Assessment of Brine Management for Geologic Carbon Sequestration

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Geologic carbon sequestration (GCS) is the injection of carbon dioxide (CO2), typically captured from stationary emission sources, into deep geologic formations to prevent its entry into the atmosphere. Active pilot facilities run by regional United States (US) carbon sequestration partnerships inject on the order of one million metric tonnes (mt) CO2 annually while the US electric power sector emits over 2000 million mt-CO2 annually. GCS is likely to play an increasing role in US carbon mitigation initiatives, but scaling up GCS poses several challenges. Injecting CO2 into sedimentary basins raises fluid pressure in the pore space, which is typically already occupied by naturally occurring, or native, brine. The resulting elevated pore pressures increase the likelihood of induced seismicity, of brine or CO2 escaping into potable groundwater resources, and of CO2 escaping into the atmosphere. Brine extraction is one method for pressure management, in which brine in the injection formation is brought to the surface through extraction wells. Removal of the brine makes room for the CO2 and decreases pressurization. Although the technology required for brine extraction is mature, this form of pressure management will only be applicable if there are cost-effective and sustainable methods of disposing of the extracted brine.

Brine extraction, treatment, and disposal may increase the already substantial capital, energy, and water demands of Carbon dioxide Capture and Sequestration (CCS). But, regionally specific brine management strategies may be able to treat the extracted water as a source of revenue, energy, and water to subsidize CCS costs, while minimizing environmental impacts. By this approach, value from the extracted water would be recovered before disposing of any resulting byproducts. Until a price is placed on carbon, we expect that utilities and other CO2 sources will be reluctant to invest in capital intensive, high risk GCS projects; early technical, economic, and environmental assessments of brine management are extremely valuable for determining the potential role of GCS in the US.

We performed a first order feasibility and economic assessment, at three different locations in the US, of twelve GCS extracted-water management options, including: geothermal energy extraction, desalination, salt and mineral harvesting, rare-earth element harvesting, aquaculture, algae biodiesel production, road de-icing, enhanced geothermal system (EGS) recharge, underground reinjection, landfill disposal, ocean disposal, and evaporation pond disposal. Three saline aquifers from different regions of the US were selected as hypothetical GCS project sites to encompass variation in parameters that are relevant to the feasibility and economics of brine disposal. The three aquifers are the southern Mt. Simon Sandstone Formation in the Illinois Basin, IL; the Vedder Formation in the southern San Joaquin Basin, CA; and the Jasper Interval in the eastern Texas Gulf Basin, TX. These aquifers are candidates for GCS due to their physical characteristics and their close proximity to large CO2 emission sources. Feasibility and impacts were calculated using one mt-CO2 injected as the functional unit of brine management. Scenarios were performed for typical 1000MW coal-fired power plants (CFPP) that incurred an assumed 24 percent carbon capture energy penalty (EP), injected 90 percent of CO2 emissions (~9 million mt-CO2 injected annually), and treated extracted water onsite. Net present value (NPV), land requirements, laws and regulations, and technological limits were determined for each stage of disposal, and used to estimate feasibility. The boundary of the assessment began once extracted water was brought to the surface, and ended once the water evaporated, was injected underground, or was discharged into surface water bodies. Results of the assessment were generated, stored, and analyzed using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and ESRI Geographical Information System (GIS) maps.

Conclusions about the relative benefits and impacts of alternative brine-management strategies were highly sensitive to local climate and weather, and aquifer water chemistry. The NPV of certain scenarios ranged from -$50/mt-CO2 (a cost) to +$10/mt-CO2 (revenue). The land footprint of the scenarios in this study ranged from 2 to 100 km2.

Brine extraction as a pressure management tool for GCS has potential for improving the economics and for minimizing the environmental impacts of CCS. In order to maximize this potential, careful analysis of each saline aquifer and region must be conducted to determine a regionally appropriate brine use sequence (BUS) at the time of site selection. Models that use GIS will be essential tools in determining such sequences for individual CFPP. Future studies that perform risk and life cycle assessments (LCA) of BUS scenarios, incorporate additional impact metrics into the BUS model, and enhance the temporal sensitivity of the model would improve the robustness of this regional assessment method.

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