If current trends continue, coal will be the number one source of fuel for producing additional electricity, said Juerg Matter, a Swiss scientist who works for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
Storing that coal-generated carbon dioxide deep in the earth may be the best solution to keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to global warming, Matter said.
Matter was one of nearly 30 speakers Wednesday and Thursday at the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership's annual energy forum, held at Gallatin Gateway Inn. The forum brought together representatives from industry, research, government and the environment. It focused on the emerging technology of carbon capture and sequestration.
Carbon capture and sequestration is any process that removes -- or diverts -- carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locks it up in some way. The Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership at Montana State University is one of seven U.S. Department of Energy programs investigating the possibility of burying carbon dioxide or using agriculture to lock it up in plants and soils.
"Sequestration is not the single solution," said Lee Spangler, partnership director. "But it's the one we're focused on. It can play an important role along with conservation and renewable energy resources."
The best way to capture future carbon dioxide emissions is to grab them as they are produced from the biggest sources: power plants, chemical processing plants and cement plants, Matter said.
However, that capture is not simple. The gas emissions from such plants is only three percent to 15 percent carbon dioxide by volume and would have to be separated from other gases, such as nitrogen. The carbon dioxide would then have to be pressurized and shipped to an injection well, where it would be pumped more than half a mile deep into the earth's surface.
There are various technologies for capturing carbon dioxide from industrial plants, but "there is not a clear capture technology favorite," Matter said. "It's not clear which one we should use."
Once the carbon dioxide is captured it could be pumped into depleted oil and gas fields, deep saline formations, un-mineable coal seams or basalt formations.
MSU is currently home to the only field test site in the nation dedicated to testing near-surface carbon dioxide monitoring techniques. The project is run through the university's Zero Emissions Research and Technology Center and larger demonstration projects are planned.
"We currently have no experience on the scale required to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere," Matter said. "So we need to upscale."
For more information about the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership visit: http://www.bigskyco2.org/
Form more information about the Zero Emissions Research and Technology Center visit: http://www.montana.edu/zert/home.php
Contact: Lee Spangler, director, Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, (406) 994-4399 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Lindsey Waggoner, outreach coordinator, Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, (406) 994-3755 or email@example.com.