March 15, 2010
Storing greenhouse gasesIt is technologically feasible to store a huge amount of the global warming gas carbon dioxide deep underground in central Alberta, says a University of Calgary-led study coordinated by the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE).
The government- and industry-funded study, called the Wabamun Area CO2 Sequestration Project (WASP), is the most comprehensive study of large-scale carbon dioxide (CO2) storage to have all of its findings made fully available to the public.
"It's important that studies of geologic storage be publicly available so that people can make independent judgments of the potential long-term risks of this technology," says study leader David Keith, director of ISEEE's Energy and Environmental Systems Group and a professor in the Schulich School of Engineering.
The WASP team found that more geological and engineering studies—including drilling test wells onsite—is required before starting a commercial-scale operation to store CO2 in rock formations deep beneath the Wabamun area where most of Alberta's coal-fired power plants are located.
The Alberta government has committed $2 billion to help kick start four commercial-scale CCS projects as a key way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially from coal-fired power plants.
Sixteen U of C researchers and industry consultants conducted the WASP study over 16 months. They found that a minimum of 500 million tonnes of CO2 could be stored over 50 years in a 5,000 square-kilometre area. This is a gigantic volume of storage, roughly equivalent to half the emissions for 30 years from all of Alberta’s centrally located coal-fired power plants.
"This result shows that storage capacity is not likely to be an important constraint on implementing carbon capture and storage technology," Keith says.
Results from WASP will be used by TransAlta Corporation – one of WASP's several industry sponsors – in implementing the company’s Project Pioneer, which will receive $770 million in provincial and federal funding. TransAlta plans to capture one million tonnes of CO2 at its Keephills 3 coal-fired power plant in the Wabamun area—beginning in 2015.
WASP was funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council and the Alberta Energy Research Institute, with additional funding and support from a dozen industry partners.
The full study results are available at: www.ucalgary.ca/wasp