A major carbon dioxide sequestration project is being conducted near Decatur, Illinois. Begun in November 2011, it has so far injected over 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide into a sandstone reservoir 1.3 miles underground. Plans are to eventually store 10 times that amount in the same location. The undertaking, known as the Illinois Basin – Decatur Project (BDP), is being led by the University of Illinois.
Carbon dioxide sequestration, also known simply as carbon sequestration, is a simple concept. Take the greenhouse gases created by industrial activities and store them somewhere out of the way. This will in turn reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere and help to slow global warming.
The Decatur, Illinois area is ideal for this initiative, since the state has access to the Illinois Basin, which is an 80,000 square mile underground area of sandstone left over from the Paleozoic era. Several layers of shale sit on top of it, which serve as a cap to keep the carbon in place, preventing it from leeching back into the atmosphere.
The process is being monitored using geophysical surveying tools, such as sending energy pulses into the earth and recording their reflections. “It’s essentially like taking a sonogram of the earth,” said Sallie Greenberg, an Illinois State Geological Survey representative. “Using geophysical technology allows us to create a time-lapse view of how the carbon dioxide is distributed in the sandstone reservoir.”
“If you’re going to achieve some of the reductions in emissions by 2050 that have been set forth by international agencies, you can’t come close to those targets without carbon capture and storage being a part of the process,” said project director Robert Finley. “For us to perfect this in a site that we believe to be safe and effective is very important. We can create a test case that demonstrates the best practices.”
The presence of layers of shale over the sandstone was an important factor in deciding to go ahead with the project. Without such a covering, the carbon could eventually leech up through the earth, causing water contamination. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology modeled the effects of CO2 release underground. It led to contamination of aquifers by poisonous elements, creating levels exceeding the maximum amounts set by the EPA.
Such potential hazards are of utmost concern to the researchers. Illinois is home to the Mahomet Aquifer, a massive underground reservoir that supplies 100,000,000 gallons of water a day to 15 counties, for use in agricultural, industrial, and residential areas. To minimize the risks, officials are closely monitoring every stage of the project.
“The research we’re doing is very much on the subsurface geologic environment, to make sure that we can do this safely and effectively, and that we can monitor the CO2,” said Finley. “So we’re using our research dollars to answer these questions about safety and effectiveness, and we don’t have to use our Department of Energy funds to just try to get our flow of CO2.”
Using sandstone for carbon dioxide sequestration is a fairly new development. The method being used by the University of Illinois researchers will capture an average of 1000 tons of CO2 per day from the Archer Daniels Midland ethanol fermentation plant in Decatur over the next three years. It will supplement efforts by the oil industry, which traps 30 to 50 million tons of carbon dioxide annually in wells.
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