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New $1.5M Sloan Grant Funds Earth Scientist's Deep Energy Research

Posted by: Michael Seufer

ColeDavid R. Cole, Professor and Ohio Research Scholar, School of Earth Sciences, will receive $1.5M from the Sloan Foundation to fund the study of Reduced Carbon in Earth’s Crust and Mantle I: Abiogenic versus Biogenic Origins.

Cole will lead a multidisciplinary, multinational team to develop a fundamental understanding of environments and processes that regulate the chemical, mineralogical and isotopic signatures that could be used to clearly differentiate abiogenic from biogenic sources of hydrocarbons.

“Deep organic synthesis may contribute to hydrocarbon energy resources in ways we do not fully understand and may have played a role in life’s origins as well. Developing robust criteria that can differentiate between the two sources of hydrocarbons has far-reaching implications for how we view Deep Energy in the context of the Global Carbon cycle,” Cole said.

“This is especially important as we seek creative and sustainable solutions to our energy needs going forward. Probing the higher temperature pressure environment of the Earth’s deep interior may be the new frontier.”

Cole was appointed the Ohio Research Scholar in Subsurface Extraction and Carbon Sequestration Science in September 2010, with help from the State of Ohio’s Third Frontier Program.

This project brings together for the first time a diverse team of world-class scientists from seven countries. They will work on five synergistic subthemes that link the study of crustal and mantle carbon across enormous length and time scales, from global to bench scale to the atomic scale. Results obtained from novel analytical, experimental and computational tools will provide the fundamental understanding of mechanisms and rates that control the chemical and isotopic compositions attendant with carbon-bearing fluid-rock interactions.

Cole, who spent several years as Distinguished Staff Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has extensive experience in the areas of geologic carbon sequestration and related energy and environmental issues.

He is co-director of the Deep Energy (DE) directorate. It is part of the Sloan Foundation-funded Carnegie Institute of Washington’s Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), a multidisciplinary, global initiative dedicated to achieving a transformational understanding of Earth’s deep carbon cycle. The DE directorate is one of four comprising the DCO; the others include Reservoir and Fluxes, Deep Life, and Physics and Chemistry of Carbon.

“Sloan looks at their investments in these initiatives as ‘seed’ money to stimulate more funding from agencies like NSF, DOE, or European government agencies, “Cole explained. “One of my roles as a co-director of the DE directorate is to guide our team to secure complementary funding as the project evolves.

“As a new faculty member, I am personally gratified that all of our hard work paid off. But I am even more excited that this grant is an acknowledgement of the commitment to energy research and education that Ohio State, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Earth Sciences has made.”