Research Experience in Carbon Sequestration (RECS) 2016

By Karl McAlinden; GERC affiliated PhD student in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham

From the outset, I’d like to mention that without the notification and assistance from the GeoEnergy Research Centre (GERC) my attendance and participation in the Research Experience in Carbon Sequestration (RECS) programme would not have been possible. I am very grateful for their continued kindness and support throughout my PhD programme and research career.

On the RECS website ( the programme proudly promotes itself to be “the
premier carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) education and training experience in the U.S.” After spending the last ten days immersed in its intensive programme, I can safely say it lives up to its claims and is certainty a hard act to follow. With a goal to “prepare a world-class [CCUS-ready] workforce,” the programme has brought together some of the most talented and dedicated U.S.-based graduate students, early career researchers and young professionals, all with backgrounds either focusing on or closely related to one or more components of the CCUS chain. Although it is primarily focused on “enhancing U.S. competitiveness,” the programme also actively “nurtures career networks, facilitates research opportunities and technology breakthroughs,” which is why I was lucky enough to be one of only five international participants to be offered a place to attend and participate. Building upon its alumni (and faculty) year-on- year, it is through exercises such as RECS that CCUS can grow and make strides towards real world realization. Already in its fourteenth successive year, below you can see the latest addition to this network of RECS alumni, the 2016 cohort.
The RECS 2016 Cohort at the National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC)

When I initially saw that RECS would be taking place in Birmingham, I was keen to explore the city in the West Midlands I had yet to visit. When I realised the programme was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and that the Birmingham they referred to was actually in Alabama, I have to admit its US namesake seemed much more of an intriguing adventure. Arriving early Sunday morning, before the welcome dinner that evening, I took the opportunity to learn more about the local history by visiting the Civil Rights Institute, which provided a fascinating glimpse at how much things have changed within the area in recent decades. Meeting our group for the first time that evening, it was clear that we had an interesting and dynamic group and it was shaping up to be an exciting few days ahead.

Left: Rosa Parks Statue, The Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama
Right: One of the many group dinners we had throughout the programme
What was special about the RECS programme, compared to other similar courses I have attended in the UK and internationally, was the effort to equally address all components of the CCUS chain and to show how an integrated consideration of both technical and business design, as well as policy and regulatory provisions, is essential to the success of CCUS project advancement. While we were really spoiled with the level and wide variety of expert speakers from government, academia and industry on their personal and professional experiences of CCUS development in the South East U.S., my personal highlights were the talks given by Mr. Andrew Hlasko (U.S. DoE’s CCS Demonstration Program), Ms. Dina Kruger (formerly U.S. EPA,’s Climate Change Office) and Dr Victor Der (Global CCS Institute, America), as well as that of Dr Craig Hart (Renmin University of China), who’s research areas are most closely aligned with my own interests. With a programme to meet all CCUS-related disciplines, research fields and interests, everyone was without doubt kept intrigued and engaged on the familiar, as well as the less so familiar aspects of CCUS. For the full programme of speakers and events and to see what might interest you, please see:

Alabama State Geological Survey, Tuscaloosa

Additionally, what was truly unique about RECS was not only the level of expert speakers but also the degree of access to CCUS-related companies, laboratories, pilot projects and demonstration plants throughout the programme. Remarkably, in  just a few days, we visited the Alabama Power Headquarters in Birmingham, the National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC) in Wilsonville, the Alabama State Geological Survey in Tuscaloosa, the Plant Barry 25MW CO2 Capture Demonstration Project in Mobile and the Mississippi Power IGCC Energy facility and North American Coal’s Liberty Mine in Kemper Country, Mississippi. With access to many of these facilities very generously facilitated by Southern Company, I was greatly impressed by their genuine interest in CCUS, as well as their generosity, openness and eagerness to engage with others for the advancement of the technologies.

Mississippi Power IGCC Facilities, Kemper Country, Mississippi
North American Coal’s Liberty Mine, Kemper Country, Mississippi
Much of the thanks for the idea, planning, operation and continued vision of the RECS programme goes to its Founder and Director, Pamela Tomski, who, along with Dr Craig Hart, took the time to sit down personally with each student to offer one-on-one career advice for finding the best way forward in this uncertain but potentially promising CCUS field. I would, without question, recommend the RECS programme to any current or future graduate student or young professional, who is interested in learning more about CCUS, hoping to expand their international CCUS network and seeking to gain an insight into the U.S. CCUS-related engineering, geology and/or policy and regulatory environment. I’m sure my participation in RECS 2016 will not only benefit my immediate research knowledge but will also lead to many more fruitful opportunities well into my research career and professional future.

Geology Field Trip
Did you know?
Karl previously wrote a blog for the GERC Diary highlighting his research interests and numerous global adventures. You can read it here

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