What is CCUS and why do researchers believe it could be the future of reducing carbon emissions?

CO2 storage
Posted at 12:32 PM, Sep 22, 2022

When it comes to how we can reach the climate goals the United States has set, many of us think about taking CO2 out of the air.

But new technologies are suggesting we pump CO2 underground instead. It is one of the techniques used in CCUS: Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage, a process that has been around for decades as industries determine the best ways to use CO2 instead of emitting it into the atmosphere.

Recently, that research has focused on pumping CO2 into rocks thousands of feet underground.

“One of the true proven technologies for reducing carbon emissions in the air is CCUS,” said Fred McLaughlin, director of the Center of Economic Geology Research at the University of Wyoming. “It’s commercially viable; it’s been proven in many projects worldwide. The restraint to date has been the economics to make these projects go forward.”

McLaughlin and his researchers are looking at the viability of drilling up to 10,000 feet underground to see what rock formations might be able to hold the carbon. The gas is compressed into an almost-liquid form which fills in microscopic air pockets in the rock.

This technology has been used since the 1970s but on a small scale. Currently, there are CCUS sites in Illinois, Texas, North Dakota, and parts of the Southeast. The tricky part, though, is making it attractive to businesses.

Building the infrastructure for this work can cost a lot with little benefit to companies other than reducing emissions, so what McLaughlin and other researchers at the University of Wyoming are trying to do is find ways to make this more cost effective and attractive so industries feel incentivized to use it.

There are potential risks that are being studied as well. Since this all happens in wells that go deep underground, there is a chance for leakage, water contamination, and seismic activity, according to McLaughlin. After all, it involves displacing existing things to make room for more stuff thousands of feet below Earth’s surface.

Because of that the application and permitting process is rigorous and all things must be deemed safe before any type of storage can start. But with all the minds and potential behind this project, McLaughlin feels confident this could be a revolutionary way to tackle the issue of climate change.