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Carbon Capture and Underground Storage

This diagram shows the major parts of a system for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground. Numbers on the diagram correspond with the steps listed on the page.

Currently, most of our electricity is generated at large power plants that burn coal and other fossil fuels that add lots of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It will likely be many decades before we can get most of our electricity from renewable resources that emit little or no carbon dioxide. In the meantime, scientists are developing ways to capture carbon dioxide from power plants and factories and safely store it underground so that it can't go into the atmosphere.

How It Works

  1. Carbon dioxide emissions from a power plant or factory are captured so they are not released into the atmosphere.
  2. The captured carbon dioxide is sent through a pipeline to a place where underground rock formations can store the carbon dioxide safely and permanently.
  3. The carbon dioxide is pumped deep underground (often more than half a mile down).
  4. The site is monitored to make sure the stored carbon dioxide doesn't leak back up to the atmosphere or into underground sources of drinking water.

Cool Facts

  • Carbon storage rocks! Carbon dioxide stored deep in the Earth enters tiny holes in the solid rock, similar to the way water is captured in a sponge.
  • Plenty of room. The United States has enough space to store 1 to 4 trillion tons of carbon dioxide. By comparison, the United States emits about 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.
  • Put it back. Rock formations that used to hold oil or natural gas can be great places to store carbon dioxide. People took carbon out of the ground in the form of fossil fuels, and now they can put it back in the same place!

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