Features - January 2016

The Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships: Collaboration and Carbon Storage

Much of the power generation in the United States produces CO2, a greenhouse gas.

Anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are widely accepted to be one of the leading causes of climate change, but there are no simple solutions to the challenges we face in addressing this issue. America’s power infrastructure is complex, and the strategies that our nation must employ to address 21st century energy challenges must be equally intricate. But the most essential element required to tease out answers to these thorny puzzles is collaboration.

The seven partnerships stretch out over the continental United States and part of Canada.

Collaboration—among government, academia, and industry—is the foundation on which rapid progress may be made. The sharing of ideas, data, scientists, and facilities helps lower the associated costs of research and propels novel concepts and innovative solutions into commercial applications far faster than operating in isolation. Such collaboration is the foundation of the NETL-managed Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships (RCSPs). Formed in 2003 through a series of cooperative agreements awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the seven RCSPs stretch out across North America, covering over 43 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces.

Focused on CO2 mitigation, these partnerships team together government, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations to determine the best approaches for permanently storing CO2 in geologic formations.

This diagram depicts two examples of how CO2 can be trapped in the subsurface. The top image shows the CO2 being trapped beneath a dome. The bottom image shows that CO2 is prevented from migrating vertically by the overlying seal rock and a fault to the right of the CO2.

Carbon storage is a critical component of any comprehensive response to climate change. Stationary CO2 sources—such as power plants, natural gas processing plants, or other industrial sites— can employ capture technologies to prevent CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. Once captured, the carbon must be dealt with safely and efficiently. In carbon storage, the gas is compressed into a dense fluid, transported to a permanent storage site, and injected deep into underground porous and permeable rock formations, far below any usable groundwater sources. The storage formations are capped by impermeable rock to keep the CO2 from escaping back to the surface. Monitoring wells are set up to track the migration of the CO2 within the storage formations, helping ensure that the project remains environmentally benign.

The process is complex; it requires the cooperation of multiple governmental agencies and the technical expertise of a variety of industrial partners. Differences in geography, topography, and emission sources necessitate the creation of specialized solutions for different regions. Each of the seven RCSPs is focused on tailoring carbon storage solutions to address the specific characteristics of the region it encompasses while still cooperatively working towards the goals of this comprehensive nationwide initiative.

Every RCSP includes representatives from state and local agencies, regional universities, national laboratories, non-government organizations, engineering and research firms, electric utilities, oil and gas companies, and other industrial partners. Founded on the premise that that local citizens, institutions, and organizations contribute valuable experience, expertise, and perspectives that represent the concerns and desires of a given region, the RCSPs clearly demonstrate the advantages of a collaborative effort.

The work of each RCSP has been implemented in three phases: characterization, validation, and development. The characterization phase, conducted between 2003 and 2005, allowed each partnership to quantify the potential of their region to store CO2 in geologic formations by identifying possible storage sites. Between 2005 and 2013, the partnerships entered the validation phase, where the most promising storage opportunities in each region were explored through a series of small-scale field projects. Finally, the development phase, which overlapped the validation phase since 2008 (and is expected to continue for several more years), has been marked by the implementation of large-scale experimental injection of CO2 accompanied by extensive monitoring to ensure that storage can be executed in a manner that is safe, permanent, and economically feasible.

The results of the development phase are extremely encouraging. As of December 2015, over 9.2 million metric tons of CO2 have been stored in various geologic formations via the large-scale field projects being developed by the RCSPs.

The success of the RCSPs is not just a testament to the commitment, creativity, and ingenuity of the individual members of the partnerships, but also to the power of collaboration. The scope of the RCSPs is comprehensive on both a geographic and human scale, encompassing wide swaths of North America and thousands of dedicated people—from scientists and lawmakers to academics and citizens. And collaboration is the linchpin that has coalesced these widespread efforts into a single, successful endeavor.

Follow these links to read more about the national RCSP initiative and the seven regional partnerships:

Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership – Kevin Dome Project

Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium – Illinois Basin Decatur Project

Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership – Michigan Basin Project

Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership – Bell Creek Field Project

Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership – Ft. Nelson Field Project

Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership – Citronelle Project

Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership – Cranfield Project

Southwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership – Farnsworth Unit – Ochiltree Project