will need more of everything: more renewables, more nuclear and fossil fuels and that’s where his work in carbon storage comes in.
“We could begin geologic sequestration tomorrow, but it would be very expensive,” he said. “We need more research on ways to reduce costs and to scale it up to handle the large amount of CO2 we produce.”
Carr, who received stimulus funding for his work last October, began his professional career in the oil and gas industry, where he spent more than a decade working on research projects and on exploration projects in Alaska, the North Sea, and East Greenland as well as the lower 48 states. Prior to coming to WVU, Carr was chief of energy research and senior scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey as well as the co-director of the Energy Research Center at the University of Kansas.
He explained that sequestration already takes place at a smaller scale in the oil and gas industry, where CO2 is injected into older oil and gas fields to stimulate additional oil production.
“Although we started dealing with emissions from energy use more than 50 years ago, more progress is required,” he said. “Reducing environmental impact is a fundamental prerequisite to energy use.”
He suspects that carbon storage in geological formations may never be “cheap”, but he is convinced that costs will come down. He said that risks related to unplanned leaks of CO2 from geologic sites are overstated by opponents of such storage.
“For example, every year we store three trillion cubic feet of natural gas in underground geologic storage sites around the country,” he noted.
“We inject gas into the earth (in this case, methane), take it out, repeatedly without incident,” he explained. “This is equivalent to many millions of tons of CO2.”
He is very enthusiastic about carbon capture and sequestration research possibilities that will evolve from the US-China Energy Center at WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy, a part of WVU’s Advanced Energy Initiative. He said WVU has been recognized as a formal participant in the official energy agreement between the U.S. and China.
Carr, who has travelled to China three times in the past year, noted that China is ranked #1 in the use of renewable energy, but is also building one new coal plant per week and a new nuclear plant every month.
Carr also is working with the Department of Energy on an “online carbon atlas” for North America that makes available key geospatial data (carbon sources, carbon sinks, etc.) required for carbon capture and storage on a broad scale.
Although his work now focuses primarily on fossil fuels and providing solutions for the CO2 emissions challenge, he remains supportive of a broad palette of energy sources.
CONTACT: Gerrill Griffith, WVU Research Corp.
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