Like any good housekeeper, sweeping up the dirt and sending it to a landfill keeps the house tidy and clean. Researchers interested in tidying up the earth's atmosphere are devising ways to sweep up excess carbon dioxide -- a potentially problematic greenhouse gas -- and store it out of harm's way.
Through the Fossils Energy Program, the Department of Energy is funding research projects that explore unique, cost-effective ways to sequester newly produced carbon dioxide before it hits the atmosphere. Ultimately, the DOE wants to develop methods that cost only $10 per ton of carbon, equivalent to adding a fraction of a cent per kilowatt-hour to the cost of electricity.
Researchers at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, in collaboration with universities and other national laboratories, have been awarded almost $1.4 million to pursue three projects that pull carbon dioxide out of various gaseous streams such as smokestack exhaust or natural gas production lines, before the greenhouse gas has a chance to mix in with the air.
Sequestering greenhouse gases might reduce their impact on global warming. "If fossil energy is beginning to turn the climate in a different direction," says INEEL's Dick Rice, manager of this lab's fossil energy technologies department, "than we need to start looking at carbon dioxide management."
One way to manage that carbon dioxide is to remove it from sources before it hits the air. "If you can get carbon dioxide out of an exhaust stack," Rice says, "that might be a way to mitigate its effect on the environment. The earth can heal itself -- we're just giving it too much to handle."
While these grants are examining ways to remove the carbon dioxide from sources, other research is examining ways to store the gas after its collection -- such as by injecting it into old mines or into briny aquifers, or by replacing drilled oil with the gas.