Dr. Brian McPherson, hydrology professor

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., September 9, 2003 – New Mexico Tech has been named the lead management organization for the Southwest Regional Partnership for Carbon Sequestration, part of a newly formed nationwide network of universities, state agencies, and private companies tasked with studying the best approaches for capturing and permanently storing, or “sequestering,” greenhouse gases that affect global climate change.

The state-supported research university will be joined by the Western Governors Association (WGA) in coordinating the regional partnership, which is part of the federal initiative announced late last year by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as a key component of President Bush’s Global Climate Change research program. The role of the WGA is to coordinate communication and technology transfer among the Southwest partnership and six other national partnerships.

“Carbon sequestration” is the technical term used to describe methods for removing carbon gases from the exhausts of power plants, or from the air itself, and then storing the gases in geologic formations, soils, or vegetation.

Besides New Mexico Tech and the WGA, the partners that make up the Southwest Regional Partnership for Carbon Sequestration also include 21 state government agencies and universities, five major electric utility companies, seven oil, gas, and coal companies, three federal agencies, and the Navajo Nation.

The seven partnerships involved in the DOE network have been commissioned to develop, test, and set up emerging carbon sequestration technologies that are best suited for their specific regions of the country.

“I think New Mexico Tech became the lead organization of the regional partnership because of the enthusiasm with which Tech embraced the project, including high-level support and encouragement from Tech President Daniel López,” says Brian McPherson, a hydrology professor at New Mexico Tech who is serving as principal investigator and director of the Southwest Regional Partnership for Carbon Sequestration.

“In addition, Governor Richardson was also explicitly supportive of the project,” McPherson adds, “since, as you will recall, he is the former U.S. Secretary of Energy and is keenly interested in these issues.”

As a hydrogeologist, McPherson’s research focus will be on geologic carbon sequestration, or examining the possible injection of carbon dioxide from power plant flue gases into deep subsurface aquifers and depleted oil and gas reservoirs.

“My students and I have spent several years developing computer programs, or ‘simulators,’ to simulate carbon dioxide flow processes, including chemical reactivity and how carbon dioxide affects or changes deep rock and groundwater over time,” says McPherson.

Most of McPherson’s work with the regional partnership will not involve actual research though, since his key role as primary coordinator of the group will keep him busy overseeing the “bigger picture” goals of the research consortium.

“With over 40 groups involved, it will be a challenge,” he says. “However, the New Mexico Tech research group — which includes the university’s Petroleum Recovery Research Center, the departments of Earth and Environmental Science, Materials Engineering, and Petroleum and Chemical Engineering, and the New Mexico Bureau of Geology — will also continue its ongoing geologic carbon sequestration research and will contribute to the partnership’s goals in that capacity.”

Over the next two years, the DOE will provide more than $11 million to support the newly established carbon sequestration partnerships. Each group will receive up to $1.6 million, with participating organizations contributing matching funds totaling nearly 40 percent of the initial federal funding.

Within the past five years, carbon sequestration research at the DOE has grown from small-scale, experimental studies to become one of the highest priorities in the federal agency’s energy research programs.