Research on storing CO2 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

£3.27 million has been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as part of the Research Councils UK Energy programme, to four research projects to study the geological viability and safety of storing CO2 underground in depleted North Sea oil and gas fields or saline aquifers.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology which could help the UK government meet stringent reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050. This EPSRC funding for CCS research — £37 million — is part of Government's £125 million Research and Development programme into CCS.

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said: "Finding ways to reduce our CO2 emissions requires the latest research, especially around new technologies like carbon capture and storage. The UK's world-class scientists are extremely well placed to tackle this challenge thanks to continued investment in skills, knowledge and cutting edge projects like these."

CCS captures CO2 emissions from power stations and heavy industry instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. The CO2 is transported via pipelines then injected into porous rocks (reservoirs) from which oil or gas has previously been extracted, or in saline aquifers, and stored at depth. The CO2 is kept isolated from the rocks above by caprocks, which are less porous and, with their very low permeability, provide a 'seal'. In the UK, storage sites are likely to be sited deep under the North Sea.

All the projects will come under the umbrella of the UK CCS Research Centre, established in April 2012, to improve co-ordination and visibility of approximately 150 UK academics working on CCS.

Dave Delpy, CEO of EPSRC said: "These projects will help accelerate the deployment of carbon capture and storage, enabling the UK to maintain its world leading role in this vital low carbon technology."

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) awarded funding to the following projects:

Project 1 — CO2 injection and storage: short and long-term behaviour at different spatial scales

£1.2 million awarded to Imperial College London in collaboration with Heriot-Watt University, Cardiff University, the University of Leeds and NERC British Geological Survey. Partner organisations: Progressive Energy Limited and the Energy Technologies Institute.

Drawing upon their experience in CO2 storage performance assessment research at industrial field pilots such as In Salah, Snøhvit and Sleipner, the research team, led by Professor Sevket Durucan and Dr Anna Korre from Imperial College London, aim to address some of the current knowledge gaps in this technology.

The project will develop optimisation tools for CO2 injection well placement and control strategies for plume behaviour. The research outcomes will support the design of industrial scale storage operations and maximise storage capacity utilisation, while accounting for uncertainties at licence and basin scales.

Through laboratory experimental and numerical modelling work, the project will investigate the effects of temperature and pressure on fracture and fault behaviour within the storage reservoir and the caprock seal. Research will improve the understanding of the effects of reservoir processes on structural integrity and containment of the stored CO2.

Further experimental and numerical simulation work in the project will study in situ wellbore cement/rock and cement caprock behaviour and develop novel wellbore and caprock leakage mitigation and remediation technologies, utilising sealants and induced mineral precipitation processes.

Project 2 — fingerprinting captured CO2 and proving ownership

£236 178 awarded to the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre (SUERC).

This study, led by Dr Stuart Gilfillan from the University of Edinburgh, aims to determine if the natural tracer (noble gases and carbon and oxygen isotopes) fingerprint inherent in captured CO2 is sufficient to track its fate in the subsurface, distinguish ownership and to provide an early warning of unplanned migration out of the storage formation.

To do this, the researchers will determine the fingerprint of CO2 captured from several of the UK capture demonstration projects, and at the Boundary Dam power plant prior to its injection into the Aquistore saline aquifer storage site in Saskatechwan, Canada. By comparing this to the fingerprint of the CO2 produced from the Aquistore monitoring well, some 100 m from the injection well, they will be able to see if the fingerprint is retained after the CO2 has moved through the saline aquifer.

This will show if this technique can be used to track the movement of CO2 in future engineered storage sites, particularly offshore saline aquifers which will be used for future UK large volume CO2 storage.

Project 3 — Diagnostic seismic toolbox for the efficient control of CO2 storage

£893 883 awarded to NERC British Geological Survey, with the University of Leeds, University of Manchester, University of Edinburgh and the National Oceanography Centre.

Led by Dr Andy Chadwick of NERC British Geological Survey, the research team are developing sophisticated, non-invasive methods to monitor underground carbon storage sites. They will use a range of techniques including 3D time-lapse seismic surveys and 'passive' listening devices, such as very sensitive geophones, and satellite measurements of ground movements induced by CO2 injection.

Project 4 — How reservoir rocks and caprocks respond to hydrocarbon depletion and subsequent CO2 injection

£925 473 awarded to NERC British Geological Survey, Imperial College London, and Cardiff University. Industry Partners: Shell Global Solutions International BV.

The research team will focus on how the caprock and reservoir rocks respond to oil and gas extraction and later re-inflation as CO2 is injected. They will measure changes in stress, volume and permeability in the laboratory.

Geoscientists will use this data to inform computational models looking at how different rock formations respond during injection and over long periods of storage. These simulations will help forecast the geomechanical processes in CO2 storage sites over extended periods of time (up to 10 000 years).

The project, led by Dr Jon Harrington from NERC British Geological Survey, will apply these results to existing storage sites, for example the Goldeneye field in the North Sea, where hydrocarbon extraction has previously taken place. In addition, social scientists based at Cardiff University will study how the public perceive the risks and benefits of CCS as well as producing a communication toolkit.

The research will provide new data, modelling tools, communication methods and a better understanding of the processes involved, to help inform regulators and operators who are considering using such sites.

Notes to editors

The Climate Change Act of 2008 committed the UK government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 (from a 1990 baseline). The Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change has identified CCS as a key technology to achieve this.

CO2 has been stored deep underground since 1996 at Norwegian operated Sleipner plant in the North Sea and at the In Salah plant in Algeria since 2004.

Saline aquifers are porous rocks such as sandstone that contain brine. During CO2 storage the brine is removed from the rocks.

In the North Sea, reservoirs for CO2 storage are approximately 2.5 km below the sea bed.

The UK has a four year (2011–2015) £125 million cross-government CCS research, development and innovation programme. Funding comes from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK), the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) and the Research Councils.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research.

Images are available from the EPSRC Press Office
Tel: 01793 444 404

Academic contacts available for further information

Project 1: CO2 injection and storage. Professor Sevket Durucan, Imperial College London or Dr Anna Korre, Imperial College London.

Project 2: fingerprinting CO2. Dr Stuart Gilfillan, University of Edinburgh.

Project 3: diagnostic seismic toolbox, NERC British Geological Survey. Project lead: Dr Andy Chadwick. Available from 10th June.

Project 4: how reservoir and caprocks react to hydrocarbon depletion and subsequent CO2 injection. Dr Caroline Graham, NERC British Geological Survey geomechanics specialist and co-investigator.

What is carbon capture and storage produced by British Geological Survey, copyright NERC and NCCCS.