Susan Hovorka

55, geologist, Austin
Susan Hovorka

Here’s a convenient truth for you: All those greenhouse gases polluting the atmosphere—the result of burning and combusting oil and gas and coal—can simply go back where they came from, and the environment, not to mention the world, will be better and cleaner for it. That’s the theory behind the work of Hovorka, who has been a research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology at UT since 1981. A New Orleans native with a bachelor’s degree in geology from Earlham College, in Indiana, and master’s and doctoral degrees in geology from UT-Austin, she pioneered the process of carbon sequestration, in which carbon dioxide is injected a mile or more under the surface of the earth, into unused, deep brine-bearing aquifers, and isolated from fresh water supplies. (She and her research team just received a $38 million, ten-year federal grant to study the procedure.) While reducing emissions in this particular way sounds relatively simple, it’s expensive; unless energy companies are willing to pony up, the cost may be prohibitive. But Hovorka hopes, as we all should, that advances in technology, such as the new gasification method at next-generation coal plants, will make it more affordable in the future.

A Web Exclusive Interview

Do you see a disconnect between the scientific community’s views on global warming and the political world’s views?

We need to communicate the options to reduce emission of carbon to the atmosphere to policy makers and the public. Most people are aware of conservation, efficiency, and alternatives to fossil fuel such as wind and solar, and people are intrigued by some of the ‘far out’ ideas. But too few people are connecting the computer they’re using with the smokestack above the power plant at the edge of town that makes it possible to turn it on.

Most researchers realize that there is no silver bullet—no one best future energy that will give us everything we want, which is to say clean, cheap, reliable, and abundant. So

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