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Leaks will not sink carbon capture and storage

Posted by: 
Morgan Kelly
Publish Date: 
Tuesday, September 5, 2017 - 9:00am

The case for carbon capture and storage — a promising method for reducing greenhouse gases — received a boost recently from a Princeton study that indicated the procedure would not be prone to significant leakage or high costs related to fixing leaks.

Authors of the study included PEI associated faculty Catherine Peters, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering, and Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute

In a paper published July 26 in the journal Climatic Change, the researchers concluded that levels of leakage based on simulations at hypothetical subsurface carbon dioxide storage locations, even in a worst-case scenario, would not make the cost of the technology prohibitive in the global energy system.

In carbon capture and storage, carbon dioxide gas, which is released from burning oil and gas, is captured at a source such as a power plant. The gas is compressed into a dense fluid and injected a kilometer or more below the land surface for permanent storage. While the technology is not yet being used in large scale, advocates believe it is a promising strategy for climate change mitigation while fossil fuels are still being used. A chief worry, however, is whether the gas could leak and return to the atmosphere.

To reach their conclusion, the researchers mathematically simulated the geophysical impacts of carbon storage, which include projections of leaks, in combination with the economic impact of stopping leaks and paying associated fines and penalties.

Hang Deng, a former doctoral student at Princeton and the paper’s lead author, explained that carbon capture and storage has been researched for years, with many studies focusing on the efficacy of the process and the potential for leakage. But the Princeton team wanted to understand both the level of leakage and the economic implications of any escaping gases.