UW Scientists Launch Major Carbon Storage Research Project

August 18, 2010
Professor and graduate student working in lab
Professor Mohammad Piri, left, and graduate student Amir Hossein Alizadeh, calibrate instruments in a University of Wyoming petroleum engineering laboratory. Piri leads a research project to determine how much carbon can be injected and stored in southwest Wyoming's Rock Springs Uplift. (UW Photo)

University of Wyoming researchers will develop technologies to safely and economically store carbon dioxide (CO2) with funding announced last week by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Supported by the $1.5 million DOE grant, UW researchers will study the storage of supercritical CO2 and other minor constituents such as nitrogen and sulphur oxides -- common products of combustion -- in southwest Wyoming's Rock Springs Uplift, geologic formations identified as among the most promising targets for storing CO2 in Wyoming. It is also the site of a planned stratigraphic test well to be drilled by a partnership led by UW that includes Baker Hughes and other companies, also supported by a major DOE grant.

UW was one of 15 research institutions receiving funding to continue DOE initiatives to help develop the technology and infrastructure to implement large-scale CO2 storage in different geologic formations across the nation. The projects will pave the way to help reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and make the United States a leader in mitigating climate change, according to the DOE.

Project leader Mohammad Piri, professor in the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, says a multidisciplinary research team will assess how much carbon can be injected into the formations and if it can be permanently trapped with negligible leakage. Experimental and modeling work will be conducted on reservoir rock samples that will be recovered from the stratigraphic test well.

When CO2 is stored deep in the earth, temperature and pressure conditions will hold it in a supercritical state -- a stable, relatively dense phase with physical properties that are different from those of either gas or liquid. This is a desirable state for storing carbon in geologic formations, Piri says.

The investigation will combine state-of-the-art experimental studies, numerical pore- and reservoir-scale modeling, and high-performance computing to investigate various large-scale storage processes to maximize the permanent trapping of supercritical CO2. Researchers will also investigate the effect that minor constituents have on the storage and permanent trapping in the receiving reservoirs.

Piri says the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center now being built near Cheyenne will enable advanced computational analysis and modeling of the experiments and the motion of the injected CO2 in the subsurface. Researchers also will use UW's EnCana Research Laboratory that focuses on multi-phase flow in porous media and computed tomography (x-ray imaging) research.

Recognizing the importance of carbon storage to ensure the future of Wyoming's fossil fuels industry, UW is contributing an additional $1.37 million to the project, funded by DOE for three years. Other UW scientists contributing to the project are Professors Felipe Pereira, Frederico Furtado and Victor Ginting from the Department of Mathematics, and Professors Lamia Goual and Shunde Yin from the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering.

This project is the first externally funded major research initiative developed in UW's School of Energy Resource's newly-established Center for Fundamentals of Subsurface Flow. Mark Northam, SER director, and Ron Surdam director of SER's Carbon Management Institute, have contributed to this effort.

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