Montana State University

MSU shares in $1.4 million grant for carbon sequestration research

January 22, 2009 -- By Michael Becker, MSU News Service

MSU professor Al Cunningham holds a high-pressure rock core holder in one of the university's biofilm labs. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Researchers at Montana State University, Montana Tech and the University of Montana have been awarded a $1.4 million grant from the Department of Energy to study the effects carbon sequestration sites may have on the surrounding environment.

The project will study the environmental effects of geologic carbon sequestration, which involves injecting large volumes of liquefied carbon dioxide deep underground. Storing CO2 underground keeps it out of the atmosphere and keeps it from contributing to global climate change.

"I see this as bringing other contributors from outside of MSU into a research program that is very important to the entire state," said Al Cunningham, the grant's principal investigator and a professor at MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering.

Cunningham noted the importance of carbon capture and sequestration to the development of "clean coal" technologies in Montana. Developing ways to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere will allow the state to use its large coal reserves without contributing to net global CO2 emissions, he said.

Using advanced magnetic resonance imaging technology, researchers will study the effects of injecting large volumes of CO2 into porous underground rocks. These injections could affect the rock's pore structures, their material properties or the microbial activity in the rocks, which could affect how well CO2 is sequestered in those rocks.

The project's second goal is to understand how increased levels of carbon dioxide may affect microbes and plants near sequestration sites. Excess CO2 can cause stress on plants and microbes. Observing this stress can give scientists an indicator of whether a sequestration site is leaking CO2. That study will be done through a series of field experiments at a test site just west of MSU.

Researchers from the University of Montana and Montana Tech will be involved in both objectives, Cunningham said.

Collaborations between different campuses, even within the same state, are valuable, Cunningham said.

"I think, personally, that direct research collaboration between the three campuses is something to be encouraged," he said. "This project will bring in talents and capabilities we don't have at MSU and focus them on carbon sequestration."

The grant, awarded in September, will last three years with the possibility of a three-year renewal. The money will be split between the campuses, Cunningham said.

The grant comes from the Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, referred to as EPSCoR. Five DOE national laboratories will also be involved in the funded research.

Cunningham's grant and project are not connected with the work being done by the MSU-based Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, he said, though the project's focus is related to that group's sequestration work.

Related Stories

"Department of Energy awards $66.9 million to MSU for carbon sequestration," Nov. 18, 2008 --

"Montana carbon sequestration study receives state funding," April 28, 2008 --

"MSU hosts unique program on carbon sequestration," Aug. 8, 2007 --

"$17.9 million grant to MSU and cooperators addresses climate change," June 10, 2005 --

Al Cunningham at 406-994-6109 or at