The Energy Institute funded a proposal co-written by the Gulf Coast Carbon Center (GCCC) to find out how to implement and assure long-term underground geological storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) at the technical, legal, policy, business, and community level. The University of Texas at Austin (UT) cross-disciplinary project is co-led by Susan Hovorka of the Bureau of Economic Geology’s GCCC and LeeAnn Kahlor of the Moody College of Communication. Other team members are from the Cockrell School of Engineering, the School of Law, and the McCombs School of Business.

The Energy Institute put out the call for proposals titled, Fueling a Sustainable Energy Transition. More than 30 applications were submitted from 127 researchers and GCCC’s project was 1 of 11 projects awarded. The goal is to find solutions to provide affordable and reliable energy in the world’s movement towards sustainable energy.

Carbon storage is long-term

One method to reduce atmospheric emissions of CO2 is carbon capture and storage (CCS). Fossil fuel combustion with the release of the greenhouse gas CO2 is one part of the problem. In addition, many industrial processes, like chemical, cement, and steel manufacturing, emit CO2 yet remain without a viable mitigation option besides CCS. Many sustainable technologies, such as renewable energy generation, rely on these industrial processes.

To achieve the needed reduction in emissions, geological storage must be effective in permanently retaining CO2 that’s injected into the subsurface. How do we provide assurance that the project is effective?

The project collaborators approach this question from a variety of angles, according to their expertise. Under the proposal titled “Assuring Long-term Storage of Captured CO2: Technical-Legal-Policy-Business Models,” the team proposes to study three strands they expect will help provide needed confidence and support large-scale implementation.

While the technologies used in geologic storage are mature and provide high technical confidence that stored CO2 is trapped in the deep subsurface over long periods, translating this into certainty that can be used to underpin a large business investment is a new challenge. Interest in investment is growing, but the needed confidence remains poor.

Geoscientists use novel techniques to confirm their predictions

Understanding the multitude of ways that CO2 and the underground brine water interact within pore spaces in rocks is needed to predict the long-term consequence of that interaction. Pore-scale fluid interactions that trap CO2 have been modeled at GCCC previously but the new project will build pore-scale micromodels to experimentally validate the predicted interactions. Upscaling this to a level relevant to the total CO2 injected into an underground rock will determine how the fluid movement stalls overtime underground and be critical to gaining confidence in storage permanence. These experiments and computer modeling will be compared to projects at field sites so that scientists will be able to better predict the stabilization of CO2 underground.

Action requires coordination of business, policy, and regulation

If CCS is to move in a direction that tackles significant national or global emissions, then risk will transfer from the public (everyone is affected by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) to the private, corporate environment (emitters taking action to store their greenhouse gases). Precedent and mechanisms for creating legal and policy frameworks to support long-term storage will be assessed. Translating the geotechnical language to appropriate commercial and regulatory communications will help provide financial assurance and risk avoidance to manage long-term liability for storage.

Everything depends on effective communication

The scientific justification for CCS is to combat the greenhouse gas CO2 from entering the atmosphere where it contributes to climate change. At present, many public stakeholders in areas where CCS is likely to be deployed—such as Texas—are not aware of CCS nor its potential to mitigate climate change. Because large-scale CCS implementation will require public support, it is imperative that the technology’s mitigation potential be recognized by public stakeholders. Therefore, the social scientists in the project will employ survey methods with a probability based sampling strategy to test a variety of messages and phrases in hopes of making the connection between climate change, CO2, and CCS clear and apparent. This work will help improve communication efforts aimed at building awareness of longterm storage.

“We know a fair amount already. For example, public awareness of CCS is low, awareness of the benefits leads to more support,” project co-lead Lee Ann Kahlor said. “But we also know that, at least in Texas, people aren’t aware that CCS is a way to mitigate climate change. So that is our goal – to make that connection clear. On the surface, it sounds really simple. But rest assured, if it was simple we wouldn’t need to be doing this work.”

Transferring confidence to the whole energy ecosystem

By approaching the topic from a variety of angles, UT scientists will help answer one of the longest standing and complicated issues in CCS: confidence in long-term geological storage.

The Energy Institute promotes research at UT that makes a global impact on the future of energy.

Other projects awarded include sustainable energy topics such as nextgen battery packs, solar-powered water purification, electricity infrastructure for extreme weather, predicting ecosystem carbon capture, optimizing carbon capture processes, and managing climate change and land-use planning in urban areas, among others.

Read UT’s coverage of all award recipients and their projects here:

  • On Tuesday and Wednesday, January 28th and 29th, 2020, GCCC co-hosted the 5th University of Texas Conference on Carbon Capture and Storage (UTCCS-5) with the Texas Carbon Management Program (TxCMP).

    More than 100 participants attended UTCCS-5, including this dinner talk by Dr. Varun Rai, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Download the program here.

    More than 100 participants joined the UTCCS-5 to learn about the latest updates from the University of Texas at Austin experts on carbon capture and storage.

    Representatives from CCS groups at Battelle, Baker Hughes, BHP, BP, ExxonMobil, JX Nippon (Petra Nova), Shell, Oxy, Total, Trimeric, USGS, DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Task Force, and others attended.

    Participants joined either the carbon capture track organized by the UT Chemical Engineering Department and Dr. Gary Rochelle. Or the geological storage track, organized by GCCC. The storage track focused largely on the geological applications, infrastructure, and stakeholder relations within the CCS process.

    The first day of the storage track was dedicated to presenting project updates on GCCC’s 5-year Big Plan which describes our research group’s aspirations for the forward-looking direction of cutting-edge research, guided by the need to upscale CCS to a commercial level. GoMCarb results were also shared. The day ended with a tour of the carbon capture demonstration plant on the UT Austin’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus (photos below).

    During the second day, presentations continued, working through the various tasks in the Big Plan. Afterward, a couple of hours were devoted to closed session discussions with GCCC Industrial Associates, answering questions and receiving feedback on what remains ahead in research in order to push CCS towards wide adoption within energy industries.

    The University of Texas Conference on Carbon Capture and Storage takes place every other year in conjunction with the biannual GCCC Industrial Associates meeting. This is the fifth iteration of the conference.

    View a list of the presenters and their talks below.


    Contact research program coordinator, Emily Moskal (, for access to the presentation slides.

    Day 1, Tuesday, January 28, 2020

    Welcome, Gary Rochelle and Susan Hovorka

    Plenary: Meeting the Dual Challenge, Jane Stricker and Susan Blevins

    Leslie Savage, Texas Regulatory Environment for CCS

    Benjamin Heard, Gulf Coast Sequestration

    Ramon Trevino and Alex Bump, Progress in the Gulf of Mexico

    Tip Meckel, Addressing Subsurface Aspect of Large-Scale CCS

    Susan Hovorka, Cost of Characterization to Prepare for Permitting

    Katherine Romanak, International Engagement

    Rachel Lim, Stakeholder Challenges and Perspectives

    Emily Moskal, Dialogue in the CCUS Ecosystem

    Seyyed Hosseini, GCCC New Projects

    Darshan Sachde, Overview of CO2 Capture, Transport, and Infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico

    Katherine Romanak, Environmental Field Studies

    Tip Meckel, Status and Plans for Offshore Monitoring

    Ramon Gil-Egui and Vanessa Nunez-Lopez, The Impact of 45Q and Stacked Storage in the CO2-EOR Sustainability

    Vanessa Nunez-Lopez, Fluid Flow Research in Collaboration with Imperial College London

    Sahar Bakhshian, Prediction of CO2 Footprint: A Hybrid Pore-Scale Simulation and Analytical Modeling

    Varun Rai, CCS…It’s Time!

    Day 2, Wednesday, January 29, 2020

    Larry Lake, The Effect of Compressibility and Boundaries on Displacement Stability

    Shayan Tavassoli, CO2 Storage in Gulf Coast Saline Aquifers and Pilot Case Study of Wellbore Leakage Mitigation for CO2 Storage Projects

    Xiaojin Zheng, Zhuang Sun, D. Nicolas Espinoza, Uniaxial Strain Unloading Compressibility of Frio Sand: Implications on Reservoir Pressure Management for CO2 Storage

    Prasanna Krishnamurthy, CO2 Migration and Trapping in Heterogeneous Porous Media

    Seyyed Hosseini, Analytical Models of Plume Migration and Stabilization

    Jiro Tanaka, Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project: Project Update

    Susan Hovorka, Monitoring Needs: Well Surveillance and Plume Stabilization

    Susan Hovorka Presenting Curt Oldenburg and Lehua Pan’s Work, Mechanistic Modeling of CO2 Leakage into the Water Column from Offshore CO2 Wells or Pipelines

    Susan Hovorka, Discussion with Sponsors

  • From December 2nd to the 15th, 2019, representatives from almost 200 nations met in Madrid, Spain to smooth out the tangled details of global climate action at the 25th UNFCCC Climate Change Conference (COP25). Negotiations ended on Sunday and there’s been a lot of media talk of whether the outcomes justified the extra time commitment—this year’s talk became the longest-running in the annual meeting’s 25-year history, ending two days late—or were impactful enough to move the dial on global greenhouse gas emissions toward net-zero by 2050.

    GCCC insider and research scientist Katherine Romanak, traveled again this year to the COP to address delegates and other scientists with input into how to tackle global emissions reductions. Romanak said that “You may have heard that the negotiations went badly,” Romanak said. “It’s not all that bad, because they still have until next year to get it right. They would rather continue negotiations and get a quality agreement than agree on something that might not work as well.”

    The Paris agreement has many goals. Two of the most important are to provide climate response transparency across countries and to encourage commitments to increase nationally determined contributions. The agreement calls for a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.”

    GCCC research has shown that a significant sink to keep carbon dioxide (CO2)—one of the largest contributors to temperature change—away from the atmosphere is in underground rock layers, similar to the natural geological trapping of fluids and gases. The space in offshore continental margins alone could offset all of the world’s 2019 emissions.

    Carbon capture and geologic storage could account for roughly 13% reduction of total emissions according to the International Energy Agency, using estimates from the IPCC’s two-degree scenario which limits average global temperature change to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—used as the benchmark for the Paris agreement.

    This year’s COP was largely about refining the Paris agreement’s Article 6. Article 6 aims to support countries to meet their emissions reduction goals through voluntary international cooperation (trading carbon credits, for example).

    Some COP history: COP25 prepares for COP26 when the Kyoto protocol will be replaced by the Paris agreement. Last year in Poland, parties agreed on the “Paris Rulebook” which outlined all the aspects of the Paris agreement except for Article 6 which is mostly about market mechanisms, cooperative approaches, accounting, and transparency. All paths lead to one end goal: to increase countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (the amount each country will decrease their greenhouse gas emissions). The term “increased ambition” is increasingly being used because, at this moment, the NDCs are not enough to limit warming to 2C or even to 1.5C. So countries will need to up their pledges to emissions reductions.

    One big question that Romanak has for CCS and other mitigation strategies in the Paris agreement negotiations, specifically for carbon credit trading, is the issue of permanence.

    “In the CCS world we are made to show permanence for thousands of years,” Romanak said. At these negotiations, there is talk about nature-based solutions like storing carbon in soils, plants, or through better land-use practices. But with climate change altering natural patterns, forest fires becoming larger and more common, and the potential for land-use practices to be abandoned over time, they remain uncertain.

    Weather patterns like rainfall and moisture are anticipated to change in unpredictable ways. Deep under the Earth’s surface, unaffected by the sun’s rays and the atmosphere, carbon can be assured to be stored much longer.

    Given this logic, Romanak asks, “With this discrepancy should a carbon credit gained through CCS be equal to a credit gained through agriculture?” If not done right, these rules could actually hinder the emissions reduction by not weighing the benefits of each mitigation strategy proportionally.

    For COP25, Romanak again co-organized, since CCS became a recognized technology within the UNFCCC in 2011, the only official CCS side event at the COP. This year’s presentation was titled, “Carbon Removal and Return: Can CCS Decarbonize Industry in South America and Help the Oceans?”

    A recording of the official side event is available (for a limited time) at:
    View a summary of the presentations here:

    Romanak discussed monitoring, safety, and technology transfer, addressing common questions related to each. Other panelists included Tim Dixon (IEAGHG), Carol Turley (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), Jan Wilcox (Worcester Polytechnic), Andrew Jupiter (University of the West Indies), Beth Hardy (International CCS Knowledge Centre), Piera Patrizio (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis), and Keith Whiriskey (Bellona). Topics included: the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere, direct air capture with CCS, developing a national program in Trinidad and Tobago, decarbonizing cement, BECCS sustainable jobs, and low-carbon infrastructure. The Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) also helped support the event.

    Romanak also presented in a CO2 Capture Project event (BP, Chevron, Petrobras) focused around CO2 storage regulations. Her talk was on monitoring for demonstrating CO2 storage permanence. As well as at the Japanese event Saving Our Beautiful Planet with CCS (Part 2)”, which was organized by Japan CCS Co, METI and NEDO in the Japan Pavilion. Yoshihiro Sawada gave a great presentation showing why nearby earthquakes near a CO2 injection site in Tomakomai were not caused by the injection nor did they disturb the injection.

    Some new reports were released with fanfare:

    And some new projects were revealed:

    • Occidental is planning a large-scale direct air capture (DAC) facility in Texas by 2023 that will capture 1 MMT per year. Their plan is then to have 11 more of these in the construction phase by 2024 in order to gain 45Q credits. They plan to use Carbon Engineering’s potassium hydroxide-based technology. Presenters suggested that DAC can de-risk a project because it can be moved and adapted to new facilities as others age. This flexibility of DAC lowers investment risk.
    • The Western States Petroleum Association will soon publish an atlas on storage capacity in California with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Supposedly in order to meet their net-zero target, California will need to store 100 MMT per year through CCS.

    GCCC hopes to play a part in these projects in some way. GCCC, and Romanak particularly, is committed to assist scientists and leaders in Trinidad and Tobago to develop an atlas of carbon storage opportunities in the nation as well as capacity building if funded through one of the international development banks currently supporting low-carbon development.

    And like all good conferences, Romanak said she came out a changed person. She was lucky enough to sit two rows behind Greta Thunberg as she gave her plenary talk. You can watch the plenary here.

    The global climate talks will resume next year in Glasgow, Scotland. GCCC researcher Katherine Romanak expects to be there to again provide her technical expertise to push the US and developing countries forward in their action to meet climate commitments with CCS. GCCC has one big piece of the puzzle. Negotiators, policymakers, and business leaders will need to act fast.

    Contact Katherine Romanak for more information on assisting international and developing countries to develop and meet their emissions targets using CCS. Read a press release about GCCC’s partnership with Trinidad and Tobago.