Tech: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Burying CO2 could help combat global warming

Illustration by Jameson Simpson

Storing carbon dioxide deep underground might sound like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. But researchers are exploring several such schemes. In fact, the US Department of Energy has announced it will pump $275 million into the studies. 

Carbon targeted for underground storage must first be captured at factories or power plants. The gas is then compressed into a liquid, transported by pipeline to a nearby underground storage site and injected thousands of feet below into porous rock formations beneath an impermeable cap such as shale, which acts like a lid on a jar. Scientists predict most CO2 will dissolve in water there, like bubbles in seltzer. Gradually, the pressurized carbon will react with the rock and convert into a solid mineral, remaining trapped underground forever.

The Energy Department created seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships to develop technology, infrastructure, and regulations for implementing large-scale sequestration programs around the country. The first step is making sure the technology works and that it’s safe. Currently, the groups are running pilot projects, injecting CO2 into different geological formations, and monitoring how the gas moves underground and interacts with the rock. They’re also keeping an eye out for leaks.

Issue 25

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