Professor eyes Nebraska sites for burying coal byproduct

Professor eyes Nebraska sites for burying coal byproduct

A University of North Dakota professor says the Panhandle and southeast Nebraska could be good locations to bury concentrated carbon dioxide produced by coal- burning power plants.

Edward Steadman is program manager for the Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership, one of seven regional partnerships to study the feasibility of geological sequestration.

In geological sequestration, concentrated carbon dioxide is piped about 6,000 feet below the earth’s surface into porous rock layers. More solid layers of rock above it, like shale, form natural seals to keep the carbon from seeping upward.

Steadman said areas in southeastern and western Nebraska have the depth and natural seals to give them potential as geological sequestration sites.

He pointed to the Denver-Julesburg Basin, beneath the southwestern Panhandle around Sidney, and the Forest City Basin, beneath Otoe, Nemaha and Richardson counties near the Missouri River.

Federal regulations have limited harmful emissions from coal plants. But the Department of Energy and several energy companies hope to reduce emissions to zero through a project called FutureGen, a 10-year, $1 billion clean coal initiative introduced in 2003.

With concerns about possible global climate change, researchers are working to find a way to deal with carbon dioxide, the one emission that is virtually impossible to reduce.

”I think the biggest obstacle to clean coal is finding a place to put the CO2 that once they put it there, it’s going to stay there,” said Gary Lynne, professor of ecological and behavioral economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Since trees and other plants use carbon dioxide, there is potential for some carbon storage in forests and grasslands. But tilling and harvesting reduce the capacity of soil and forestry to hold carbon, making those less viable long-term options.

Through the FutureGen project, the Energy Department plans to build a geological sequestration plant in Illinois or Texas by 2009 at an estimated cost of $950 million.

Geological sequestration all but requires a plant with a gasification process that releases a more concentrated stream of carbon dioxide, making its capture simpler. While the traditional combustion process produces 12 to 14 percent concentrated carbon dioxide, gasification produces a 90 percent concentration.

Steadman said ecological necessity may dictate that the technology catch on, and if it does, the Midwest stands to benefit.

”The Plains states are in a good position because we have fairly nice geology,” he said. ”It’s actually ideal geology for sequestration.”

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