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CCS technology targets zero carbon emissions planet

29 August, 2011

A Curtin University postdoctoral fellow has won an international prize for his research into CO2 geo-sequestration, a process involving injecting carbon dioxide underground, which could ultimately lead to a carbon emission-free world.

Dr Ali Saeedi of Curtin’s Department of Petroleum Engineering said his research took a closer look at the emerging field of carbon capture and storage.

"CO2 geo-sequestration is a relatively new topic among the technical community and despite its potential significance for reducing the extent of carbon dioxide emissions being released into the atmosphere, many members of the public still have not been well introduced to the topic," Dr Saeedi said.

"During the past decade or so, carbon capture storage (CCS) has emerged as a promising technique which could help humans to continue burning fossil fuel as their main source of energy with minimal carbon dioxide emissions being released to earth’s atmosphere."

Dr Saeedi said because CCS was still in its infancy, not much experimental research had been done to shed light on some of the "darker corners" of the process.

"Broadly speaking CCS can be divided into two parts; the capture side and the storage side. Capture deals with the ways carbon dioxide can be captured and turned into compressed fluid which can be transported to the injection sites," he said.

"Storage mainly deals with the injection of carbon dioxide to an underground structure and monitoring the whole process, which of course requires a thorough investigation beforehand to have a clear picture of the process before commencing the carbon dioxide injection operation.

"The research conducted here at Curtin’s Department of Petroleum Engineering, using sandstone rock as a medium, could potentially help us to better understand the way carbon dioxide and the underground medium of saline water interact with each other as well as the deep host rocks, which will influence how these fluids flow inside the target area."

Dr Saeedi said his research would help to reveal answers to questions regarding how to inject carbon dioxide underground in an environmentally friendly, safe and efficient manner.

"The significance of the knowledge generated as part of this research becomes more apparent when knowing that without such knowledge we cannot accurately evaluate and predict what happens to the injected carbon dioxide after it is injected into the geological structures," he said.

"The results of this research will help us answer whether the injected carbon dioxide will remain trapped, how much CO2 a geological structure can handle and what changes we should expect to occur to the underground rock-fluid system during the whole process, which in turn could have either a positive or negative influence on the process of geo-sequestration."

Dr Saeedi said the research was timely given growing public awareness of global warming and the recent introduction of the carbon tax.

"Nowadays, at least, the media coverage surrounding the introduction of our own carbon tax has helped to bring to everyone’s attention to the global warming phenomenon and, in particular, the extent of the CO2 emissions produced by various sectors in the industry," he said.

"CCS is a technique which could potentially lead us towards a zero carbon emissions planet. It could also help the carbon dioxide producing companies to save money.

"In Norway, since the early 90s, the state oil company Statoil has saved huge sums of money by injecting the carbon dioxide which it has been separating from its gas processing plants into an underground reservoir rather than releasing it into the atmosphere and paying carbon tax to the government.

"By doing so it has not only helped the company financially but also has saved the environment from excessive carbon dioxide emissions."

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