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U Alabama Teams with Utility on Carbon Greenhouse Gas Emission Research

Engineering students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will have the chance to receive training for green jobs. A new program will train them in carbon sequestration engineering by utility Southern Company in a project to commercialize technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power production. Carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon dioxide to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere.

The research project, selected by the United States Department of Energy for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is designed to help develop an educated work force to support commercial utility-scale geologic sequestration activities in the future, said Richard Esposito, Southern Company principal geologist.

The program will include multiple activities. Undergraduate engineering honors students will do independent research on geologic sequestration focused on the sealing capacity of cap rocks serving as barriers to carbon dioxide migration in geologic formations. The university will offer an undergraduate/graduate level course on coal combustion and gasification, climate change, and carbon sequestration. The partnership will also support six graduate students conducting research on the development of protocols for assessment of seal layer integrity and analysis of cap rock samples from geologic formations under consideration for sequestration of CO₂.

"Understanding the integrity of cap rocks is one of the key elements to safe and permanent sequestration," Esposito said.

Southern Company will provide the university researchers and their students with rock samples for study in the laboratory, geologic data with which to construct mathematical models and simulations, direct contact with company geologists and engineers engaged in carbon capture and storage research and development, and opportunities to visit field sites where large-scale tests of carbon sequestration are underway, said Peter Walsh, professor of mechanical engineering.

"Southern Company's involvement and support are key components of the training for our students to work in carbon capture and storage," Walsh said. "We are delighted to partner with Southern Company on a project that enables us to contribute to a solution of one of the most interesting, important and complex issues of our time."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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