Efforts to convert the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station to the world’s largest carbon capture facility got a boost last week when the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $17.5 million grant for New Mexico Tech in Socorro to study the potential for carbon sequestration in saline reservoirs in the Four Corners Area.
The DOE Office of Fossil Energy approved the grant, to be matched by $4.5 million in non-government funding, to help finance comprehensive commercial site characterization of a potential storage complex in northwestern New Mexico near where San Juan is located. The DOE said the project aims to accelerate deployment of carbon capture and storage technology at San Juan, something the City of Farmington and private company Enchant Energy Corp. are jointly pursuing.
Data obtained from the study would be used to attain a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to construct the storage complex, or injection well, which could potentially allow for sequestration of 50 million tons of CO2.
The saline reservoir under study is about three times saltier than sea water, making it unusable for any other purpose, said Robert Balch, director of the Petroleum Recovery Institute at New Mexico Tech.
“We’ll drill a test well that we’ll use to evaluate the ability of the reservoir to store CO2 and the cap rock above it to hold the carbon,” Balch told the Journal. “… We’ll put samples of the rock into pressure and temperature environments at New Mexico Tech similar to the storage site. We’ll run CO2 through it to evaluate the injectability rate and the chemical response of the rock to CO2.”
Any carbon injected into the storage complex would be sequestered for at least 990 years, or the time it takes for CO2 released into the air to naturally disappear, Balch said.
The three-year project will build on past research done by New Mexico Tech on the storage site. The state’s two national laboratories will also participate in the project.
New Mexico Tech, Enchant Energy, and Schlumberger Carbon Services, a subsidiary of oilfield services company Schlumberger, will contribute matching funds for the research.
If successful, the future storage complex could provide Enchant Energy with a viable alternative for storing the six million tons of carbon it plans to capture from San Juan annually starting in 2023, when the converted plant is targeted to come online, said Enchant Chief Operating Officer Peter Mandelstam. Until now, the company had anticipated sending all captured CO2 through the nearby Cortez pipeline in Colorado to the Permian Basin for producers to use in enhanced oil recovery operations.
“We could sequester some or all of the CO2 at a storage site adjacent to the coal plant,” Mandelstam told the Journal. “We’re thrilled to work with New Mexico Tech to understand the geology near the plant. Through this three-year project, even with the coronavirus, we can drill wells and provide jobs and economic development in San Juan County.”