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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2004 / 04 

Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research helps implement global climate change initiative

April 30, 2004

The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER), which is based at Virginia Tech, is leading an interdisciplinary coalition to identify potential carbon sequestration sinks within the Commonwealth of Virginia as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) $2.4 million Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership project.

"Carbon sequestration is important - to capture atmospheric carbon that is believed to cause global warming," said VCCER director Michael Karmis of Blacksburg. "It is hoped that development of technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere will enable fossil fuel use to continue without negative climatic effects."

According to the DOE, carbon sequestration is one of the most promising means of reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and can be achieved through either terrestrial or geologic sinks. DOE defines terrestrial carbon sequestration as, "either the net removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere or the prevention of CO2 net emissions from the terrestrial ecosystems into the atmosphere."

Soils and vegetation are good examples of carbon storage sinks. Geologic sinks include oil and gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams, and deep saline aquifers. These structures have stored oil, natural gas, brine and CO2 over millions of years. Many power plants and other large sources of CO2 are located near potential geologic sinks. In many cases, injection of CO2 into a geologic formation can enhance the recovery of hydrocarbons such as natural gas, providing marketable byproducts to offset the additional costs of carbon sequestration.

Virginia Tech will pinpoint CO2 sources, geological and terrestrial sinks, and transport requirements in Virginia, and will create a geographical information system (GIS) database using this information. The university has received $447,700 in funding as its portion of the 18-month project, which ends in September 2005.

Michael Karmis, who is also the Stonie Barker Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, is project director and has been appointed the Governor of Virginia's alternate on the Southern States Energy Board.

In addition, Virginia Tech's team includes Steven Schafrik of Blacksburg, research associate at the VCCER, Nino Ripepi of Blacksburg, graduate research assistant at the VCCER, Carl Zipper of Blacksburg and John Galbraith of Blacksburg, faculty members in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Stephen Prisley of Blacksburg and Randolph Wynne of Blacksburg, associate professors in the Department of Forestry in the College of Natural Resources. Marshall Miller and Associates, a major geological/mining/environmental consulting company, headquartered in Bluefield, Va., is also a partner in this project.

"Industrial support has been outstanding," Karmis said, noting that there have been funding commitments from Natural Resource Partners, Piney Land Company, Berwind Land Company, Bright Enterprises, Pocahontas Land Company, Tampa Electric (TECO), Penn Virginia Resources, Arch Mineral, Peabody, AMVEST, Eagle Companies, First Energy and GenPower.

Virginia Tech is a member of the Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, which is led by the Southern States Energy Board, Norcross, GA, and is a joint effort of universities, private companies and state agencies, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mississippi State University, Winrock International, Electric Power Research Institute, Geologic Survey of Alabama, Advanced Resources International, Applied Geo Technologies, Augusta Systems Inc., RMS Research, Virginia Tech and Marshall Miller and Associates.

This southeastern partnership is part of a nationwide network of regional government-industry-academic partnerships focused on determining the most suitable technologies, regulations, and infrastructure needs for carbon capture, storage and sequestration in different areas of the country. These regional partnerships were created to help implement portions of Phase I of the U.S. Global Climate Change Initiative. The goal of Phase I is to develop an outreach plan to help identify and implement regional carbon sequestration measures. Recommendations made by the regional partnerships as part of Phase I will help to develop specific Phase II activities for each region and the United States as a whole.