Carbon Graveyard

Psychologists might tell us not to bury our problems, but when it comes to climate change, some geologists believe that sequestering CO2 deep beneath the Earth’s surface could be a significant step toward a cure.

Yesterday, Australian researchers kicked off what will be the largest carbon burial experiment ever, according to an article in today’s New Scientist. They’ll inject 100,000 tons of the greenhouse gas into a 6,900-foot deep well in a sandstone structure in Otway Basin.

“We plan to demonstrate that the CO2 will move into the reservoir as predicted,” says Kevin Dodds of CO2CRC and CSIRO Petroleum in Perth. The Otway Basin Pilot Project will also be the most intensely monitored carbon burial project so far in the hopes of demonstrating that CO2 can be safely and securely kept underground.

Storing CO2 underground isn’t a new concept. For years Norwegian oil company Statoil has buried carbon in a saline aquifer under the North Sea, and the Department of Energy is bankrolling several carbon burial projects throughout the U.S. Of course, for this approach to be viable, it has to prove safe and affordable.

Carbon burial is mostly needed for coal-fired power stations, which account for about a quarter of global CO2 emissions, but obstacles beyond remain to be overcome. These include reducing the cost of the technologies that capture CO2 from power stations, and testing a variety of geological sites for their suitability for carbon burial.

In the meantime, the race is on to find other solutions to the CO2 problem. Last week Sir Richard Branson (you know, the Virgin Records guy) offered the $25 million Earth Challenge Prize for the best approach to removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The health of the planet is obviously a good reason to develop carbon-capturing technology, but the added bonus of big money can’t hurt.