CO2 Capture Possibilities and Breakthroughs

One of the greatest challenges politically and technically for CO2 capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) is modeling the subterranean reservoir to ensure that CO2 is safely contained in the appropriate rock formation.  Until very recently, most computational models relied on Darcy's law to explain the movement of fluids through porous rock structures.  However, a recent discovery at Imperial College in London has shown that Darcy's Law does not adequately explain underlying physics of fluid movement in these applications.  Researchers at Imperial College are working to improve models that will aid in more accurate predictive modeling of CO2 injection and migration.  This will hopefully reduce costs and risks associated with CO2 storage and increase acceptance of the technology.

While most of the large coal fired power plants in the western US have been studied for potential applications of CCUS including the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), no plants have moved forward with the technology.  NGS is located in the 4 corners area of the US and features geologic structures which contain natural CO2 reservoirs.  The most notable of these reservoirs is the McElmo Dome in southwester Colorado.  This naturally occurring CO2 deposit is located approximately 250 miles from NGS and is the origin for the 500 mile long Cortez Pipeline which feeds CO2 to enhanced oil recovery (EOR) activities in the West Texas oil fields.  

Clearly the geology of the region is amenable to CO2 storage, and infrastructure already is in place to transport CO2 500 miles for EOR, so economical CO2 capture is needed to retain coal assets in the region while meeting CO2 emissions reduction targets.  To support the initial deployment of such technologies, Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, among others, has introduced legislation that would increase the tax credit for CO2 captured and stored or used for EOR under IRS section 45Q.

Will this tax incentive combined with advancing modeling tools, existing infrastructure, and amenable geology be enough to bring CCUS to the western US and give plants like NGS and others a long term future?