The Prairie Research Institute is leading a drive toward a clean-energy future. This is the second installment of our ongoing series surrounding PRI's state-of-the-art clean energy research. Part one introduces research and development projects happening across PRI that implement innovative CO2 reduction strategies for reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. Part two explores carbon sequestration strategies for storing the captured carbon safely underground in natural geological formations.
For almost 20 years, PRI’s geologists and engineers have been developing methods for the safe capture, storage, and utilization of CO2 from power plants and industrial operations. This has been in response to federal and state laws requiring reductions in CO2 emissions, as this byproduct of power generation has a direct link to atmospheric greenhouse gasses and climate change. These PRI projects have generated nearly $225 million dollars in funding.
The Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) developed the first dedicated CO2 storage project from industrial sources in the United States. ISGS has taken this technology to commercial deployment while leading additional research using this technology with power generation and other industrial activities to reduce their carbon footprint and remain economically sustainable.
Illinois: A perfect recipe for carbon storage
“We have the perfect package of rocks that make carbon storage viable,” said Sallie Greenberg, associate director of energy and minerals at ISGS. “We’re looking for rocks more than a mile underground where we can safely store CO2 and Illinois is amazing for that. We have a sandstone at the base of several layers of sedimentary rock, which acts as a seal.”
Greenberg refers to the Mt. Simon sandstone, which is a primary target for storage, not only because of its geological makeup, but also its distance from fossil fuels and low number of wells drilled into the sandstone
Finding the perfect combination of rocks is only the first step. Getting the CO2 safely underground is a meticulous process.
First, the CO2 is compressed into a liquid and injected into a reservoir with a geologic makeup that is both porous and permeable with a good sealing – like a sandstone under sedimentary rock. As the CO2 is injected into the reservoir, it starts to expand and dissolves partly into the naturally-occurring fluids and gases in the pores of the rocks where it will be contained permanently.
Once the CO2 is underground, it isn’t quite “out of sight out of mind.” Steve Whittaker, director of energy and minerals at ISGS, and his team always have their ears to the ground.
“Measurements are being done repeatedly,” said Whittaker, “We’re monitoring the process from start to finish. We start with our monitoring wells that are specifically drilled for carbon storage to measure temperature, pressure, and sound, and make sure that these wells are constructed at the very highest level and adhere to strict guidelines.”
The monitoring wells are equipped with geophones and fiber optics to listen for acoustic signals and sounds that record how the reservoir is behaving.
“We're able to listen for microseismic activity registering from -1 to 0 on the Richter scale that helps us measure pressure and temperature, but also tells us a lot about how the CO2 moves,” said Whittaker. The energy of this activity is equivalent to dropping a book on a table and we’re able to detect it over a mile deep with the sensor arrays we are using."
Whittaker’s team uses these data to build 3D geocellular models that are designed to capture all the geological variations. They perform simulations that model the performance and distribution of CO2 and these simulations are updated and calibrated over time to monitor the safe performance of carbon storage.
The Geological Survey’s Illinois Basin-Decatur Project (IBDP) has some of the richest data of carbon storage in the world.
A legacy of sequestration innovation and success
A collaboration of ISGS, the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), Schlumberger Carbon Services, and other subcontractors, the IBDP is an integrated industrial carbon capture and storage (CCS) system from source to reservoir.
From 2011- 2014, IBDP stored approximately 1 million metric tons of CO2, which is all of the carbon emissions from ADM’s biofuel plant operations, into the Mt. Simon Sandstone, in Decatur, Illinois, paving the way for commercial use of the sandstone for CO2 storage.
The operations consist of a compression/dehydration facility where CO2 is collected under high pressure from ADM’s corn-to-ethanol fermenters. The gas stream is compressed and dehydrated to remove any moisture before moving to a delivery pipeline, an injection well, a deep observation/verification well, and a geophysical test well, all developed on the ADM-owned site.
The IBDP developed and implemented a rigorous and extensive monitoring, verification, and accounting (MVA) program, including high-fidelity induced seismicity monitoring, 3D seismic surveying, 3D vertical seismic profiling, soil flux monitoring, atmospheric monitoring, shallow groundwater monitoring, and deep subsurface monitoring and fluid sampling to ensure the CO2 remains safely stored underground. ISGS collected data over 24 months of pre-injection baseline, 36 months of operational injection, and up to 10 years of post-injection monitoring.
The IBDP site serves as a successful prototype of developing and field testing CO2 storage-related MVA instrumentation and technologies for CCS projects in the United States and throughout the world.
This world-class project has gained one of the first EPA Underground Injection Control Class VI permits (for wells used for geologic sequestration of CO2) and has garnered international interest with over 700 visitors from 29 countries.
Forging ahead with Carbon SAFE
The Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise (Carbon SAFE) is a Department of Energy-led program designed to accelerate the commercial-scale use of carbon capture and storage technology. CarbonSAFE builds on extensive research to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industrial and power generation sources. Collectively, the Illinois Carbon SAFE projects total over $55 million in funding and are focused on development of long-term geologic storage sites each having long-term geologic storage sites of over 50 million tons of CO2. This is the equivalent of taking 370,000 cars off the road, every year, for 30 years.
Under the PRI umbrella, ISGS and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) are leading the way in carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration research. While ISTC programs are developing novel CO2 capture technologies and water management programs at the industrial and commercial level, ISGS is heading up the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium and leading three pre-feasibility and feasibility Carbon SAFE studies across the Illinois Basin.
CarbonSAFE Illinois Storage Corridor
(10/01/2020 - 09/30/2023) Total award: $25,405,818
This Phase 3 CarbonSAFE project aims to accelerate commercial deployment of carbon capture, utilization, and storage within the Illinois Storage Corridor, a region with proven geologic storage performance and numerous industrial carbon sources. The Illinois Storage Corridor project will involve characterizing and constructing two carbon storage sites: one near the One Earth Energy ethanol facility in Gibson City, Illinois, and a second at the Prairie State Generating Company in Marissa, Illinois. Combined the sites will have the capacity to store 6.5 million metric tons of CO2 annually.
CarbonSAFE Illinois Macon County
(04/01/2017 – 03/31/2021) Total award: $11,812,442
ISGS and partners Schlumberger Carbon Services, Indiana Geological Survey, Brigham Young University, and Richland Community College are working to conduct a Phase 2 commercial-scale initial characterization of a site within the Mt. Simon storage complex and develop datasets of formation parameters in order to evaluate the suitability of the site located in Macon County, Illinois. The models will be used to identify improvements in storage capacity estimations.
(02/01/2019 – 05/31-2021) Total award: $19,251,527
This project is working to establish the Phase 2 feasibility of developing a commercial-scale CO2 storage complex near Terre Haute, Indiana, in the Mt. Simon sandstone is expected to be the primary storage reservoir, other potential storage reservoirs will be characterized by a two-year data acquisition program that includes drilling and testing alongside core and fluid sample collection/analysis, and a two-dimensional seismic survey over the area.
CarbonSAFE Illinois East-Sub Basin
(03/01/2017 – 10/31/2019) Total award: $1,995,210
Completed in 2019 as part of the Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Pre-Feasibility (Phase 1) of CarbonSAFE Initiative, the University of Illinois and ISGS conducted a pre-feasibility assessment for commercial-scale CO2 geological storage complexes in the East Sub-Basin of the Illinois Basin. A significant high-level technical evaluation of the East Sub-Basin includes detailed subsurface characterization and risk identification, along with the evaluation of potential industrial CO2 sources for sequestration, to identify suitable storage sites within the complexes. Storage resource estimates in the CarbonSAFE-pre feasibility region suggest that there is sufficient storage capacity in the reservoirs of the Cambrian-Ordovician units in the Midwestern region.
The Illinois State Geological Survey and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center are divisions of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.