Feds devote big bucks to carbon capture R&D

Nearly $1B in funding for tech to capture 6.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Last week, I had dinner with a number of gals from my a cappella chorus. At some point, the conversation turned to the Gulf oil spill. Even though the political discussions in this particular group typically don't mesh, we were unanimous in our bafflement over why so little is known about how to clean up messes like this. Quickly.

So, it was with great interest that I read about the big bucks that the federal government -- along with some private sector investors -- are pouring into three different projects focused on industrial carbon capture and storage. This sort of cleantech is focused on making the dirty sorts of industrial processes that are used all over the country a bit more palatable because they offer a way to clean things up. It is controversial because it doesn't reduce our dependence on oil, although it does reduce our dependence on IMPORTED oil.

The federal government, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is putting $612 million into three projects located in Illinois, Lousiana and Texas. The sites actually have been through a first phase of research and development and were selected from the group as the "most promising carbon capture and storage projects." Another $368 million in private funding is being put towards these projects, as well, bringing the total investment to almost $1 billion.

According to the Department of Energy, the three projects will collectively (in theory) take 6.5 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year, storing the emissions underground. That's the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road. The projects also promise progress in the area of oil recovery, which could help improve domestic production of oil by up to 10 million barrels annually, according to the DOE.

The three projects chosen are:

  • A plan by Leucadia Energy and Denbury Onshore to sequester 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions at a new methanol plant in Lake Charles, La. The emissions will be sent to an existing enhanced oil recovery site in the West Hastings oilfield via an existing 12-mile pipeline. The project is supposed to come online in April 2014. Aside from Leucadia and Denbury, this plan involves General Electric, Haldor Topsoe, Black & Veatch, Turner Industries, and the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology.
  • A project by Air Products and Denbury (them again!) to capture and sequester 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from steam-methane reformers in Port Arthur, Texas. The emissions will be sent to the same facility as the Leucadia project and will be used for enhanced oil recovery. Other project participants are the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology and Valero Energy.
  • A project by Archer Daniels Midland that is designed to capture and sequester 1 million tons of carbon dioxide annually from an ethanol plant in Illinois. The emissions will be sequestered in a sale reservoir that is about 1 mile away from the plant; the project is supposed to come online in August 2012. Other members of the project team are Schlumberger Carbon Services and the Illinois State Geological Survey.