US Government announces $25 million for carbon sequestration projects

As promised, George W. Bush has placed research at the heart of his plan to combat global warming, with grants of almost $25 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) to co-fund eight new exploratory projects that will study methods to capture and store carbon gases.

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham made the announcement about the funding on 3 July, as part of the much maligned National Energy Policy announced by President Bush earlier this year (see related story), which cited carbon sequestration as a key part of governmental strategy for addressing climate change issues.

The eight projects emerged from a nationwide competition that attracted 62 proposals from private companies, universities, local governments, and environmental organisations. The chosen proposals were generated by BP, Alstom Power, Praxair, Consol, Dakota Gasification, Advanced Resources International, The Nature Conservancy, and Yolo County, California.

The projects will study ways to capture greenhouse gases and store them in underground geologic formations or in forests, with most of the projects focusing on carbon dioxide, but one will also collect natural gas from a landfill before it can escape into the air. The Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy, which will oversee the research, has set a goal of developing sequestration approaches that cost $10 or less per tonne of carbon – equivalent to adding only 0.2 cents per kilowatt-hour to the average cost of electricity. Currently, only a limited number of sequestration options are available, and most can cost as much as 30 times more than the Department’s goal.

Private sector response to the Energy Department’s efforts to develop an expanded menu of environmentally safe and affordable sequestration options has been overwhelming, it says. For this proposal there were 62 applicants and private sector participants have offered to fund an average of 40% of total project costs, well above the 20% minimum cost-sharing that the Energy Department required.

Exact funding for the projects will be determined in final negotiations between DOE and the companies involved, with the new projects in four different categories: separation and capture; sequestration in geological formations; terrestrial ecosystems; and advanced concepts.

Under the ‘separation and capture’ category there are three projects:

  • BP Corporation of Anchorage, Alaska, will head a seven-member international team to demonstrate the feasibility of capturing carbon dioxide from a variety of fuel types and combustion sources and storing it in unmineable coal seams and saline aquifers in an $8.8 million project of which the DOE has proposed $5 million in funding;
  • Alstom Power Inc. of Windsor, Connecticut will test a way to produce concentrated CO2 by firing oxygen in an advanced boiler and evaluate ways to use the CO2 to produce saleable byproducts, such as enhanced oil recovery in a $1.4 million project for which the DOE has proposed $510,000;
  • Praxair Inc. of Tonawanda, New York, will develop an ‘oxy-fuel’ boiler – a new boiler design that incorporates a membrane to separate oxygen from the air, which is then used for combustion. Because it produces a concentrated CO2 exhaust, it could reduce the complexity of CO2 capture, reduce the cost of carbon sequestration, and offer increased thermal efficiency and reduced pollution. The DOE has proposed $4.1 million in funding of a total $5.9 million.

Among the projects under the ‘sequestration in geological formations’ category is a coal bed methane production technology to drain natural gas from unmineable coal seams, which then uses the gas production holes for sequestering CO2. The $8.8 million project by Consol Inc. Research & Development of South Park, Pennsylvania is proposed to receive $6.9 million from the DOE. Dakota Gasification Company from Bismarck, North Dakota, will use new reservoir mapping and predictive tools to develop a better understanding of the behaviour of CO2 in a geologic formation, including the way it moves through reservoir rocks, the quantity that can be stored in a reservoir, and how long the CO2 could be expected to remain trapped in the underground formation. The DOE has proposed $4 million of a total $26.5 million.

The Nature Conservancy from Arlington, Virginia will develop and implement various forestry sequestration projects in a $2 million project under the ‘terrestrial ecosystems’ category. However, the effectiveness of forests to absorb CO2 has been cast into doubt by recent research (see related story). Under the ‘advanced concepts’ category, Yolo County Planning and Public Works Department from California will demonstrate full-scale application of a new waste landfill ‘bioreactor’. Methane emitted from degrading wastes in the landfill will be trapped by special membranes on the surface and transported to collection points in this $1.7 million project.

“Carbon sequestration is an important field of study because it offers a way to address global climate issues,” Abraham said. “Government research should be focused on those areas that industry tells us are worth pursuing. The large response and significant cost-sharing from the private sector is a clear message that carbon sequestration is an option worth examining.”

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