The Petroleum Recovery Research Center Secures Department of Energy Funding For New Carbon Utilization and Storage Partnership

The Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC), one of the five research divisions of New Mexico Tech, was awarded a $6.24 million contract ($5 million with 20% cost share) from the Department of Energy (DOE) in September 2019 under the DOE's Regional Initiative to Accelerate CCUS Deployment. The project was one of four selected to receive federal funding for cost-shared R&D. This award allows formation of the Carbon Utilization and Storage Partnership (CUSP) of the Western United States, spearheaded by the PRRC. The purpose of the CUSP is to advance existing CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage) research and development by addressing key technical challenges; facilitating data collection, sharing, and analysis; evaluating regional infrastructure; and promoting regional technology transfer. The new regional initiative will advance efforts undertaken by the previous Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships (RCSP). New Mexico Tech has been the manager of one of these partnerships, the Southwest Regional Partnership (SWP), since its formation in 2003.

"Those [RCSP] programs are running out their course and Congress likes the impact those programs had and the progress that was made on technology. So they [Congress] wanted to do it again, but with the focus of making projects commercially viable," said Dr. Robert Balch, the Director of PRRC and the Principal Investigator of the CUSP. In addition to the $5 million already received, the Partnership has received an additional $5 million funding that will allow extension of the project to 5 years; the project also has potential of even more funding in the future.

Created in response to the DOE call for proposals to continue its carbon program initiatives, the CUSP was formed by merging SWP and parts of two other regional partnerships; West Coast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (WESTCARB) and Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership (BSCSP). The CUSP is a collection of state geological surveys, universities, and national laboratories in 13 western states. Indiana is also a partner due to the CUSP's relationship interest in using their SimCCS Gateway (a software package). In addition to NMT, partners include the University of Utah, Arizona Geological Survey, Colorado School of Mines, Stanford University, Desert Research Institute of Nevada, Montana State University, Kansas Geological Survey, Oklahoma Geological Survey, Washington Geological Survey, the University of Oklahoma, Indiana University, Utah Geological Survey, and Pacific Northwest, Sandia, and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

In support of the project goals, the CUSP will first focus on improved mapping and characterization of all significant CO2 sources and sinks (storage), and transport pathways for CO2 in the West. Different agencies will provide data, but "also, the mapping would be done using machine learning algorithms, optimum locations, and focus areas to try and develop projects in the 13 western states," said Dr. Balch. The western US has some unique opportunities, in that it is one of the few regions with existing pipeline infrastructure to transport captured CO2, significant experience in using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, expertise in storage and a wealth of different types of geological storage, and abundant available CO2 resources from power plants and other manufacturing processes such as gas processing and manufacture of fertilizer, ethanol, and cement. When promising projects are identified, the CUSP may provide additional help through research that may advance the project more quickly.

New Mexico Tech is a leader in carbon storage research, according to Dr. Balch, who says that personnel in the PRRC have developed significant expertise in managing and executing similar partnership programs through the years. "Programs like these have allowed us to diversify our skillsets and use skills we already have for different purposes. They enable us to hire many students every year to perform funded research." New Mexico benefits from such programs because they bring technology and expertise into the state, and create jobs. Ultimately, the project goal is to reduce atmospheric CO2, a potent greenhouse gas, benefiting all.