Carbon assessment software developed

Mon, Dec 1, 2008, 00:00

EMISSIONSCO2 STORAGE: RESEARCHERS at the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed new software that will help developers of clean coal technology to accurately measure how much CO2 they can store underground, reports JOHN REYNOLDS

Determining how much CO2 can be stored in a geological formation is one of the biggest challenges facing companies that are developing the process by which coal can be burned by a power station, with the most polluting gases sucked out and piped away before they enter the atmosphere.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), as it is known, involves storing these gases in empty oil and gas wells that consist of aquifer formations or semi-permeable rocks under the ground.The software aims to determine how much CO2 can be stored safely in formations such as these and to help mitigate any risk of it leaking back into the atmosphere over time.

Ruben Juanes, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and one of the researchers behind the model, said that it offered CCS project developers a simple means of assessing the capacity of geological basins.

"It is the first [software] to look at large scales and take into account the effects of flow dynamics on the stored CO2," he says.

Importantly, the software model takes into account how CO2 will migrate from the original injection well and also incorporates a phenomenon known as capillary trapping, whereby liquefied CO2 eventually dissolves to form harmless carbonate minerals.

The model has already been applied to the Fox Hills Sandstone in the Powder River basin straddling Montana and Wyoming and found that the formation could hold about five gigatonnes of CO2 - equivalent to more than half of all CO2 emitted by the US each year.