Montana State University

MSU hosts unique program on carbon sequestration

August 8, 2007 -- By Tracy Ellig, MSU News Service


Preeti Verma (left), a research assistant at the World Resources Institute in Washington D.C. and David McCollum, a UC Davis doctoral student, listen recently as Amin Nehrir (right), a masters student in electrical engineering at Montana State University describes his instrumentation for measuring carbon dioxide as it moves through the soil. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.)   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Future thinkers and leaders in the field of carbon dioxide capture and sequestration have been getting an intensive and broad-ranging tutorial on the subject at Montana State University for the past two weeks.

Carbon dioxide is the principal gas responsible for global warming. It is emitted in vast quantities through the burning of coal and other fossil fuels for the production of electricity. The emerging field of carbon dioxide capture and sequestration seeks methods to capture the gas and pump it deep into the earth or onto the ocean bottom where it could be stored -- potentially forever.

Since July 29, MSU has hosted a first-of-its-kind, hands-on program that combines classroom instruction with fieldwork on carbon capture and sequestration. The program -- formally called the Research Experience in Carbon Sequestration or RECS -- has attracted 20 early career professionals, graduate and Ph.D. students from across the nation.

It is funded by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and PPL Montana, the state's leading electricity provider and is a collaboration among MSU's Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, MSU's Zero Emissions Research and Technology Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory and EnTech Strategies.

"There is no formal CCS (carbon capture and storage) program at any university," said Pamela Tomski, the program's manager and founder. "It's a very interdisciplinary field and there was a need to create a program to recruit young professionals into the field, advance their knowledge and give them a chance to network."

Based in Washington D.C., Tomski launched the first REC in 2004. She brought it to MSU this summer because of the university's leadership role in the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, one of the DOE's seven regional partnerships on carbon sequestration. MSU is also home to the Zero Emissions Research and Technology Center, which has an extensive field-testing site west of the main campus on some university agricultural land.

"In the United States, this is a unique test site," Tomski said.

On Tuesday, program participants were at the site being introduced to a variety of experimental carbon dioxide detecting instruments developed by MSU faculty and students.

MSU graduate student Amin Nehrir and doctoral candidate Seth Humphries, both in electrical engineering, described their research into using lasers to detect carbon dioxide as it moved up through the soil and then into the atmosphere.

The pair's work is particularly intriguing because it uses very low power and a portable lasers for the detection.

"This just draws a few amps," said Nehrir of the luggage-sized instrument. "Normally, you'd need something the size of a U-Haul truck."

Nehrir and Humphries' audience was Andrea Feldspausch, a doctoral candidate in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M; Preeti Verma, a researcher with the World Resource Institute in D.C.; and David McCollum, a doctoral candidate from the University of California-Davis.

"I've been getting a greater understanding of all the aspects of CCS from this program," said McCollum, who has studied the compression of CO2 into a liquid for transport through pipelines. "Each of us knew our one little piece and this has given us a much broader background."

For Verma, the program has helped her understand the science that would stand behind any regulation. The World Resource Institute is working on developing regulatory guidelines so that carbon sequestration can be done safely.

"I'm thrilled to be here and have learned quite a lot," she said.

Feldspausch's doctoral work will create educational and outreach materials for the public regarding carbon capture and sequestration.

"My background is in conservation education, so this has been wonderful," Feldspausch said. "This has given me a great opportunity to get hands on experience with experts in the field to explain some of this technology."

For more information:
MSU's Zero Emissions Research and Technology Center:
http://www.montana.edu/zert/home.php

Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership
http://www.bigskyco2.org/

Contact: Pamela Tomski, RECS program director and managing partner EnTech Strategies, (202) 390-8896 or ptomski@mac.com; Lee Spangler, associate vice president for Research, Montana State University, (406) 994-4399 or spangler@montana.edu.