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Basalts - The New Path for Permanent CO2 Storage

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Could Basalt present a ready-made solution to the globe's Carbon Storage challenges?

As the world transitions energy production to clean carbon-free sources derived from renewables, there is a growing need to capture and store the carbon dioxide emitted from large industries. The removal of atmospheric pollutants has traditionally been concentrated on reducing emissions of the 6 major pollutants - carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ground-level ozone, and particulate matter. Over the past 20 years, the primary focus has centered on reducing and removing carbon dioxide CO2. According to the EPA, since 1980, emissions mainly from electricity generation, industry, and automobiles have declined by 73%. However, CO2 emissions have only decreased 11% from a high in the mid-2000s. Despite the benefit to air quality due to pollutant reductions, atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise, causing concern of an increased greenhouse effect and higher global temperatures.

Industry and government are working together to create Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) strategies to help mitigate the warming effects of atmospheric CO2. Currently, the most predominant and cost-offsetting avenue for CO2 capture and storage is enhanced oil recovery practices. Here, oil and gas production is boosted by using a CO2-rich solution to extract hydrocarbons from low porosity reservoirs while simultaneously storing portions of the injected CO2 in the reservoir. However, with the energy transition moving forward, it has become relevant to develop other methods for capturing and storing CO2 that do not have direct interaction with hydrocarbon production. CCS strategies following this path are directed toward reducing CO2 from electricity generation, mining, industries, and burning of fossil fuels. For over ten years, these new strategies have increased their storage capability, scientific ingenuity, economic viability, and safety standards proving the growing potential for CCS in the coming years.

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Carbon Storage Studies

There are two main avenues being used and developed for in-situ storage of CO2. The first is injecting CO2 into porous sedimentary reservoirs (enhanced oil recovery using CO2 is an example). The second is storage within mafic or ultra-mafic porous reservoirs where CO2 can chemically react with abundant metallic divalent cations (Ca2+, Mg2+, and Fe2+) and form carbonate minerals. Both require injecting large amounts of CO2 in a gaseous, liquid, or supercritical state into porous reservoirs where a cap rock or sealing mechanism is in place to ensure the possibility of any potential CO2 escape.

Many of the new studies and active test sites are looking to quantify the rates of mineralization and storage security during CO2 trapping based on solubility methods (gas, liquid or supercritical solutions). They investigate how these methods differ in sedimentary vs mafic/ultra-mafic reservoirs. CarbFix, an Icelandic consortium studying the potential of CCS in basalts since 2011, has made many discoveries in this field. They have documented rapid mineralization of CO2 in basalt of over 95% within 2 years - a significant improvement over sedimentary storage. CarbFix has also shown that CO2 in a liquid solution provides enhanced storage security over gas and supercritical solutions. The density of the liquid CO2 reduces the buoyancy and forces the CO2 to the bottom reservoir, reducing the need for an impermeable reservoir seal.

Basalt Storage

Basalts are an abundant mafic rock found both off and onshore on every continent. Research conducted by ISOR (Iceland Geosurvey) and others indicate that ocean ridge basalts have the potential to store 100,000 – 250,000 Gt/CO2. This amount is orders of magnitude larger than the amount of CO2 that could be derived from burning all earthbound hydrocarbons. The two largest projects studying the CCS value of basalts are CarbFix and the Wallula basalt pilot in Washington, USA, both of which have illustrated the potential for mineralizing large amounts of CO2 within basalt reservoirs. Clearly, these projects have shown the potential for onshore CCS solutions. Still, the next frontier will be to find practical, effective solutions to develop facilities utilizing the large quantities of offshore basalt fields. New studies looking into the use of seawater as an injection solution and novel ideas on ways to reduce transportation and project costs are beginning to offer insights into how these offshore CCS facilities can be developed.

The most significant benefit of CO2 storage in basalt, as opposed to sedimentary reservoirs, is the rapid mineralization of the CO2 into carbonate minerals. This is due to the abundance of metallic cations found in mafic and ultra-mafic rocks. Rapid mineralization greatly reduces the risk of leakage over time. Although basalt fields can be found both on and offshore every continent, they have not had the decades of rigorous study sedimentary reservoirs have been afforded due to their much higher rate of hydrocarbon exploration success. Many dry holes and depleted fields have the trap characteristics in place to safely store large amounts of CO2, and these reservoirs are near large industry emitters. Basalt offers a unique low-risk option for CO2 storage in areas where traditional hydrocarbon exploration has not existed. It also offers additional options near some offshore fields, expanding the use of multiple reservoir storage scenarios. Research and development in CCS is making it possible to establish multiple storage options while reducing both the risk and cost of storage.

The price of installing and maintaining a CCS facility are driven by a number of factors. These include the proximity of industry emitters, the possibility to install Direct Air Capture (DAC) facilities, the number of injection wells, transportation costs, energy costs to pressurize and inject the solutions, long-term monitoring, reservoir exploration, etc. As industry and government begin implementing the new research and developing new CCS projects, they will require an abundance of data to evaluate the reservoir and monitor the reservoirs over time. Energy Data companies like TGS have begun utilizing their subsurface data and insight to evaluate the risks at proposed sites. An abundance of well data and seismic data acquired from hydrocarbon exploration fuels this wealth of knowledge needed to implement new facilities.

Seismic acquisition and processing technology have advanced in recent years providing detailed imaging of basalt. These new processes make exploration, risk mitigation, and monitoring of CCS reservoirs possible. Advancements in 4D seismic technology using Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) and P-Cable technology provide ways to monitor injection sites for leakage and induced seismicity and also offer the benefit of lower costs over traditional seismic monitoring techniques. DAS uses a permanent installation of fiber optic cables to monitor the site, while P-Cable 3D technology can be used in time-lapse to provide detailed leak detection with exceptional accuracy.

Looking Toward The Future

The technology needed to advance CCS solutions is well on its way to finding efficient and cost-effective ways to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere permanently. Geothermal energy plants, coal-fired power plants, metal processing industries, and mining operations are all adamant about finding solutions to reduce their CO2 emissions. Currently, these industries are looking for proximal solutions to store the CO2 captured during production. Energy companies like TGS have developed a CCS Atlas solution to track optimal reservoirs, industry emitters, and R&D initiatives, making it possible to evaluate capture and storage possibilities in a given area quickly. Innovations made by studying the benefits of basalt mineralization and quantifying the outcomes of using CO2 in different liquid, gas or supercritical solutions make finding optimal cost-effective storage solutions possible. In addition, existing well data and advancements in seismic processing make exploration for optimal reservoirs possible, while 4D seismic using DAS and P-cable offer low-cost monitoring capability.

Industries and governments are investing in new technologies aimed at reducing carbon emissions and existing atmospheric CO2. Storage solutions and capture solutions, including DAC techniques to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, have advanced rapidly over the past few years. As the technology progresses, the costs associated with CCS will begin to decrease, allowing more industries to profit from their investment while reducing atmospheric CO2. The global community was able to drastically reduce environmental pollutants over the past 40 years, and in doing so, they have provided an outline for the decline in CO2 levels.