Montana State University

MSU and partners send carbon dioxide deep underground in regional experiment

July 26, 2013 -- MSU News Service

The Twin Sisters outcrops near Wallula, Wash., are made of basalt. MSU and its partners will inject carbon dioxide into other basalt that’s found in southeast Washington and half a mile underground. (Photo courtesy of the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN – A regional experiment to see if carbon dioxide can be stored safely and permanently underground has begun, Montana State University scientists and their partners announced Friday, July 26.

Speaking at a morning press conference in Wallula, Wash, they said they have started injecting 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide on Boise Inc. property in southeast Washington. The greenhouse gas will be stored half a mile deep in geological formations that consist of ancient basalt flows. The massive lava flows underlie major portions of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

“We are excited to be conducting, through our partners, the world’s first injection of pure carbon dioxide into basalts,” said Lee Spangler of MSU, director of the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership which is managing the research project.

“Basalts have the potential to store over 300 years of the carbon dioxide emissions in the six-state Big Sky region,” Spangler said. “Perhaps more important is their storage potential in countries with rapidly increasing energy use, specifically China and India.”

Lindsey Tollefson of MSU, project manager for the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, said the partnership is the only one out of seven such regional partnerships in the United States that is using basalt rock for injections. She added that the Washington experiment is a Phase II project and relatively small compared to the upcoming Phase III project where the planned carbon dioxide injection will be 1 million tons.  The Phase III project is under way at Kevin Dome in Montana’s Toole County.

The Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and a consortium of industrial partners. Its goal is to find safe and economical ways to permanently store the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. It relies on existing technologies from the fields of engineering, geology, chemistry, biology, geographic information systems and economics to develop novel approaches for both geologic and terrestrial carbon storage in the region that encompasses Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota, eastern Washington and Oregon.

Boise Inc., Praxair, Inc., and Battelle teamed up for the injection phase of the pilot project. Boise Inc. manufactures a wide variety of packaging and paper products. Praxair is the largest industrial gases company in North and South America and one of the largest worldwide. Battelle is the world’s largest non-profit independent research and development organization. It also manages the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) for the DOE.

“We have been conducting laboratory tests on basalts from the region for several years that have conclusively demonstrated the unique geochemical nature of basalts to quickly react with carbon dioxide and form carbonate minerals or solid rock, the safest and most permanent form for storage in the subsurface,” said Battelle project manager Pete McGrail. “However convincing the laboratory data may be, proving the same processes operate deep underground can only be done by conducting a successful field demonstration.  We have taken the very first steps to do that here in Wallula.”

During the next two to three weeks, Battelle scientists will work with Praxair technicians to inject the carbon dioxide that has been compressed into a liquid-like state into porous layers of basalt.  Thick and impermeable layers of rock above these porous layers will act as barriers or seals to prevent the gas from traveling vertically upward.  Over the next 14 months, scientists will examine fluid samples from the injection well to look for changes in chemical composition. They will also compare results to predictions that were made using PNNL’s supercomputer. 

At the end of the monitoring period, rock samples from the well are expected to show the formation of carbonate mineralization, or limestone crystals, as a result of carbon dioxide reacting with minerals in the basalt.

The Boise pulp and paper mill, located in the Columbia Basin between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, Wash., sits on top of dozens of volcanic lava flows, extending down 8,000 feet or more.  Like a stack of pancakes, these geologic layers were formed as volcanic lava flowed and cooled.

In 2009, an injection well at the site confirmed that basalt flows located immediately above and below the injection zone were nearly impermeable.  Additional research in late 2012 indicated that the location is well suited for the pilot test now being conducted.

“Boise is pleased to have worked with Battelle in recent years and to be a partner for this research that advances the science of geologic carbon sequestration,” said Rich Garber, Boise environmental director.  “At Boise Inc. we believe wisely using energy and resources is good for business and for our environment. Through various other means, we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions 27 percent since 2004 at our manufacturing facilities. This collaborative effort with Battelle is an additional opportunity for us to build on that progress and demonstrate our commitment toward continuous environmental improvement. ”

According to recent estimates released by the DOE, the United States and portions of Canada have enough potential capacity in geologic formations to store as much as 900 years of carbon dioxide emissions.  If the Wallula demonstration is successful, basalt flows in many parts of the world may serve as storage locations for carbon dioxide emissions from a variety of industrial facilities. 

“Boise has been a fantastic partner and there is no question that this field research could not have been done without their unwavering support,” McGrail said.

Approximately 80 percent of the demonstration is funded through the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.  Approximately, $12 million so far has been committed to the pilot project. Other contributors include Schlumberger, Royal Dutch Shell, Boise Inc., and Portland General Electric.

For more information, watch this video at or check the Web at 

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or