Researchers from Montana State University are testing a novel approach to trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) in underground basalt rocks in Southeast Washington. If successful, the technique could allow the storage of 300 years of carbon dioxide emissions. This is the first time any research team has attempted to inject pure carbon dioxide in underground basalts.
The experiment is a part of a project managed by the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership and it is primarily funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), in partnership with Boise Inc, Praxair Inc, and Battelle. Other contributors are Schlumberger, Royal Dutch Shell, and Portland General Electric. The main aim of the project is to find cheap, effective and most of all safe means of storing carbon dioxide emissions.
The areas of interest are located in the regions of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, where the underlying geology consists mainly of ancient basalt flows formed as a result of volcanic eruptions and lava flows.
Based on preliminary laboratory tests, the scientists claim that when injected in a liquid-like state, carbon dioxide reacts rapidly with the basalt rocks to form carbonate minerals and solid rock. In addition, the thick impermeable layers of the rock above the porous layers of the basalts will seal the gas and prevent it from being released in the atmosphere.
In order to verify their laboratory findings, the team is now taking the experiment to the field. Following the injection, the scientists will analyse fluid samples in order to establish any changes in chemical composition.
At the end of the experiment, the researchers hope to find signs of formation of carbonate mineralization, or limestone crystals, as a result of carbon dioxide reacting with minerals in the basalt.
A successful outcome could lead to a promising solution for many parts of the world, where basalt flows could serve as a storage location for increasing carbon emissions.