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MIT Finds How Carbon Dioxide Could Be Sunk Into the Ground Forever

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Liquefied carbon dioxide (blue) making its way through tiny glass beads

Deep saline aquifers in the U.S. could be the solution for storing the CO2 outputted from coal power plants in the long run, thus making them cleaner and the energy cheaper.

It’s not that I turned into preaching people how to get along with coal (again), but the solution really sounds simple and, if it’s proved to be economically viable, it will be the second good thing after the invention of solar cells.

40 percent of the worldwide CO2 pollution is nowadays generated from burning coal. Fighting against coal is pretty useless from an economic standpoint, as suddenly closing them and waiting for scientists to hit the jackpot with solar cells and wind turbines would disrupt into the worst economic breakdown of all times. So the only solution now, besides that of innovating, is to patch what we already have, just like trying to patch a sinking ship.

The MIT team who did the analysis has been led by Ruben Juanes. They found out that the CO2 gas can be stored at more than half a mile below the surface, way below the freshwater sources that we use for our consumption. But that’s no news to anyone – the news is that, unlike previous studies, this one took into account the dynamics of how the CO2 would infiltrate the rocks, instead of only estimating the overall volume of the formations.

“We started with the full complicated set of equations for the fluid flow, and then simplified it,” says graduate student Christopher McMinn, who worked with Juanes. Other estimates have tended to oversimplify the problem, “missing some of the nuances of the physics,” he says. He also mentioned that similar storing possibilities exist around the world, as the study only focused on the United States.

Before being injected into the ground, the carbon dioxide would be liquefied and dissolve in salty water, resulting in a fluid that’s denser than either of the constituents, so it naturally sinks and would never escape back into the atmosphere.

The economic side of things has never been quantified, but a forecast done by analysts tells the price of coal-generated electricity will raise by 15 to 30 percent and would only be sustainable with a carbon tax or a limit on carbon emissions imposed by governments (which, as far as we’ve seen, is pretty hard to accomplish).

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1 COMMENT

  1. We face a good many risks on this old blue planet.

    One more to add to the list is that some mad scientist will ignore the known fact that CO2 is essential to life on earth, react to the wildly speculative theory that anthropogenic CO2 is causing climate change, and actually find a way to remove enough CO2 from our common atmosphere to ultimately destroy all life on earth.

    This possibility is certainly no less credible than is the theory of antrhopogenic global warming.

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