Scottish university experts win €1 million to probe risk of leaks from carbon storage sites

Graphic of a typical CCS project
Graphic of a typical CCS project

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University have been awarded €1 million to address risks related to geologic leakage from a subset of carbon capture and storage sites.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) involves using established technologies to capture carbon dioxide produced or released at source sites such as power stations or other industrial sites, transport it and then store it safely deep underground, as an alternative to emitting it into the atmosphere.

However, carbon capture and storage development has been hampered by high commercial costs – although the UK government recently committed to investing £100 million in CCS and industrial innovation to drive down costs in its Clean Growth Strategy.

The widespread use of CCS can significantly reduce emissions from those industrial sectors that will continue to rely on hydrocarbons for decades to come. The technology is critical to achieving global climate-change goals set within the Paris Agreement and also domestically by the British and Scottish governments.

The research at Heriot-Watt will improve understanding of potential geologic leakage where there are (or may be) fractures in the caprock that keeps the CO2 in place underground. CO2 is physically trapped underneath tight sealing formations at elevated pressures.  

It may then chemically react with the formation it is stored in, thereby precipitating carbonate, or dissolve in the formation waters: these variables may increase or decrease flow across fractures which can make predicting, quantifying and monitoring potential leakages challenging.

Dr Andreas Busch, associate professor of geo-energy at Heriot-Watt University, and his team are working with Shell Global Solutions; Risktec Solutions, a risk management company in the UK and the Netherlands and RWTH Aachen University in Germany on the DETECT project.

DETECT will develop tools to allow CCS operators and other stakeholders to determine the risk of CO2 leakage at any CCS site.  

Professor John Underhill, chief scientist at Heriot-Watt University and director of the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience, said: “The research to be undertaken by Dr Busch and the team will provide a critical test and validation of the seals for carbon storage sites.

“The results will help evaluate the risk or any threat of carbon dioxide leakage into the overburden, something that is crucial to know before any gas injection takes place.”

4 Jan 2018

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