The Shift of an Atmospheric Pollutant to an Underground Aid

The Shift of an Atmospheric Pollutant to an Underground Aid

Mahboobin 10:00 L12

Disclaimer—This paper partially fulfills a writing requirement for first year (freshman) engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. Thispaperis astudent, not a professional, paper. This paper is based on publicly available information and may not provide complete analyses of all relevant data. If this paper is used for any purpose other than these authors’ partial fulfillment of a writing requirement for first year (freshman) engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, the user does so at his or her own risk.


Colleen Molczan ()

University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering

Mahboobin 10:00 L12


I grew up surrounded by nature,I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, climbed the rock formations in Sedona, seen the Everglades, kayaked with seals in Maine, hugged a giant red wood tree in California, along with other outdoor adventures. Nature has been a huge part of my upbringing and because of this I’ve been lucky enough to see many different types of environments, and with that came an emphasis on preservation of these environments.Due to my conscious understanding of protecting nature, Ihave always been alarmed with the issue of climate change. Climate change is an issue that effects every person, plant, and animal, which is why I believe it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. The emission of greenhouse gases are a large cause of climate change. Carbon dioxide is a harmful pollution caused by industry. A new process called Carbon Capture and Storage could be the answer to the CO2 pollution that wouldn’t force big industry companies to change their daily process, making them more likely to comply with the addition of this technology. Currently within Enhanced Oil Recovery, carbon dioxide is sent below the surface in order to retrieve oil, which could be the start to the possibility of underground storage of carbon for Carbon Capture and Storage.I want to personally tackle big picture issues, no matter your economic status, country of origin, etc. the environment should be your concern, and Carbon Capture and Storage could be the key to unlocking a way to stop the pollution of our air.


Climate change is a pressing issue for our world that we as a society cannot ignore. The human race has only been on Earth for a mere blip in its lifespan, yet in our short time here we have done more damage than good. A large factor in climate change is greenhouse gas emissions. According to the EPA’s study on the US’s total greenhouse gas emission in 2014, the most prevalent type of greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, contributing to 81% of the total emissions[1]. With carbon dioxide being such a large factor, it is a major concern in regards to our current climate issues. Within another study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2013 on the Major Industrial Carbon Producers, industry makes up63% of the total cause of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere [2].This essentially means that this one sector of business is creatingmore than half of this countries’ CO2 pollution. While it is ideal to say that these companies should be concerned about their environmental impact on their own, realistically it is not their main priority, especially when altering their plants could cut into their profits.A geographer named Richard Heed, who researches the carbon emissions of major fossil fuels companies reveals the lack of concern from companies on their CO2 emissions, “Heede's research shows that nearly two-thirds of anthropogenic carbon emissions originated in just 90 companies and government-run industries. Among them, the top eight companies –ranked according to annual and cumulative emissions below –accountfor 20 percent of world carbon emissions from fossil fuels and cement production since the Industrial Revolution[3].” Heede’s research highlights how large of an impact these big industrial companies have on the pollution of our air. Without a push these companies realistically have no interest in changing their habits. Since saving the environment isn’t enough of an incentive for these companies, a solution to their pollution issue needs to be a small adaptation that doesn’t directly alter the processes at these plants. The technology should also be of no major additional cost to these companies. This is where Carbon Capture and Storage comes into play, this process is only a small addition to the plant itself that doesn’t alter their production. With minimal effect on these companies Carbon Capture and Storage is the ideal solution to the current greenhouse gas issue that doesn’t rely on company change. With minimal impact on these companies and the clear benefit of removing the harmful byproduct of their plants, it is an easy choice for the companies that the environment will completely benefit from.


Carbon Capture and Storage is a realistic goal for stopping the carbon dioxide pollution in the air that is from industry. Carbon Capture and Storage is a 3 step process consisting of the capture of carbon, its transportation, and finally the storage of this gas.

First, in plants where carbon dioxide is released during the burning of fossil fuels, the CO2 is captured through a post-combustion method. This method can be retrofitted to preexisting plants, which is ideal for the current industry. Within this process the exhaust from the plant, which contains CO2, nitrogen and water is sent through a chemical wash that separates the CO2 from the mixture. The carbon dioxide is then compressed so that it is ready for transportation.

The second major stage of the Carbon Capture and Storage process is the transportation of the contained carbon dioxide. The CO2 can either be transported by pipeline or ship, both processes that already exist for other natural gases and fluids. Since these are pre-existing technologies, the new addition of transporting CO2 will not add an excessive cost of new equipment. CO2 can even be transported through pipelines that have become redundant for other fluids, saving cost for the transportation process. Once the CO2 reaches its final destination, the storage process begins.

The last stage of storage is the least tested portion of this process, but through extensive research there are a multitude of places in which the carbon dioxide can be stored. Mainly, CO2 will be either stored within aquifers or emptied oil reservoirs. The CO2 is injected under pressure into the rock below, where it settles in the porous rock. The rock traps the CO2 in the same way that natural gases or crude oils remain below the Earth’s surface, storing it indefinitely [4].


One major concern brought up about carbon capture and storage is whether there will be enough space for the carbon beneath the earth’s surface. While there are a multitude of scientist and engineers that have studied the availability of storage underneath the Earth’s surface in untapped aquifers, there are some doubts about the true capacity of these spaces. Within the European Parliament’s Council of the geological storage of carbon dioxide, their representative, J. Anderson states, “While the storage scenarios provided are purely indicative and do not provide realistic estimates of what a practical CO2transport and storage network will look like, they show that broadly speaking, there is enough storage capacity for each member state to store its own emissions, provided that the optimistic estimates that have been made regarding aquifer storage potential are borne out[5].” Essentially their study on CO2 storage concludes that it is too early in the understanding of deep aquifers to be as optimistic about their capacity, contrary to what many scientists believe at this point. They believe that deeper more extensive research needs to be done before we can decide if the space for CO2 is sustainable for the long term amount that industry will create.

While this concern is highlighted for the deep aquifers, there is another option for storage that is an understood area that can be tapped in to—emptied oil wells. While carbon dioxide storage on such a large scale has not been implemented, a smaller scale process that is currently being implements in the crude oil industry can elude to a possible use for the stored CO2. This process is called Enhanced Oil Recovery. As explained by the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative, after an oil field has been exhausted from the traditional methods of drilling, there can still be up to 70% of that fields oil trapped within the porous surface of the reservoir. Before, this remaining oil was unable to be accessed, but now with the more recent technology of Enhanced Oil Recovery, or EOR, that oil can be utilized. Within EOR, the exhausted oil field is injected with CO2, which reacts with the oil changing its properties so that it can flow easier, releasing it from its originalunreachablelocations. The oil and CO2 are then separated above-ground, so that the oil can be collected and the carbon dioxide can be reused to extract more trapped oil [6].This new form of extraction will prolong the supply of oil for the world, helping to increase the profits of the oil companies, making them more likely to accept the addition of CO2 in their oil wells. Also, the carbon dioxide that will be captured from industry will be given a helpful purpose before it is stored under the earth’s surface. With EOR the waste product of one industry will become a tool for another, continuing Carbon Capture and Storage’s positive monetary impact. Not only will the sequestered carbon dioxide become a valuable asset for the oil industry, once these oil fields are completely empty they can become a perfect place for captured carbon to be stored. These empty oil field were well tended to and contained, making them a safe location for the CO2 to be stored. Also, these oil fields solve the issue of raised by J. Anderson. These fields are well understood—from their size to their ability to contain substances—making research on them unnecessary in order to put them in use.


I have always been concerned with the health of the environment, this is what drove me to seeking our environmental engineering as a potential career. The health of the environment is an issue that I believe impact everyone in this world, which is why it is important that we pay attention to its needs.

As I researched this topic, one concern continually played in my mind—With the responsibility of CO2pollution removed from the industry’s direct concerns, will there be a lack of effort to change the processes that emit CO2? Emissions will become a problem swept under the rug, or quite literally swept under the Earth’s surface. There is only so much room for carbon dioxide to go beneath the Earth’s surface and if, rather than stopping the production of carbon dioxide in industry, we remove it from the equation, I worry that there will be less of a press to stop the creation of this harmful byproduct in industry. Carbon Capture and Storage is a promising solution for the stop of greenhouse gas emissions for the Earth, but it cannot be the only factor is solving this air pollution issue. There will eventually be a time when we run out of space below the Earth’s surface for CO2. In order to ensure that injury to our environment is permanently stopped Carbon Capture and Storage must be paired with the conscious effort of industry to cut down on its carbon dioxide production. There is only one Earth, and we cannot destroy the only place we have to call home, we must curb our destructive habit in order for usto prolong the health of our planet. I believe that Carbon Capture and Storage can be a viable option for improving our environment but it cannot be the only step we take in fixing our pollution creation.


With environmental changes pushed aside by big companies in industry, we need a solution that doesn’t cut into their cost or production time, that will also fix the CO2 emissions. Carbon Capture and Storageminimally effects these companies while still completely removing the CO2 from the plants. CO2 can then be safely stored without effecting industry’s production or the environment. This world is shared by every person and the quality of air and all of the other implications that carbon dioxide levels rising bring, should be a concern for all humanson Earth. Not one specific group of people will benefit more than another by decreasing pollution, which is why I find this technology to be universally important for society. Everyday people should make this a concern of theirs so that industry will be pressured to make a change. Carbon Capture and Storage will allow for new plants to continue to develop lower emission processes over time, rather than waiting until it is too late whenirreversible damage has been done to environment. Also, the oil companies will have increased interest, since they can enhance their production amounts and therefore their profits. As these oil fields begin to be reopened for CO2 storage, these sites will give jobs to many civilians, including engineers who will need to design and oversee each new CO2 storage location. Since this is an entirely new sector of conservation it will expand the environmental field of engineering as well.

CO2 emission need to be fixed, it will only get worse without some attention paid to it, and through Carbon Capture and Storage this issue can be solved with added benefits.


I would like to thank my parents for submerging me in nature from a young age, without you I do not believe I would understand the importance of protecting our environment.


[1] “Greenhouse Gas Emissions” EPA 01.01.2014 Accessed 10.29.2016

[2] “Largest Producers of Industrial Carbon Emissions” Union of Concerned Scientists 01.01.2013 Accessed 10.29.2016

[3] Douglas Starr“Just 90 Companies are to Blame for Most Climate Change, this ‘Carbon Accountant’ Says” Science 08.25.2016 Accessed 10.28.2016

[4] “What is CCS?” Carbon Capture & Storage Association10.03.2014 Accessed 10.26.2016

[5]“Expert Opinions on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage—A Framing of Uncertainties and Possibilities” Energy Policy 02.18.2013 Accessed 10.25.2016

[6]“How CO2-EOR Works” National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative 02.18.2014 Accessed 10.27.2016

University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering

Mahboobin 10:00 L12

University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering