Capturing CO2 to Produce Clean Energy

Diagram of the CPG technology shows fresh and recycled CO2 being injected underground (right) and hot, high-pressure CO2 rising through a production well (left).

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of basic science. Exploring the way the world works just to understand it better is a noble pursuit. However, all too often research won’t get funded unless the principle investigator can show evidence of how the project could directly benefit society.

Or a company’s bottom line.

The truth is, basic research is almost always valuable down the road, but how it will be valuable is almost never immediately obvious. For example, when theorists first started coming up with quantum theory more than half a century ago, they never dreamed that it would revolutionize the world through its use in modern computers. They just wanted to understand how nature worked at a fundamental level better.

That being said, it is pretty cool when a story comes out about a project that truly could revolutionize the world in the near future with benefits that are immediately identifiable.

This is one of those projects.

Matin Saar, an associate professor earth sciences at the University of Minnesota, has applied for a patent along with postdoc Jimmy Randolph and mechanical engineering professor Thomas Kuehn. Their invention? A way to use carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to produce even more power while simultaneously stopping it from entering the atmosphere.

The gist of the idea is to trap the carbon dioxide emissions from a traditional fossil fuel power plant and inject it deep under the ground. For it to work, a caprock with low permeability would have to be present above a large saline aquifer. Pumping the gas into the aquifer below the rock would push the water out of the way, trapping the gas between the rock and aquifer.

Now, assuming they’ve located a good spot for geothermal energy and have dug deep enough, which of course they have since there is money involved, the heat from the Earth will warm the carbon dioxide. As that happens, the gas expands and rises through a second pipe that has been installed to return it to the surface. Once there, the heated gas turns turbines to generate electricity, just like most other modern power plants.

This combination of natural features isn’t uncommon, either. There are plenty of places in the United States and around the world that could potentially make use of this idea. Here’s to hoping that the startup company, Heat Mining Company LLC, conducts a successful field test that gives proof of concept.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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