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Updated 1 December, 2003

Research and Current Activities
Capturing and Sequestering Carbon Dioxide


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November 2003

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Farms and Contour Strip Farming, (c)Royalty-Free/CORBIS

CO2 uptake can be increased in natural ecosystems. USDA estimates that an additional 12 million tons of carbon equivalent emissions can be reduced by 2012 by targeting GHG emissions reductions and carbon sequestration under its conservation program. CO2 emissions can also be captured from fossil fuel power plants and transported for storage in geologic formations such as saline reservoirs or abandoned oil reservoirs.

Powerplant Smoke Stacks, (c)Royalty-Free/CORBIS

Fossil fuels will likely remain the mainstay of global energy production well into the 21st century. "Carbon sequestration" is the term given to a suite of technologies that can remove CO2 from large point sources, such as power plants, oil refineries and industrial processes, or from the air itself. The CO2 can then be stored in geologic formations such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs, deep coal seams or saline reservoirs. It can also be stored in plants, trees and soils by increasing their natural CO2 uptake.

Because carbon sequestration holds the potential both to reduce emissions of CO2 from point sources and to remove CO2 from the air, sequestration research has grown over the last five years from small-scale, largely conceptual studies, to one of the highest single technology priorities. Federal agencies are exploring innovative or breakthrough concepts on carbon capture and various modes of sequestration, including terrestrial, geologic, and oceanic. Additionally, through the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, the United States is collaborating with more than a dozen other countries on carbon capture and storage technologies.

The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum

Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum Partners
European Commission
Russian Federation
South Africa
United Kingdom
United States

"The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum will help unite interested governments and focus attention on the development of carbon sequestration technologies."

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham February 27, 2003

Established by the U.S. State Department and DOE in February 2003, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) coodinates data gathering, R&D and joint projects to advance the development and deployment of carbon sequestration technologies worldwide. CSLF held its first ministerial-level meeting on carbon sequestration in June 2003. High-level representatives from 14 countries, the European Commission, and over 400 members of the international energy, business and government communities participated and signed CSLF charter.

Multi-Agency Carbon Sequestration Research

DOE carbon sequestration research activities encompass all aspects of carbon sequestration and is composed of three elements: a core R&D program, FutureGen, and the Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships. Core R&D efforts are aimed at developing a portfolio of technologies to cost-efficiently capture and permanently store CO2. These technologies will provide the technical base for the program's two initiatives.

Oil Refinery Lit Up at Night, (c)Royalty-Free/CORBIS
Carbon capture technologies are being developed under DOE's Carbon Sequestration Program to capture CO2 emissions from large point sources such as the oil refinery pictured above.

Core R&D emphasizes technologies that directly capture CO2 from large point sources and store the emissions in geologic formations. Reducing net CO2 emissions from these facilities with CO2 capture technology represents an opportunity to achieve substantial emissions reductions. Storing CO2 in geologic formations is considered an attractive option for a number of reasons. In the case of depleted oil reservoirs or deep coal seams, CO2 can be used to enhance oil recovery or produce methane thus providing economic incentive to store carbon. Furthermore, saline reservoirs are geographically located througout the world and have the capacity to store vast amounts of CO2.

Both the ocean and many terrestrial ecosystems are sinks of atmospheric CO2 that could potentially be enhanced. The DOE R&D program on carbon sequestration includes research to provide a scientific underpinning needed to develop and understand the potential effectiveness of strategies for enhancing carbon sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems and the ocean, including study of possible unintended consequences of that sequestration.

DOE also supports a multi-laboratory consortium for Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems (CSiTE) to perform fundamental research on mechanisms that can enhance terrestrial carbon sequestration as one component of a more comprehensive carbon management strategy. CSiTE is investigating mechanisms and critical pathways for creating larger and longer-lasting terrestrial carbon pools and seeking to understand, quantify, and enhance natural mechanisms where substantial amounts of carbon are assimilated and sequestered by terrestrial ecosystems.

CSiTE's fundamental and basic research focuses on (i) developing scientific understanding of carbon capture and sequestration mechanisms across multiple scales from the molecular to the landscape; (ii) developing conceptual and simulation models for extrapolation of sequestration information across scales of time and space; and (iii) estimating a National carbon sequestration potential that includes analysis of the potential environmental consequences and economic implications. The CSiTE consortium maintains cooperative research agreements with other Federal agencies, universities and with environmental institutions.

DOE also supports research on two potential methods of enhancing ocean sequestration. One is direct injection of a relatively pure CO2 stream that has been generated at a power plant or industrial source, and the other enhances net oceanic uptake from the atmosphere through iron or other types of nutrient fertilization. DOE's R&D focuses on the long-term effectiveness and potential environmental consequences of this carbon sequestration strategy.

The core DOE Carbon Sequestration Program also includes research to accelerate understanding of the functional genomics of plant species (e.g., poplar trees) that might be used to modify plant genetics and/or management of plants and ecosystems to both take up more CO2 from the atmosphere and to store it in long-lived pools such as recalcitrant soil organic matter. This work is carried out at the National Laboratories, universities, and private research organizations.

USDA's global change research program, conducted under the CCSP, is strengthening efforts to determine the significance of terrestrial systems in the global carbon cycle and to identify agricultural and forestry activities that can contribute to GHG reductions in the atmosphere. USDA research agencies are supporting the President's directive to develop accounting rules and guidelines for carbon sequestration projects. Contributions include the development of improved emission and sequestration coefficients, new tools for accurately measuring carbon and other greenhouse gases, and the development of improved methodologies.

Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships

"These partnerships...will become the centerpiece of our sequestration program."

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham November 21, 2002

DOE's 7 regional carbon sequestration partnerships
DOE's seven regional carbon sequestration partnerships, announced in August 2003, will investigate the potential for carbon sequestration in their region. They will also identify any infrastructure, safety and envionmental issues that must be addressed in order to ensure that CO2 can be safely and permanently stored.

On August 16, 2003, DOE named seven regional partnerships of state agencies, universities, and private companies to form the core of a nationwide network designed to determine the best approaches for capturing and permanently storing GHGs. Collectively, the partnerships include more than 140 organizations spanning 33 states, three Indian nations, and two Canadian provinces.

The Partnerships will develop a framework to validate and potentially deploy carbon sequestration technologies with a focus on determining which sequestration approaches are best suited for each geographic region. They will also study regional regulations, safety and environmental concerns, and the infrastructure that would be required if sequestration technologies were to be deployed. At the end of the first, two-year phase, the partnerships will recommend technologies for small-scale validation testing in a Phase II competition expected to begin in 2005.



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