5 Questions With a Scientist and Student Researching Carbon Storage
This story is customized from a bit originally published by Barnard College at Columbia University.
Climate science was not on Grace Brown’s mind when she decided to attend Barnard. Brown, who grew up in Westfield, Recent Jersey, had all the time gravitated toward outdoor conservation activities. When she got here to Barnard, she was considering majoring in political science. But her environmental studies courses and Barnard’s access to cutting-edge science on the Columbia Climate School drew Brown right into a latest area of exploration.
Last spring, Brown, who’s now a senior and an environmental studies major, was in search of a project for her senior thesis. She asked for suggestions from environmental sciences professor Martin Stute, a frontrunner in the world of hydrology and groundwater studies. As an adjunct senior research scientist on the Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Stute has also been advancing a pivotal climate science research and development area: carbon capture and storage.
Stute needed help with an ongoing, high-profile project in Oman. Brown would only must go so far as Palisades, Recent York, and Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to be a part of groundbreaking science. Once an elusive goal, carbon dioxide removal — using science to remove CO2 from the air after which stow it safely away — is now considered a crucial, emerging technology, critical for helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, in this fashion, helps to resolve the greater climate change crisis.
Within the Q&A below, Stute and Brown talk in regards to the Oman project and the promise of carbon capture.
What’s involved with carbon capture and sequestration?
MS: With a purpose to limit the results of climate change, we’d like to not only reduce on our greenhouse gas emissions (mostly CO2 and methane) but in addition take a few of these gases that we’ve put into the atmosphere back out. Carbon (in the shape of CO2 and methane) may be captured on the source — for instance, at a powerplant — or directly from the air after which stored in plants, industrial materials, or in subsurface pores and cavities. I’m working on considered one of the safest ways to store CO2 within the subsurface using a process called ‘carbon mineralization,’ during which CO2 is dissolved in water, pumped into reactive rocks equivalent to basalts, where the CO2 is then converted to solid carbonate minerals (much like limestone). I used to be a part of a global team that demonstrated this process in a field application in Iceland.
What’s happening in Oman?
MS: This project is a component of a big international research program that explores the geochemistry and microbiology of an ancient uplifted seafloor within the desert of Oman. Besides getting used to review basic biogeochemical processes, this formation could also store vast quantities of CO2, much like the basalts in Iceland. A key query of the study is how briskly water circulates on this formation. Our study — funded by the US National Science Foundation in collaboration with California State University, Sacramento, and the Oman Drilling Project — uses substances naturally occurring in groundwater at very low concentrations (so-called ‘tracers’ equivalent to radiocarbon, tritium, and noble gases) to find out how long the water has been underground and how briskly it moves. This information is crucial for determining chemical response rates and the way this formation may very well be used for CO2 storage.
How far are we from realizing the goal of removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it away safely?
MS: The capture and storage of enormous CO2 sources are well understood and economically feasible. Free-air capture continues to be expensive; large-scale demonstrations should be developed and deployed. Nevertheless, many business carbon capture and storage plants are actually operating worldwide. In truth, a startup company called 44.01, which received last 12 months’s Earthshot Prize, has begun experimental CO2 injections in Oman. All this will not be to say that carbon capture and storage is the silver bullet that can solve our greenhouse gas problem. It is only one approach that must be taken if we wish to limit the worst effects of climate change. We still must move to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible and transition to a sustainable economy.
What surprised you most in regards to the Oman project and your work in support of it?
GB: I used to be surprised by the quantity of technical, hands-on work I’ve gotten in methods development and instrumentation. Last summer, we spent a variety of time within the lab modifying our different analytical instruments to enable us to develop techniques specific to measuring samples and collecting data for the project. While this type of method development is a big a part of the research process, I used to be surprised to get this type of behind-the-scenes take a look at the more technical features of scientific instrumentation. Something else that surprised me, I hadn’t realized how students can get entangled with and contribute on to groundbreaking projects. I’ve found that through the senior thesis and other opportunities available to us, students are really in a position to make an impact and contribute to extremely relevant research. It’s been very exciting and rewarding.
Does being so involved with emerging research make you more hopeful in regards to the future in light of what we all know in regards to the threat of climate change?GB: Being involved with emerging research definitely makes me more hopeful in regards to the future. I believe a significant factor contributing to pessimism about climate change is the sensation that there’s nothing we will do about it, so I feel way more optimistic once I can take motion. Spending time at places just like the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, I can’t help but feel hopeful when surrounded by so many scientists at the highest of their field working very hard to know the Earth and its changing climate higher.