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UW Receives DOE Funding for Carbon Project in Pacific Northwest



February 4, 2023 - The University of Wyoming will receive $10.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a research and development project advancing the wide-scale deployment of carbon management technologies to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution.

Researchers in the UW School of Energy Resources (SER) Center for Economic Geology Research (CEGR) will lead the HERO Basalt CarbonSAFE (Hermiston Oregon Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise) project in partnership with Oxy Low Carbon Ventures (Oxy), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Calpine to accelerate the scale-up and deployment of commercial CO2 storage in basaltic rocks at a storage complex near Hermiston, Ore.

The project is one of 11 that DOE is funding under Phase II-Storage Complex Feasibility of the CarbonSAFE Initiative, which focuses on developing geologic storage sites with the potential to cumulatively store 50 million or more metric tons of CO2, and is one of 33 projects benefiting from DOE’s recently announced $131 million investment into carbon management solutions.

“Not only does this project allow us to leverage our existing expertise related to carbon storage technology that we have cultivated over the past 20 years, but it also is an exciting opportunity for us to explore a new storage reservoir formation and expand our knowledge,” says CEGR Director Fred McLaughlin.

The two-year feasibility study will include drilling a test well for the collection of data from these formations; obtaining and analyzing geologic samples; using the results of the analyses to create geologic computer models in which to test storage scenarios; and assessing societal and environmental impacts of the carbon storage at the site. The project also will assess capturing CO2 from Calpine’s Hermiston Power Project, one of the region’s cleanest and most efficient natural-gas power stations.

Additional collaborators on the project include Schlumberger and Carbfix, a company that has successfully demonstrated CO2 mineralization on a commercial scale in Iceland.

“We are excited to collaborate with the University of Wyoming and its partners to further explore how geological properties contribute to the safe and secure storage of carbon dioxide,” says Jeff Alvarez, president of Oxy Low Carbon Ventures-Sequestration. “Our goal is to learn more about the mineralization process that occurs after carbon dioxide injection, which could expand carbon capture and storage (CCS) development into new areas.”

“We’re very excited to work with this outstanding team of partners to build on what we learned at Wallula a decade ago,” says Todd Schaef, of PNNL, one of the world’s leading researchers in basalt mineralization storage. “This project will provide essential characterization data needed for reservoir simulations that allow us to understand how CO2 mineralizes basalts here in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.”

A nationally recognized leader on carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology, SER is working on a CarbonSAFE Phase III-Site Characterization and CO2 Capture Assessment project located adjacent to Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Dry Fork Station, a coal-fired power plant near Gillette. With two completed test wells drilled to Class VI standards (required for CO2 storage), the team has fully characterized three targeted storage formations: the Minnelusa Formation, Hulett Sandstone and Lakota Sandstone.

The Pacific Northwest is a key market for Wyoming-sourced natural gas. The Northwest Pipeline that connects Wyoming natural gas resources to Washington and Oregon has over 14 million dekatherms of capacity. However, using that gas in a way that is consistent with regulatory requirements in Washington and Oregon will likely mean capturing and storing CO2 emissions from gas plants such as Hermiston.

“With few large, sedimentary reservoirs for commercial-scale carbon storage available, unlocking the storage potential of our regional basalt reservoirs will help make CCS available to meet net-zero targets in the Pacific Northwest,” Schaef says.

Scott Quillinan, SER’s senior director of research, says the new project has the potential to support the decarbonization of Wyoming’s natural gas industry and to demonstrate the versatility and enhanced opportunities for CCUS deployment in different regions.

“This project differs from our previous and current CCUS efforts, in that it will focus on natural gas-sourced CO2 and will allow us to learn about new types of carbon storage reservoirs that offer the highest potential for CO2 storage in the Pacific Northwest,” he says. “The fluid-rock interactions in basalt formations have demonstrated the capability to mineralize or rapidly convert the CO2 into a solid mineral over a period of time. This project will accelerate and enable the scale-up of CO2 storage through mineralization in basalt reservoirs, and we look forward to collaborating with Oxy and PNNL to further the understanding of this potential resource.”

By using existing infrastructure, including the interstate natural gas pipeline network, the project will serve as a critical resource for regional energy producers to implement commercial-scale carbon storage and achieve carbon reduction targets.

“The team at SER has set the bar on CO2 storage in Wyoming,” says SER Executive Director Holly Krutka. “Given Wyoming’s role as a massive energy exporter, SER now has the opportunity to apply what we’ve learned in the state and expand our work to assist our natural gas producers by providing a CO2 storage solution where their gas is ultimately consumed.”