Tom Cundari and Angela Wilson
About 7 billion tons of man-made carbon dioxide escape into the Earth's atmosphere every year, contributing to global warming, scientists say. Storing the greenhouse gas underground has emerged in recent years as a potential and promising solution in the fight against global warming.
But is it safe?
Four UNT professors, with a $717,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, hope to find out using computer modeling and simulation. By simulating and modeling the chemical reactions that occur when CO2 is injected underground, the scientists can speed up a process that would take eons in nature.
"Policymakers are going to have to make some very big decisions in the next decade on global warming," says Tom Cundari, a Regents Professor of chemistry and one of the lead investigators. "We're basically going to use computers to act like a time machine and speed up those chemical reactions to determine how the CO2 will react with water and minerals."
A large portion of CO2 emissions in the United States and across the world comes from power plants that burn coal, natural gas and oil. That CO2 could be captured and pumped below ground, either in depleted oil and gas wells or in deep saline reservoirs. This issue is of particular interest in Texas, which has an abundance of oil and gas wells.
The UNT researchers will study the physical and chemical changes that the presence of CO2 could cause to the geological formations in which it is stored.
Some scientists believe injecting CO2 into the ground will be safe, while others predict it could have catastrophic consequences, including explosions or contaminated drinking water. The uncertainty of the outcome is due in large part to a lack of information about the basic chemistry of CO2 reactions with minerals, Cundari says.
Scientists do know, however, that carbon storage could reduce the climatic effect that results from the world's reliance on coal, oil and natural gas.
Jincheng Du, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and one of the project researchers, says this research also could lead to advances in finding ways to convert CO2 into something useful.
For example, scientists already know the injection of CO2 in rock formations can enhance the recovery of difficult-to-reach oil or natural gas. Through careful catalytic reactions, CO2 also can be activated to produce useful industrial raw materials such as carbon monoxide and methane.
"We've all seen the reports on global warming," Du says. "Something must be done to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases. CO2 sequestration is a promising process to achieve the goal."
The grant from the Department of Energy, which is for two years, furthers the reputation of UNT's scientific and computational modeling program as one of the most comprehensive and successful of its kind in the United States.
The key UNT players are:
Angela Wilson, associate professor of chemistry and the grant's principal investigator
Tom Cundari, Regents Professor of chemistry
Jincheng Du, assistant professor of materials science and engineering
Sandra Boetcher, assistant professor of mechanical and energy engineering
UNT News Service Press Release
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