University of South Carolina

$4.9 million grant to address storage of carbon dioxide

A $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to the University of South Carolina will determine the feasibility of storing carbon dioxide underground in an effort to curb global climate change.

The funding, which will go to researchers from the university’s Earth Sciences and Resources Institute (ESRI) and department of earth and ocean sciences, is one of only 11 national awards from DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. The grants are valued at $75.5 million and are aimed at understanding whether CO2 – a greenhouse gas believed to be a culprit in climate change – can be safely stored in geologic formations, including abandoned oil and gas reservoirs, coal beds and underground reservoirs of salt water, also called deep saline aquifers.

Carolina’s three-year grant will focus on the South Georgia Rift (SGR) basin, where deep saline aquifers exist in Colleton, Beaufort and Jasper counties, said Dr. John Shafer, ESRI-SC director and the grant’s principal investigator.

“Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas,” he said. “If we can find a viable way to capture carbon dioxide and store it safely underground for centuries, then we can perhaps reduce the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere”.

Additional monies from the S.C. Geological Survey, the university and the University of Illinois put the total funding for the project at about $6 million, he said.

The DOE’s grants also include projects in Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Texas, California, Alabama, Kansas, Utah and Wyoming. Researchers will evaluate each site for its potential to store CO2, provide geological data that will be added to a public database and participate in technical working groups to determine the selection of storage sites.

Carolina’s researchers will focus on three rural areas of the Lowcountry, just above the SGR, including one with a wildcat well drilled years ago in a search for oil and gas. Studies of that well and other data have given researchers a glimpse of the geologic formations in the area, Shafer said.

“Based on what we’ve seen, we believe that this could be a viable area for the storage of CO2,” Shafer said. “We already have a good idea of what we will find.”

The university is not involved in the technology involved in carbon capture.

“This is a process called carbon capture and storage, or CCS,” he said. “Other researchers are involved in this work. We are focusing strictly on the geologic properties below the earth where we can store CO2. ”

The research program is a good fit with the university’s commitment to sustainability, said Dr. Stephen Kresovich, the university’s vice president for research and graduate education.

“Sustainability is a way of life at the University of South Carolina, and our efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions unite faculty, students and staff,” he said.

“This research award makes a strong statement about our green philosophy,” he said. “Being part of this major national research program of the U.S. Department of Energy is proof that our faculty are competing successfully for grants that will impact global climate change. They will be key players in advancing the scientific knowledge needed to reduce the environmental damage of carbon emissions.”

Moreover, the research has potential for significant commercial applications. Once scientists prove the viability of carbon capture and storage, industries will be developed around this new field of environmental protection, said Shafer.

“We believe that the results from this research program could have a significant economic impact on our state and region within the next few years,” he said.

Other Carolina researchers involved in the study are Michael Waddell of ESRI and Dr. James Knapp and Dr. Camelia Knapp from the department of earth and ocean sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. Additional members of the research team are from the S.C. Geological Survey, University of Illinois, Weatherford Laboratories of Houston and Bay Geophysical Inc. of Traverse City, Mich.

$4.9 million DOE grant

  • What: Department of Energy grant to university for purpose of studying feasibility of storing carbon dioxide underground
  • Why: Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas, and safe storage of it out of the earth's atmosphere would, it is believed, lessen global warming
  • Who: John Shafer, ESRI-SC director, is the grant’s principal investigator.
  • Who else: Carolina researchers Michael Waddell of ESRI and James Knapp and Camelia Knapp of the department of earth and ocean sciences, plus the S.C. Geological Survey, the University of Illinois, Weatherford Laboratories of Houston and Bay Geophysical Inc. of Traverse City, Mich.

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 10/20/09 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 10/21/09 @ 11:50 AM | Permalink