Talks at conference highlight research developments

By Dr. Jennifer McIntosh, Hydrology and Water Resources, University of Arizona

After a rousing evening of Geologic Carbon Sequestration discussions at an Irish pub in old-town Ottawa (great idea, sans the screeching microphones!)…and another cup of coffee…the meeting started up again this morning with more in-depth presentations of Carbon Management Canada (CMC) funded projects.

A really exciting aspect of the talks was the new application of technologies from other fields (e.g. biomedical, natural mineral weathering) to carbon capture and storage.  Dr. David Sinton from the University of Toronto is using tiny plastic and glass tubes on microchips (originally developed for studying processes in the human body) to simulate CO2 injection into saline aquifers and heavy oil recovery; micronizing the lab experiments allows simulation of pore-scale processes at much faster timescales, using less materials – I was impressed!

Dr. Greg Dipple (Univ. of British Columbia) showed that hard-rock mine tailings naturally adsorb CO2 from the atmosphere and precipitate it as magnesium carbonate minerals (Dr. Dipple showed really cool pictures!).  If this process could be enhanced (e.g. by adding bacteria or enzymes), mine tailings could scrub large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, offsetting >6% of Canada’s industrial CO2 emissions.  One caveat is that Mg-rich mine tailings (e.g. from nickel or diamond mines) would need to be co-located with point sources of CO2 emissions (e.g. coal-fired power plants), such as in southern British Columbia.

I didn’t realize the steam extraction of heavy oil from Canada’s tar sands generated so much CO2 (72 million tonnes per year).  Dr. Ian Gates has developed a “smarter” steam injection system that will help operators recover more oil, while reducing CO2 emissions by ~20% – sounds promising!  As Dr. Joule Bergerson (Univ. of Calgary) said, the full life cycle (from cradle to grave) of fossil fuel and alternative energy resources need to be considered to minimize environmental impacts, while also meeting growing energy demands.

Time for a run through the vast Capitol-Parkway trail system, before enjoying the Gala Banquet!