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UW Selected to Study Turning CO2 Storage Water into Potable Water

September 18, 2015

The University of Wyoming is among five institutions across the nation selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to study the feasibility of using salty water from carbon dioxide storage sites to produce fresh water.

A team led by the Carbon Management Institute (CMI) in UW’s School of Energy Resources (SER) will use the $1.9 million in federal funding to explore the technological and economic aspects of converting the salty water, or brine, into potable water. That includes study of pressure management in saline geologic CO2 sequestration sites such as the Rock Springs Uplift in Sweetwater County.

The research could have significant implications for Wyoming’s economy, as utilities are seeking reductions in carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants in response to government regulation and market changes. Wyoming is the nation’s No. 1 coal producer.

“CMI is pleased to have the privilege of working with its distinguished team members on this important project to advance applied research on energy/water nexus issues,” says Kipp Coddington, director of CMI. “More broadly, the University of Wyoming is honored to be able to continue its work with the Department of Energy on critically needed carbon management technologies.”

The principal investigator for the UW research project is Zunsheng Jiao, a CMI senior research geologist. CMI teams with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Battelle Memorial Institute on the project.

UW researchers, in 2009, began a study of the Rock Springs Uplift, with funding from the Department of Energy and the state of Wyoming, to determine its potential for storing CO2. CMI, one of SER’s centers of excellence, led the effort, which included the drilling of a 14,000-foot test well. The project resulted in a thorough characterization of the Rock Springs Uplift as a potential commercial-level geological CO2 storage site, showing that its two deep saline aquifers could store 26 billion tons of CO2 over 50 years as part of a future carbon capture and storage operation.

The five new projects announced this week -- which will receive a total of more than $7 million in funding from the Department of Energy -- will develop and validate strategies to manage the pressure and the flow of CO2 in saline formations. By managing the pressure and the flow of CO2 -- also known as a plume steering -- brine can be extracted from the formation at specific points, where fresh water can be separated in a process known as enhanced water recovery. The remaining brine is injected at another point to help steer the plume.

The four other federal grants are going to the University of Illinois, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Dakota and the Electric Power Institute Inc.

“The projects announced will further advance enhanced water recovery technologies, which can provide a valuable water resource from carbon capture, utilization and storage operations, while also reducing harmful carbon emissions,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says.

Following the feasibility and design phase, one of the recipients will be selected next year for a pilot project to validate brine/water injection and treatment technology.

UW’s team members will develop and validate advanced technologies and engineering approaches for predicting, monitoring and managing pressure plumes and develop a test site for deploying treatment technologies for extracted brines. UW’s proposed field site is the Rock Springs Uplift.

The team also will develop and validate advanced subsurface fluid flow simulation technologies using various injection and storage scenarios to predict reservoir pressure responses and CO2/injected fluid plume migration pathways and distributions.

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