Capturing and storing carbon dioxide

Oil companies and researchers are conducting major tests dealing with the capture and underground storage of greenhouse gases. Storing the carbon works differently in different places. Two ways of capturing and storing carbon are currently being used:

I During oil production: Oil-product producers pump the carbon dioxide into the ground at the same time that they pump the oil out of the ground. The pressure from the gas being pumped in actually helps to get the oil out more efficiently — creating a controversy over whether this use of the technology actually benefits the climate. (See the sidebar "Carbon capture controversy," in this chapter, for more information.)

I Dealing with industrial emissions: Major carbon dioxide emitters, such as coal power plants, capture the gas by containing the source of the emissions and directing the gas underground. This process stores the carbon dioxide in places from which people once extracted oil; in big, empty spaces underground; or into unmineable coal beds and saltwater aquifers. This need for storage-space limits the widespread use of this technology.

Figure 13-2 shows how both of these methods work.

Power Station with CO2 Capture

Figure 13-2:

How carbon capture and storage happens.

Depleted Oil or Gas Reservoirs

Deep Saline Aquifer

An area's geology is a huge factor in determining whether or not carbon capture and storage will work there. In Norway, for example, the technology is being applied by pumping carbon dioxide down under the deep sea. But what works in the North Sea geologically may not work elsewhere.

People can't capture all carbon dioxide emissions. Catching the emissions coming out of a stationary smoke stack is much easier than capturing the carbon blowing out of the tailpipe of a moving car. Over half of the carbon dioxide that can be captured is emitted by coal power plants; the remainder is from major industrial emissions.

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