The Energy Laboratory has joined forces with six companies to launch a new industrial consortium that will support research on carbon sequestration, a potentially important approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The consortium, called the Carbon Sequestration Initiative (CSI), will fund MIT scientists and engineers to perform objective assessments of carbon sequestration technologies and will provide seed grants for new research ideas. The CSI began July 1 and has six charter members from the oil and gas, electric power, and automotive sectors: American Electric Power, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Norsk Hydro (Norway), Texaco and TotalFinaElf (France).
The carbon sequestration strategy involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions at their source, for example at an electric power plant, and then using or storing the gas to prevent its buildup in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can be stored by injecting it underground (into depleted oil and gas reservoirs, for instance), or into the deep ocean. Sequestration also includes enhancing natural processes to increase the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, such as by planting trees.
Reducing emissions of greenhouses gases -- especially carbon dioxide -- is now the subject of intense discussion, as the buildup of those gases in the atmosphere may contribute to climate change. Companies in all industrial sectors are therefore interested in identifying and evaluating their options for controlling carbon dioxide emissions.
"Carbon sequestration has been gaining increasing international attention as a potential complement to current carbon dioxide mitigation strategies such as improved energy efficiency and increased use of noncarbon energy sources," said Howard Herzog, director of the CSI and a principal research engineer at MIT.
"More than 85 percent of the world's energy needs are now met using fossil fuels, and carbon sequestration would let us continue using fossil fuels while we develop acceptable alternatives."
Several commercial activities already demonstrate the technical feasibility of carbon sequestration technologies. Some power plants now capture carbon dioxide for commercial markets, and petroleum companies inject carbon dioxide into the ground for enhanced oil recovery. At an offshore platform in the North Sea, carbon dioxide is injected into a saline aquifer 1,000 meters below the seafloor, sequestering a million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
MIT's Energy Lab makes an ideal headquarters for the new consortium. For more than a quarter century, the lab has conducted research, educated students and performed public service in support of economically sound, globally conscious and environmentally responsible energy technologies and policies. The lab has conducted research into technologies to capture, utilize and sequester carbon dioxide emissions from large stationary sources since 1989 and is recognized internationally as a leader in this field.
CSI will perform outreach activities to help educate a wider audience on the possible uses of carbon sequestration. It will also link industry to expanding governmental research activities in this area and will help identify new business opportunities.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 12, 2000.