UT Study Shows How To Produce Natural Gas While Storing Carbon Dioxide

Chris Fox
July 08, 2019 - 8:23 pm
UT Austin Campus

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AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - New research at The University of Texas at Austin shows that injecting air and carbon dioxide into methane ice deposits buried beneath the Gulf of Mexico could unlock vast natural gas energy resources while helping fight climate change by trapping the carbon dioxide underground.

The study, published June 27 in the journal Water Resources Research, used computer models to simulate what happens when mixtures of carbon dioxide and air are injected into deposits of methane hydrate, an ice-like, water-rich chemical compound that forms naturally in high-pressure, low-temperature environments, such as deep in the Gulf of Mexico and under Arctic permafrost.

Lead author Kris Darnell, a recent doctoral graduate from the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, said the research is the next step in solving two significant global challenges: energy security and carbon storage.

Kris Darnell, a recent doctoral graduate from the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences, led a study that shows how energy can be produced from methane hydrates while helping fight climate change by trapping the carbon dioxide underground. He’s pictured in the UT Pressure Core Center, the only university-based facility that can study methane hydrate cores under pressure. The lab allows researchers to study methane hydrate under the same environmental conditions in which they are found.

“Our study shows that you can store carbon dioxide in hydrates and produce energy at the same time,” said Darnell, whose research was funded by the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG).

In the process, the nitrogen in the injected air sweeps the methane toward a production well and allows carbon dioxide to take its place, researchers said. The beauty of this approach is that it extracts natural gas from methane hydrate deposits and at the same time stores carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in a deep environment where it is unlikely to be released into the atmosphere where it could contribute to climate change.

This is not the first time that hydrate deposits have been proposed for carbon dioxide storage. Earlier attempts either failed or produced lackluster results. The new study breaks down the physics behind the process to reveal why previous attempts failed and how to get it right.

The next step, said Darnell, is to test their findings in a lab. The Jackson School and the UT Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering are currently testing the method in a specialized facility in the Jackson School, which is one of the few in the world that can store and test methane hydrate.