Salt Lake City, UT – Engineering Professor Brian McPherson and his team at the University of Utah are using a machine to simulate what the rock would experience deep underground. The machine - about the size of an oven - is capable of exerting thousands of pounds of pressure. The team is gradually increasing the pressure, and inserting carbon dioxide at the same time.
McPherson uses natural carbon dioxide to evaluate the risks and the economics of carbon sequestration. Eventually, the hope is to capture CO2 from power plants, and reduce their net emissions by storing the gas underground.
"Replacing the energy grid - transitioning it from fossil energy to renewables - that's probably going to take 4 to 5 decades at the minimum," McPherson said, "So what do we do with that co2 which is emitted into the atmosphere, and the amount of emissions is increasing every day?"
McPherson was the first faculty member to be hired by the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative - or USTAR. The state funded program was created in 2005 to promote science commercialization, high paying jobs, and green energy development in Utah. Since then, McPherson's projects have brought in more than 120 million dollars in federal and private funds, and have helped to spawn a startup company.
"We're very much trying to focus on the science," McPherson said, "And then USTAR has been tremendously supportive in assisting with those non-scientific issues. We couldn't do the project without them, quite frankly."
From the beginning, McPherson was paired with Alan Walker - a business consultant. Walker helped McPherson and his team establish a test site near Price.
"By bringing in folks with business background and engineering background into the USTAR program to help the scientists push their projects, we've been able to move forward and commercialize a lot of things that might otherwise might have been very interesting research, but not get commercialized, " said Walker.
Since it started 6 years ago, the state has invested 73 million dollars in the program. USTAR projects have more than doubled that investment with outside funds. There have been 17 companies created out of USTAR research, and almost 2000 jobs created, including 52 faculty positions. Scott Anderson is the president of Zion's Bank and the Director of USTAR's Governing Authority.
"I think that's the type of economy and the type of jobs that Utah wants and that Utah is being recognized for. I think that will generate additional tax revenue, which will then be spent on - more money on education and social services. It just makes our communities better," said Anderson.
Governor Gary Herbert gave USTAR an additional 540,000 dollars in his proposed budget for next year, but Anderson and other business leaders are asking lawmakers to restore 6 million dollars that was previously cut from USTAR's annual budget and request an additional 10 million dollars. Anderson had a closed meeting with Herbert about USTAR last week, but both declined to talk about it.
Spencer Eccles is the Director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. He said USTAR is one priority among many competing for state funds.
"It's a balancing act to manage all of the different demands such as Medicaid, education growth, balancing the budget," said Eccles, "And right now our number one target is to accelerate the creation of 100,000 jobs in 1000 days."
The state Legislature will ultimately decide how much funding the program gets in its upcoming session.