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Geology Researcher Shikha Sharma featured in WVU Magazine Article — Energy Evolution

Shikha Sharma is on the hunt for sustainable energy sources in West Virginia. The geology professor in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences has focused much of her research on hydraulic fracturing of shale, geological carbon storage, geothermal energy and mining of critical and rare earth minerals.

She and her students have been monitoring shale drilling and CO2 injection sites to study the interactions between rocks, gas and chemicals, as well as potential problems like methane/CO2 leaks and water supply contamination.

"My research has always revolved around producing energy more sustainably with minimal impact on the environment,” she said, adding that while oil and gas drilling can be controversial, her job is to gather scientific data. “We need to find answers based on data and make science-based decisions.”

The knowledge and skills used to tap into oil and gas reserves can be transferred to develop sustainable resources like geothermal energy. Most geothermal sites live in the western United States, where intense underground heat is easier to access. But possibilities exist for geothermal wells in the Appalachian Basin.

One of Sharma’s next projects will explore the development of a deep direct-use geothermal and underground thermal energy storage system in West Virginia for large-scale residential, commercial and manufacturing heating and cooling.

Sharma is also studying options for carbon sequestration. West Virginia produces some of the highest carbon dioxide levels in the country, but the empty pore spaces left in the old oil and gas reservoirs may have the capacity to permanently store large amounts of CO2 underground.

“If we could identify good sites to put back CO2 underground, it would be a great demonstration to show that, while the power plants in West Virginia generate CO2, we can negate some of these emissions by capturing and storing large quantities of CO2 below ground,” she said.

The technology used to store carbon dioxide might also apply to storing hydrogen, a cleaner energy source than fossil fuels. Sharma recently received funding from the DOE-EPSCoR program to better understand potential environmental impacts of storing hydrogen underground.

“If we move towards a hydrogen economy, we’ll need large-scale hydrogen storage facilities too,” Sharma said. “The Appalachian Basin has lots of large, depleted oil and gas formations and natural gas storage fields that could be used for storing hydrogen in the future.”

Though her research covers a variety of energy sources, Sharma sees common ground.

“In the end, I think all of it is connected because our prime focus is how we can produce energy more sustainably,” she said, and added that students are often surprised that subsurface geology is more than just exploring for coal, oil and gas.

“Geologists are a jack-of-all trades because we use a little bit of math, a little bit of physics, chemistry and biology. But I think that's our strength, as it helps us develop a holistic perspective to address a wide variety of issues related to the sustainable development of earth resources.

“For West Virginia, it's a great time. We think, ‘Oh no, coal mining is going away.’ But we need to look at all the opportunities coming from the development of new sustainable energy technologies, critical and rare earth minerals, CO2 and hydrogen storage.”

This article is republished from WVU Magazine — read the original article.