Will Burying Mass Quantities of Carbon Dioxide Relieve Our Global Warming Pains?

Whenever I have something laying around my room and I don't wanna deal with it, I just toss it under my bed. . That mentality has to work for carbon emissions, right? BoingBoing's Maggie Koreth-Baker has a great article about an imaginative, if not entirely permanent, idea for addressing climate change: bury CO2 underground.

Koreth-Baker first witnessed this idea last year in Alabama, when scientists pushed 278 tons of CO2 10,000 feet beyond the Earth's surface. The idea is that it follows the Earth's natural process for handling CO2, just on a grander scale.

Over the course of two months, scientists from the University of Alabama had injected 278 tons of carbon dioxide into the Earth. The goal was to keep it there forever, locked in geologic formations. The beer cooler was a key part of that plan. Beneath it sat the delicate electronic components of the monitoring system the scientists were using to make sure none of the captured carbon dioxide found its way out of the mountain. Beer coolers, it turns out, make great low-cost heat protection.

But in the scheme of things, she says 278 tons wasn't enough to create a miniature model of how a system would work on a full scale, nor did it collect CO2 from man-made sources, it merely scooped up emissions which were naturally generated by rocks. But there's a new test site in Decatur, Il, which will offer better insights into the viability of this idea.

The new Midwestern carbon storage site, near Decatur, Illinois, is different. First, it's one of the biggest projects ever undertaken. Over the next three years, 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will be pumped into rock formations underground. There's only one other site in the country operating at that scale.

Next, the Midwestern site will be the second project, ever, to store carbon dioxide drawn from an actual energy-producing factory. The first, in West Virginia, was much, much smaller. This makes a big difference in how the project operates. Instead of trucking CO2 in from out of state, the carbon dioxide buried beneath Decatur will arrive in a pipeline, sent from a nearby ethanol refinery.

The gas, which is supercooled and pumped down below a layer of capstone, where it sits amongst sandstone. There it will sit for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years before it mineralizes. The test site in Decatur was tested because of its physical properties and its remote location and ability to quickly expose any potential gas leaks. Scientists aren't too worried about a leak, whose risks are low, but the worst consequences involve contaminated water and wasted resources. In the rare occurence where a pipe would fail, it is possible that a CO2 cloud of death could form.

Koreth-Baker's bigger concern is that if this solution is effective, it will encourage complacency amongst companies and policy makers tasked with solving the global warming issue. She thinks of it as more of a band-aid than a cure. But we're getting to the point where we can use all the help we can get before things spiral out of control, and at the very least, the feature is an interesting look into the lives of geologists turned environmentalists. Be sure to read the full story over at [BoingBoing].

Image via Shutterstock/Martin Capek