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DECATUR — Researchers are beginning to explore the possibility of capturing and storing carbon dioxide below ground at more sites near Decatur than the initial area of focus surrounding the main Archer Daniels Midland Co. complex.

Grants from the U.S. Department of Energy totaling $10.1 million for two Illinois State Geological Survey projects were announced Friday during an event at Richland Community College that included U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. The grants will fund research as part of the CarbonSAFE project exploring the feasibility of commercial scale geologic storage of carbon dioxide in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With one of the grants, the Geological Survey will receive $8.9 million to address the feasibility of a commercial scale geologic storage complex within the Mount Simon Sandstone formation in Macon County.

A site of interest for further evaluation is the Forsyth oil field north of Decatur, said Sallie Greenberg, associate director for energy research and development with the Geological Survey, which is part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.

The research will address a gap in development knowledge as a result of few other large scale carbon storage projects in deep reservoirs, Greenberg said.

“We want to pick a new area to understand whether it has sustainable geology to store 50 million metric tons,” Greenberg said. “We're beginning to explore other possibilities within Illinois based on the success we've already had here in Decatur.”

The next phase of research will look into establishing a separate storage complex with multiple wells from various sources, Greenberg said. She said previous studies of the Forsyth oil field have indicated it may respond positively to storing carbon dioxide and therefore it provides some interest for business development possibilities.

The study will focus on the Cambrian Mount Simon Storage Complex, which Greenberg said is about 4,000 feet below the oil-producing unit. The plan will be to drill a stratigraphic test well in the Forsyth oil field to establish the larger potential storage capacity while examining the potential for carbon dioxide-enhanced oil recovery in the region, she said.

Interest in the research has been established from two coal-fired power plants in the region, including City Water Light & Power, or CWLP, in Springfield and Abbott Power Plant in Champaign, Greenberg said. She said ADM is interested in additional opportunities to manage and monetize carbon emissions from its nearby operations.

CarbonSAFE is intended to build on the work done in two projects underway in Decatur that will have captured emissions from ADM's ethanol plant.

“This complex has already been tested and proven,” Greenberg said. “This globally recognized project has demonstrated that carbon dioxide can be safely stored and monitored while being protective of the environment and human health and safety.”

The injection phase of the first carbon capture project, known as the Illinois Basin Decatur project, was completed in late 2014 after capturing 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide stored under the ADM facility. The carbon dioxide being store more than 7,000 feet below ground is currently being monitored, Greenberg said.

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ADM is awaiting final U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval to begin injection of 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over five years as part of what is known as the Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage project. The injection well for that project would be near Richland Community College by Progress City USA, the host site of the Farm Progress Show.

Durbin has been a supporter of developing the carbon capture and storage technology as the initial stages of research have progressed over nearly the past decade.

Durbin said funding for the CarbonSAFE projects will allow researchers to progress toward taking 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and instead store it underground. It's the equivalent of preventing the emissions from 4 million homes or 12 coal power plants from reaching the atmosphere, he said.

“I think it's significant and the right thing to do,” Durbin said. “We've proven it can work in the first round. If proven out, this can be a dramatic resource.”

Durbin is expecting an active debate in Washington, D.C., over whether providing additional funding for such projects should continue.

“We want to capture it before it harms the Earth,” Durbin said. “We hope for more support under the new administration.”

Richland will continue to play a significant role in the education and community involvement with the projects, Greenberg said. The goal of the CarbonSAFE phase will be to look at the business model to show the feasibility of developing the technology for commercial purposes, said Doug Brauer, Richland vice president of economic development and innovative solutions.

Moving beyond demonstrations to developing commercial applications would be a significant milestone, Brauer said.

“No place else in the world has this much carbon capture and storage work going on,” Brauer said. “CarbonSAFE puts us in a unique position as a community college.”

In addition to the work in Macon County, the Geological Survey will receive $1.2 million to study the challenges, opportunities and risks involved in building a commercial scale carbon capture and storage project elsewhere in East Central Illinois.

Greenberg said the area under consideration for the East-Sub Basin study has some of the best geological characteristics in North America for storage of carbon dioxide. She said it is also one of the most concentrated regions for industrial carbon dioxide emissions.

A prefeasibility evaluation of geological storage potential is needed in the eastern part of the Illinois Basin, Greenberg said. She said the project will examine carbon dioxide source and transportation options and investigate the opportunities for developing a carbon dioxide source network.

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