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EGU 2012: going green on (and under) the ground

By Liz Kalaugher

The thousands of delegates congregating in Vienna this year will find the EGU making further efforts to “green” the meeting – badge lanyards are made from bamboo fibre rather than PET and the conference schedule is smaller to save paper. It seems only appropriate, since many of the sessions at the conference will focus on the cryosphere (shrinking), climate (warming), natural resources (under pressure) and energy. But are such measures just a drop in the ocean, especially as environmental issues appear to have fallen down the priority list for many governments?

Indeed, governments received a call for action within the first half hour of the conference opening, with Millie Basava-Reddi of the International Energy Agency Greenhouse Gas R&D programme (IEAGHG) stressing the need for investment in carbon storage, in her talk presented by session chair Michael Kühn due to a delayed flight.

While the G8 nations would like to see 20 carbon capture and storage projects up and running by 2020, the IEA target is 100 by 2020 and 3,400 by 2050. The agency’s latest assessment, however, indicates that while 20 projects are feasible for 2020 its own roadmap isn’t, with just 50 projects likely by 2025. Worldwide there are currently 14 large-scale integrated projects in operation or execution; 2011 saw 74 large-scale projects in at least the planning stage. Basava-Reddi called on governments to allow for long project lead times – up to fifteen years – and to help to provide up-front investment.

The challenges for carbon capture and storage in many cases mirror those for other subsurface technologies such as geothermal energy. Indeed Kühn’s group at the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, Germany, is researching how brine extraction from saline aquifers could help reduce the pressure rise induced by the addition of carbon dioxide, whilst at the same time providing geothermal heat.

There are a large number of issues in geothermal energy that need substantial research efforts, explained Adele Manzella of CNR Institute for Geosciences and Earth Resources, Italy. The upper 3 km of the Earth’s crust could provide 60,000 times our current power consumption; the only snag is where and how to access that power. The up-front costs are high and it’s hard to forecast production, especially since there is a lack of data on geothermal potential. But once systems are set up the energy produced is cheap compared with other types of renewable energy, since power is provided 24 hours a day.

The European Energy Research Alliance has set up a Joint Programme on Geothermal Energy, said Manzella. Areas under study include assessing Europe’s resources for geothermal power, how to mitigate induced seismicity in reservoirs, and high-performance drilling.

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