The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER) at Virginia Tech will direct the $2,399,736 Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB) Phase II Task 10 project to identify sites for a potential large-volume carbon dioxide (CO2) injection tests.

The tests are to validate the carbon sequestration and enhanced coalbed methane recovery potential in the Central Appalachian Coal Basin, which includes parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

SECARB is one of seven regional consortiums established by the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent by 2012. VCCER represents Virginia in SECARB and has been doing millions of dollars worth of research for the partnership since 2003. Center Director Michael Karmis, the Stonie Barker Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech, will direct the Task 10 project.

During Phase I, participating research groups 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.

In October 2005, Phase II began work to shift greenhouse gas storage technologies from the lab to the field. The Department of Energy, through the Southern States Energy Board (SSEB), awarded VCCER $5,552,801 over four years beginning to assess the sequestration potential of coalbed methane (CBM) reservoirs and verify the sequestration capacity and performance of mature CBM reservoirs in the Central Appalachian Basin and the Black Warrior Basin, which is in west-central Alabama, primarily in Jefferson and Tuscaloosa Counties.

Phase II includes sequestration testing using a horizontal CBM well within the Central Appalachian Basin and may develop breakthrough technologies.

Task 10 will do additional characterization of secondary storage reservoirs. "A large-volume test is necessary to create the high level of confidence in the technology that is necessary prior to planning for commercial deployment," said Karmis. "The proposed scope of the project relies heavily on the work under the phase I and II tasks, including a pilot injection test in Russell County, Va."

VCCER's research partners on the entire SECARB project are Marshall Miller and Associates, the Geological Survey of Alabama, University of Kentucky, Advanced Resources International, Eastern Coal Council, and the SSEB. Additional partners on task 10 Are West Virginia University and CONSOL Inc.

According to Karmis, "The work of the (SECARB) Central Appalachian Coal Seam Sequestration group on the characterization, modeling, assessment and testing of unminable coal seams in central Appalachia that can serve as carbon dioxide sinks, while also stimulating enhanced coalbed methane recovery, is a major technological breakthrough. Even assuming great developments on energy efficiency, conservation, and the use of renewables, carbon capture and storage is an essential solution for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions."

The project is interdisciplinary and multi-institutional, involving universities, state agencies, consulting companies, technology providers, and members of the coal and energy sector. "This cooperation not only has expanded tremendously the capabilities of the VCCER researchers, but has also provided a basis to solicit private contributions that can help meet the required matching funds mandated by [the Department of Energy]," Karmis said.

VCCER is the second largest University Center at Virginia Tech, according to Roderick Hall, associate vice president for research. "Environment and safety research are clearly a national priority. The center's expenditures have grown by an average of 75 percent annually over the last five years – from $72,000 in 2003 to more than $1 million in 2008."

Other active VCCER projects are

  • Virtual environment applications to improve mining health and safety training -- $631,920 awarded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in September 2005 over three years. The project investigated technologies and intervention strategies for reducing injuries and fatalities from powered-haulage equipment in the mining industry through improved worker training using virtual environment. VCCER partners on the project are the Virginia Tech Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering and Department of Building Construction, and the Center for Human Computer Interaction.
  • Underground wireless mesh communications system -- $120,000 awarded by NIOSH in May 2007, to be completed in January 2009, to design and develop a wireless communications network that provides for safe, efficient, and cost effective communications during normal and emergency coal mine operations, and provides 100 percent voice/data communications and tracking coverage. The initial prototype of the system installation in March 2008 in International Coal Group’s Sentinel Mine in West Virginia and was successful, demonstrating the viability of the system in the underground environment. The research partner is Marshall Miller and Associates.
  • Enhancing mine subsidence prediction and control methodologies for long-term landscape stability -- $133,366 awarded by the Office of Surface Mining on Sept. 24, 2007, to be completed by the end of 2008. The job is to improve the Surface Deformation Prediction System (SDPS) software package, a tool for predicting ground movements above mined areas, which will include developing and improving subsidence engineering parameters, improving prediction methodologies, developing applications for landscape stability and control (to protect surface structures), and develop a comprehensive users' guide.
  • Development of Guidelines and Evaluation of Techniques for Degassing Coal Mine Methane in Advance of Mining to Reduce Methane Emissions in the Southern Shanxi Province of China -- $550,000 awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2008, to be completed in August 2010. Goals are to protect workers, reduce the ventilation required, and generate abundant, high-quality natural gas. VCCER's research partner is Marshall Miller and Associates.

The center recently completed the "Virginia energy patterns and trends for fiscal year 2008" report for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy ($178,999) and a scoping study on "Meeting Projected Coal Production Demands in the [United States]," to identify the critical areas needing investigation and to collect sufficient data to demonstrate the options and feasibility of strategies, for the National Commission on Energy Policy ($156,000).

VCCER posts carbon sequestration materials at its web site, maintains a Virginia Energy Patterns and Trends web site, hosts the Virginia Coal Reserves website, and develops data for the National Carbon Sequestration database. Visit the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research online for more information.