Together as part of an international research collaboration, Dr. Katherine Romanak and Professor Andrew Jupiter, representing the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and the Petroleum Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine, respectively, just made their partnership official with a memorandum of understanding (MOU).
The MOU states that, together, they will cooperate in international research activities in the field of carbon capture and geologic storage (CCS), organize scientific meetings and workshops, and share facilities towards the shared vision of deploying CCS technology in Trinidad and Tobago. The memo was signed by Professor Brian Copeland, Pro Vice Chancellor/Principal of the UWI, St. Augustine and Mark Featherstone, Assistant Director of the Office of Sponsored Projects at UT.
The collaboration has been long in development but most recently an urgency between the researchers was spurred during the Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. During the internationally-prominent conference where countries negotiated on goals and targets for climate action, both researchers presented on a panel that explored decarbonization limits and opportunities titled, “Can Carbon Capture and Storage Decarbonize Industries in Developed and Developing Countries?”
The panel was the only COP-official side event dedicated to CCS and has been for the last five years, organized by UT and IEAGHG with collaborators from the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, the Bellona Foundation, and the International CCS Knowledge Centre. During Romanak’s talk on the panel, she invited developing countries to explore their potential for geological CO2 storage by using UNFCCC funding mechanisms to build their capacity in CCS. “Opportunities are available at all levels for getting on the path to CCS,” she said. “We can offer capacity building, workshops and memberships with experienced organizations.”
Romanak is a research scientist who studies environmental monitoring of geological CO2 storage sites. She is part the Gulf Coast Carbon Center, an experienced research group within UT that has developed and monitored CCS projects for nearly 20 years.
The International Energy Agency states that CCS must be upscaled by nearly two orders of magnitude by 2050, 75% of which must come from developing countries. Romanak has worked with developing countries, including Nigeria and Ghana, to help get CCS technology in their country. She is well acquainted with the process of how countries can engage with the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism to obtain the funding to gain the critical skills needed for deployment.
[Trindad and Tobago is considered one of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Although newly listed as a developed country by some, UNFCCC considers SIDS to stand in their own category.]
Trinidad and Tobago is highly vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change in the Caribbean. Located in the middle of a large warm sea affected by the Atlantic hurricane season and with an island size of just less than 2,000 square miles (about the size of the state of Delaware), Trinidad and Tobago is experiencing more severe natural disasters. Although small in absolute global emissions, Trinidad and Tobago has one of the top ten highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita globally.
The University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago, two academic institutions in the twin-island republic, are addressing this concern through innovative collaborations with government energy institutions to develop sustainable energy resources that are critical to the economy of the country. Jupiter, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries for Trinidad and Tobago and now the Methanol Holdings Trinidad Limited (MHTL) Chair in Petroleum Engineering and Distinguished Fellow of the University of the West Indies, is ready to lead the way.
While sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2) in forests is an attractive mitigation option for a country like Trinidad and Tobago, it and several other climate mitigation technologies are not the country’s best option. Carbon storage in forests or using renewable energy options like solar and wind currently require a large land mass area which the small island nation doesn’t have.
During the COP panel Jupiter said that “even if the whole island was trees, no houses, it wouldn’t be enough.” All mitigation options must be explored and CCS is where these partners can add value. The energy professionals have the subsurface engineering experience needed to implement geologic CO2 storage in brine reservoirs.
Dr. David Alexander, an Assistant Professor of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, noted that a simulation using local geological reservoirs showed that the technology’s amount that it would be able to offset was promising for their particular emissions scenario. Alexander has plans to involve his students in a project to amend the oil and gas reservoir simulations to model CO2 injection into brine reservoirs.
The strategy to green existing industries to ensure workers aren’t left behind—while focusing on a transition to a low-carbon economy with a variety of fuel sources—is what Brian Kohler of IndustriALL Global Union called a “just transition” during the COP panel.
By reaching for CCS in the near term, Trinidad and Tobago has the greatest chance to meet the country’s climate targets and the potential to make a dent in global emission reductions. With this cooperation and the knowledge and skill transfer between the two universities, it seems more than just possible. It’s well on its way.
Katherine Romanak, on behalf of the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin, is enthusiastic about the start of what she hopes to be a long and fruitful partnership that sets a precedent for what’s possible in an international collaboration on climate change mitigation.