The NSF Sustainable Energy pathways (SEP) Program, under the umbrella of the NSF Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) initiative, will support the research program of Prof. Martin O. Saar and co-workers at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. This project is motivated by the need to simultaneously reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere while expanding the production of electricity, preferably using renewable resources. The project will develop CO2 Plume Geothermal (CPG) technology as a method to achieve both goals. CPG injects CO2 that is captured from a CO2 emitter (e.g., a coal-fired power plant) underground where the majority is permanently stored. CPG can also be used as an energy storage technique by compressing the CO2 into the subsurface reservoirs. In this case, slightly heated CO2 is circulated to the surface for electricity production to offset demand or to arbitrage prices. This is an approach to energy storage that uses CO2 to moderate differences in timing between the time electricity is produced by variable sources, such as wind and solar, and the time electricity is demanded by society. The objectives are to investigate the feasibility of CPG technology options, the implications of their deployment, the potential for broader spillovers, and the production educational material about geothermal energy, CPG, and their potential roles within the broader energy system.

This project will enhance the transition to sustainable energy systems in part by training researchers in interdisciplinary teams and by raising the awareness of geothermal energy and CPG as parts of the low-carbon, renewable energy portfolio. The overall purpose of CPG is develop an environmentally benign energy source that uses fewer resources (e.g. water) and with less negative externalities (e.g., CO2 emissions) than conventional approaches. This research will thoroughly investigate environmental returns that can be gained by storing and using CO2 to produce electricity. In addition, investigations of CPG deployment produce fundamental understanding in areas of electricity market dynamics, decision science, the economics of low-carbon energy sources, and energy policy. In association with the Hubert Project at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs (, a CPG case study detailing the challenges and benefits of developing geothermal energy into a significant sustainable energy resource will be developed. Interactive online visuals will be produced to explain CPG to the public and for use in undergraduate courses. Collabration with the University of Minnesota's Diversity and Outreach program will increase the diversity of the participants in this project.

The transformative nature of the project involves its investigation of (a) CPG for economically storing CO2 and for using the stored CO2 to utilize geothermal energy to produce electricity and/or distribute heat, (b) the economic, financial, and operational issues of CPG technology development and commercial deployment, and (c) how the CPG technology may enable the deployment of other renewable and low-carbon energy technologies. If successful, this project will produce the understanding necessary for the development of a new environmentally benign approach to energy production or storage. The understanding and awareness of the challenges and opportunities for increasing the sustainability of renewable energy systems will be increased. In addition, the CPG technology has the potential to make carbon sequestration economically possible, thereby mitigating global warming.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Stephen Harlan
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
United States
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