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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2005 / 06 

Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research leads team in $14.3 million climate-change project

June 28, 2005

Power plants that use coal and oil produce energy and various byproducts – among them the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech is leading a team that is developing and testing technology to send carbon dioxide back to its roots – into coal beds.

The center represents Virginia in the multi-state Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB), one of seven regional consortiums established by the Department of Energy (DOE) as part of President George Bush's Global Climate Change Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas by 18 percent by 2012. Since 2003, the various research groups have identified carbon sequestration opportunities – ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere or prevent it from reaching the atmosphere – and characterized carbon sink sites to identify those with the best potential for storing carbon.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced Phase II to move the work from the lab to the field. SECARB will receive $14.3 million from DOE plus funds and cost sharing from industry partners to advance technologies to store greenhouse gases.

The Southern States Energy Board will lead the SECARB Partnership in defining the potential for storing carbon dioxide (CO2) in field tests in three target geologic formations within the southeast region: enhanced oil recovery stacked reservoirs, coal seams, and saline reservoirs.

The SECARB partnership includes states agencies, utilities, industry associations, and universities in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, southeast Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER) leads one of three field test teams investigating CO2 sequestration potential in unmineable coal beds (coal seams that cannot be economically mined) so that it will stay there for thousands of years. At some sites, CO2 would be stored where methane has been removed and could even enhance the recovery of methane. Appalachian coalbed methane (CBM) reservoirs in Virginia and Alabama have produced enormous quantities of natural gas and are now approaching maturity, said VCCER director Michael Karmis.

The majority of methane in coal seams is loosely bonded to the coal, rather than being a compressed gas, said Karmis. "The natural affinity of CO2 to absorb onto the coal/carbon structure is two times greater than that of methane, when comparing pure gases at the same temperature and pressure. Injecting CO2 under controlled conditions could displace the methane while sequestering the CO2 without causing 'flow through' of carbon dioxide."

"Sequestration of CO2 in these basins can significantly reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, and, at the same time, the CO2-enhanced gas recovery promises to prolong the life of these reservoirs and expand the gas reserves. We will demonstrate the use of such geological sinks to store collected CO2," said Karmis, who is the Stonie Barker Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech.

While focusing on field validation at regional locations with the greatest promise of storing large quantities of CO2, the teams also will prove the environmental efficacy of sequestration, verify regional CO2 sequestration capacities, satisfy project permitting requirements, and conduct public outreach and education activities.

The Geological Survey of Alabama, Marshall Miller and Associates Inc., Advanced Resources International, the Kentucky Geological Survey, and the Eastern Coal Council will participate in the coal seams investigation conducted by the VCCER. The researchers will verify the sequestration capacity and performance of mature CBM reservoirs in the Black Warrior and Central Appalachian Basins through parallel field tests run in both basins. Fieldwork will include sequestration testing using a horizontal CBM well within the Central Appalachian Basin, which may develop breakthrough technologies in carbon sequestration.

Funding for the coal seams portion of the carbon sequestration project includes $3.4 million from DOE and an additional $850,000 committed by the participants for a total of $4.25 million. The total value of the SECARB Partnership is $19.975 million, including a 28 percent cost share from the project partners.

The DOE will provide $100 million over four years to further develop technologies for two carbon sequestration initiatives -- to capture greenhouse gases and to store such gases. To learn more about the project click here.