Three Indiana University agencies will collaborate under a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the feasibility of using subsurface Indiana rock formations for carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The Indiana Geological and Water Survey (IGWS) will lead this multi-year project and focus on data collection, analysis, and geologic interpretation. The Center for Rural Engagement (CRE) at IU Bloomington and the Polis Center at IUPUI, with assistance from Carbon Solutions LLC, will focus on engaging with and collecting data about areas of the state that could be affected by CCS projects.

Carbon capture is a multi-step process to contain carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial processes, including the burning of fossil fuels. At CO2 storage or sequestration hubs, CO2 is injected into deep geologic formations where emissions from carbon-intensive industries can be permanently stored under tight and impermeable rock horizons.

Indiana does not currently have sites where CO2 is being sequestered, but several aspects of Indiana geology make it a prime candidate for CO2 sequestration hub development, said Ashley Douds, an IGWS research scientist and the co-project director. Indiana contains several deep saline formations that have the potential to sequester large volumes of CO2, and it ranks No. 3 in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the country behind only Texas and Louisiana. This means that significant amounts of emissions could be stored near where they are being produced rather than being piped long distances.

IGWS geologists have been studying CO2 sequestration for more than 20 years. The IGWS has participated in several U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects to evaluate the geologic sequestration potential of Cambrian- and Ordovician-aged formations in the Illinois Basin at the industrial facility level. Past and current projects include the Illinois Basin–Decatur Project (IBDP), which sequestered emissions from the Archer-Daniels-Midland ethanol plant in Illinois. As a result of DOE's CarbonSAFE Wabash project, Wabash Valley Resources has applied for two injection wells in Vermillion and Vigo counties in Indiana. A separate, upcoming, DOE-funded project, CarbonSAFE Mitchell, will evaluate the subsurface potential for CO2 storage beneath the Heidelberg Cement Plant in Mitchell, Ind.

“Given the amount of GHG emitted and favorable subsurface geology, Indiana is a natural candidate to accelerate CO2 sequestration hub development to decarbonize the energy economy and realize economic and societal benefits for local communities,” Douds said.

The award to IU was among 10 carbon management projects awarded to state geological surveys nationwide totaling more than $8.7 million which the DOE announced in July. IU will receive $1 million and IU agencies and a partner will contribute $594,178, for a total project value of $1,594,178.

Over the next two years, Douds and Co-Project Director Dr. Maria Mastalerz of the IGWS Center for Energy, along with staff from the IGWS Center for Water, will examine new and existing geologic data to determine geographic focus areas for possible sequestration hub projects. Their research also will quantify the storage capacity of favorable geologic units; map subsurface groundwater reservoirs to better define the base of underground sources of drinking water (USDW); and develop a hierarchy of other subsurface energy needs such as geothermal, natural gas, and hydrogen storage.

The CRE, the Polis Center, and their partners will work on issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the focus areas; outline investments that could spur economic revitalization; and create an engagement plan for community stakeholders. Outreach materials will be created that address challenges to CO2 sequestration hub development in the state.

“At the end of the project, stakeholders, decision-makers, and the residents of Indiana will be able to make informed decisions regarding the future of subsurface energy storage,” Douds said.

Large-scale deployment of carbon management technologies is expected to help reduce emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industrial facilities and power plants.

“There’s no denying that to reach our climate goals, technology will play a central role in the reduction of harmful carbon emissions that are exacerbating the impacts of climate change,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a press release announcing the grants. “Today’s investments will help regions across the nation develop locally focused pathways that advance the deployment of carbon management technology, while delivering more jobs and cleaner air.”