Underground CO2 Storage is Focus of New Center


CEE professor to help research center determine flow of CO2 underground.

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Yeh Center
Yeh Center
injection well site in Decatur, Illinois
injection well site in Decatur, Illinois

An injection well at Illinois Basin - Decatur Project. Photo: Daniel Byers

A new research center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has taken on the challenges of underground sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2), funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.  The Center for Geologic Storage of CO2 will be led by Robert J. Finley at the U of I’s Prairie Research Institute and will involve CEE Professor Al Valocchi, an expert in the mathematical modeling of pollutant fate and transport in porous media.

Carbon dioxide gas is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. In order to keep it out of the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming, it is compressed into its liquid form and injected deep underground, usually into a permeable reservoir containing highly saline groundwater.  Although society is moving toward renewable energy sources, “it is generally agreed that coal-fired power plants will remain in use for some years during the transition to these new technologies,” Valocchi said. The goal of the new center will be to reduce uncertainties surrounding carbon dioxide storage.

Valocchi will be part of the Multiphysics Flow & Transport Focus Area, directing work that will use computer modeling to study how the injected CO2 flows through pore spaces and displaces native saline groundwater. The simulation models they will use require high-performance computing capabilities, such as those available on campus with the new Blue Waters supercomputer.

 “Our objective is to advance understanding of the basic science that will improve the safety and effectiveness of subsurface carbon storage,” Finley said.

The U of I is a national leader in energy research, a vital area as the world’s population grows and economies become more industrialized, said Evan DeLucia, Director of the University’s new Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE). 

“Managing human-caused climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, and weaning society from its dependence on fossil fuel for energy is critical step in meeting this challenge,” DeLucia said. “Taking active measures to prevent carbon dioxide from accumulating in the atmosphere by storing it below ground will buy us time as we ramp up the use of renewable energy.

“Finley’s team is the preeminent group globally exploring the potential for sequestering carbon dioxide deep below the earth's surface. With new support from the Department of Energy, this group will provide us with much-needed answers to the question of how to slow the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

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This story was published September 19, 2014.