Capturing the carbon dioxide emitted from power plants and factories and safely storing it so it can’t enter the atmosphere has long been an attractive and desirable goal. Even though the use of renewable energy sources has been expanding rapidly, it will still be a long time before fossil fuel plants go away entirely.
The most widely considered method of carbon capture and storage is underground storage. The idea is to send the carbon dioxide through a pipeline to a place where underground rock formations can store it safely and permanently. Typically, it would be pumped deep underground – often more than half a mile down – and the site would be monitored to make sure the CO2 doesn’t leak back up to the atmosphere or into the water table.
A new study looked at how much carbon dioxide the suitable geological formations on Earth can store. The conclusion of the study is that drilling about 12,000 carbon storage wells globally could provide enough capacity to store 6 to 7 billion tons of CO2 a year by 2050. That is about 13% of global emissions.
Drilling 12,000 wells is equivalent to the amount of oil and gas drilling that has taken place just in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 70 years. The study identified locations worldwide that could handle the pressures associated with storing injected carbon dioxide.
So far, less than two dozen projects exist that capture and store carbon dioxide from fossil fuel plants. In total, these plants can capture about 36 million tons a year, which is far less than what is needed. But the new study at least shows that finding places to put captured carbon is not a problem.
Photo courtesy of Equinor.