Dr. Ron Surdam may hold the key to Wyoming’s future as one of the leading energy producers in the world. His title may seem non-descript – Director of the Carbon Management Institute at the University of Wyoming – but he has led the ground-breaking effort to figure out how to store carbon gases underground. If his carbon sequestration program does not succeed, many say Wyoming’s lucrative coal industry is doomed.
CO2 (carbon dioxide) is a pollutant released by fossil fuel-fired power plants that many blame for climate change. And whether one agrees or disagrees that global warming is man-caused, even the most skeptical acknowledge that countries the world over are taking radical steps to cut carbon pollution. Figuring out a way to remove gases from coal- and oil-burning and lock them in a geological tomb is crucial, Surdam says, to maintaining a power plant market for coal.
Surdam came to the CMI in 2010 after six years as the Wyoming State Geologist. As State Geologist, he led a search for potential sequestration sites that finally designated an area in Southwest Wyoming called the Rock Springs Uplift as an “outstanding” site for CO2 sequestration.
Now Surdam will work at CMI to speed research into capturing carbon released during energy production and storing it away at reasonable cost.
While the U.S. Congress has balked at passing an energy bill that would restrict carbon emissions, experts expect the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt rules in the near future regulating CO2. The expectation is that either those rules or congressional action will require reduced carbon emissions – one of the reasons that many planned coal-burning power plants have been put on hold.urdam talks to Wyoming Chronicle host Geoff O’Gara about efforts to put UW and Wyoming at the forefront of carbon sequestration research. He anticipates it could also play a crucial role in some of the emerging energy technologies,l such as syngas plants and coal-to-liquids projects.
He discusses with O’Gara the costs and risks of coal sequestration, and answers many of the questions of landowners, energy producers, and energy consumers.
They also survey the world energy picture, and the interest of coal-burning countries like China in the work underway to UW.
Surdam has been touring the state with several other UW professors lecturing s part of a “World Energy Issues Forum.”
Further Reading: “The Rock Springs Uplift: An Outstanding Geological CO2 Sequestration Site in Southwest Wyoming” a publication of the Wyoming State Geological Survey, Challenges in Geologic Resource Development No. 2 (Citizen Printing, Fort Collins, CO, 2007)
For more information on the University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute, go to: http://www.uwyo.edu/ser/research/centers-of-excellence/carbon-management.html
The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) covers issues and research in the carbon sequestration field at its website: http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/carbon_seq/index.html
Scientific American magazine in 2009 published a comprehensive series on carbon sequestration: http://www.scientificamerican.com/report.cfm?id=carbon-capture-storage-ccs