Sequestering CO2 may help global warming

PALO ALTO, CA

Oil refineries and some power plants come with a big problem. They produce thousands of tons of carbon dioxide every day and that's contributing to rising temperatures in the ocean. Some scientists think the solution might just be below our feet.

"In our lab, we study how we might store high-pressure CO2 deep in the rocks of the Earth's crust," says Professor Lynn Orr, from Stanford's Global Climate & Energy Project.

Orr says much of the carbon dioxide that is blown into our environment can be pumped harmlessly into the ground.

"Some of the carbon that we are burning came from the ground anyway in the form of oil and gas so we can put the CO2 back in the rocks where the carbon came from in the first place," says Orr.

Think a this rock as a really dense filter or sponge. The microscopic pores provide hiding places for carbon dioxide gas.

In the Stanford lab they are measuring how much CO2 the rock can store by forcing air though it.

The process is called carbon sequestration, literally storing CO2 underground.

Here's how it could work. An oil producer first captures that CO2, they then turn it around, and force into the cavity where they pumping the oil from.

In the case of a power plant or refinery, they capture CO2 emissions then drill pipes deep into the ground into porous sedimentary rock, or salty groundwater. The captured CO2 is then pumped underground where it stays trapped.

"There the CO2 would dissolve in the water and once it's dissolved, the water with CO2 dissolved in it, is actually slightly more dense then water without, so it actually doesn't try to get to the surface anymore," says Orr.

Professor Orr says there are many spots in the U.S. that are prime locations for carbon sequestering, including much of California's Central Valley.

"It's a way to store CO2 deep underground in a way that could be contained for a very long time, as long as we choose the well the sites and operate well the projects," says Orr.

Carbon sequestering is possible, and is even being tested in the Southwest, but its cost is keeping it from becoming reality. Power plants that aren't near potential storage sites may have to pipe carbon to distant locations.

Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP): http://gcep.stanford.edu/

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This report was written and produced by Ken Miguel.

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