DOE Demonstrates Ability to Track Sequestered CO2

Amidst continued objections to coal, government pushing ahead on CCS technology.

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DOE Demonstrates Ability to Track Sequestered CO2

Among the many obstacles to commercial-scale deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technology is the need to be able to keep track of all that CO2 that we want to pump underground. Now, the Department of Energy reports that a test project has demonstrated the feasibility of using perfluorocarbon tracers to track the movement of the gases in underground reservoirs.

The test, conducted in the San Juan Basin area in New Mexico, involved a site where about 35,000 tons of CO2 have been injected both to sequester it and to displace the methane locked underground, making it easier to collect. According to the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, "The technology can measure concentrations as small as parts-per-quadrillion and differentiate injected CO2 from natural CO2."

The Obama administration has not wavered from its insistence on pursuing so-called "clean coal" technology, in spite of some of the government's own scientists' insistence that continuing to burn coal is the surest way toward the worst of climate change-related catastrophes around the world. (For an example, read NASA's Dr. James Hansen on mountaintop removal mining and coal in general.) The 2009 stimulus package included $3.4 billion aimed at CCS technology, and the NETL's press release list reads like a coal research funding program and little else. And there is little debate that the highly touted FutureGen coal project (artist's reflecting pool-pristine rendering above) has already proven to be more trouble than its multi-billion dollar price tag is worth.

The glaring problem with CCS is timing. Virtually all of those DOE projects have "demonstration" or "test" in front of the name, and no amount of money could bring CCS to the point where a meaningful amount of carbon dioxide is captured from coal plants on a time scale that meshes with what climate science calls for. As fights continue over climate and energy legislation and the billions of dollars in fossil fuel incentives and subsidies Congress provides, the question of whether CCS research is just another on that list is hard to avoid. The incremental progress like that seen in the perfluorocarbon tracer technology is promising, but only if there really is no desire to move away from coal completely.

Image via DOE

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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