A new field laboratory in Western Australia is improving our understanding of how carbon dioxide behaves in a range of geological settings.

The challenge

Limiting emissions with CCS

Carbon capture and storage (CCS), is considered an important part of the range of solutions to help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. However, more research is needed to help us effectively monitor CO2 movement deep underground, and to identify which geological formations are most suitable for its permanent storage.

There is also broad community interest in ensuring human and environmental safety following CO2 injection.

Injecting CO2 underground is a well-established technology taken from oil and gas industry experience, but each storage site is geologically unique and must be investigated for its suitability and long-term security.

Our response

An outdoor lab

CSIRO's In-situ Laboratory Project has already begun to gather key data to answer some of these questions to reduce risks and uncertainties around the capture and storage of CO2.

Scientists perform carbon dioxide storage research at CSIRO's In Situ Laboratory.  ©

Using an existing well (Harvey-2), CSIRO researchers have strategically placed monitoring instruments in order to conduct a shallow CO2 release test in the subsurface area.

This first project injected a small volume of CO2 into a faulted zone to mimic a potential leak. Monitoring activities have been used to assess potential environmental impacts during the injection of 38 tonnes of food grade CO2. Results show that there was no observed impact on the groundwater, soil or atmosphere during and following the test.

Researchers were seeking to:

  • better understand the behaviour of a large fault zone on the migration of leaked CO2 in shallower intervals in the study area
  • learn how CO2 might behave if it reaches shallow depths during a commercial-scale operation
  • quantify and verify monitoring tools to identify a small subsurface leak
  • provide data to help evaluate potential environmental impacts to soils and groundwater.

[CSIRO logo appears on screen.]

Voice-over: Carbon capture and storage or CCS has the potential to help Australia significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of carbon based energy sources which contribute to climate change. The CCS process involves capturing and storing carbon dioxide or CO2 deep underground reducing the amount being released into the atmosphere.

Linda Stalker: CCS has already been done around the world and to research its potential here in Australia, CSIRO has established a world first field trial that is improving monitoring technologies for carbon storage facilities to ensure the safe, long term storage of CO2.

Karsten Michael:    Through this experiment at our in situ laboratory, we can demonstrate that monitoring carbon geological storage can be effective, safe, and affordable. The CSIRO in situ lab field site is 140 kilometres south of Perth in Western Australia, situated at the edge of the Southwest hub, which has been identified as a prospective area for storing industrial scale volumes of carbon dioxide and thick sandstone formations.

Voice-over: This site is important because of its location in a fault zone. This is the perfect environment to monitor the potential leakage of injected CO2 under controlled conditions. An existing well was converted into a CO2 injection well adapted with fiber optics and sensors for measuring subsurface temperature and pressure. A second well was drilled and fitted with a fiberglass casing to enable the gas plume to be monitored. Fiber optics are used to measure temperature and acoustic changes along the well. Geophones gather data from seismic waves between sources at the surface and the wells, and sensors detect changes in the electrical properties of any fluids present.

Voice-over: The well is also accessible for geophysical testing to monitor changes in subsurface fluid flow. A third shallow water well was drilled to observe any near surface changes. The first controlled release trial involved the injection of 38 tonnes of food grade CO2 over five days in February 2019. CO2 was trucked in liquid form to the site and pumped from a refrigerated tank through a heater. It was then injected into the well as a gas at 336 metres below ground. Researchers at the in situ laboratory monitored the CO2 plume as it developed using the down hole well equipment.

Voice-over: Borehole seismic surveys were repeated regularly before, during, and after injection. The CO2 was successfully detected after one day of injection by distributed temperature sensing in the monitoring well. This could be imaged in three dimensions using the borehole seismic surveys.

Karsten Michael: Results of surface and shallow groundwater monitoring at the well show there have been no environmental impacts cost, no notable changes have been detected in groundwater quality, in the soil gas chemistry or the atmosphere.

Linda Stalker: The CSIRO in situ laboratory is a unique research facility that provides real world testing of CO2 injection and geological storage. It demonstrates that monitoring technology exists, which can reassure the safety of CCS programs.

Voice-over: With further technological advancements, the CSIRO can play an important role in creating upscale carbon capture and storage facilities. Together, we can create a low emissions future. To find out how our research is addressing the challenges of achieving effective CO2 storage in Australia, visit us at csiro.au/ccs.

[CSIRO logo with text on screen: Australia's National Science Agency.]

An outdoor lab - monitoring the storage of CO2 in a challenging environment :  The CSIRO In-situ Laboratory is an outdoor lab, situated in Western Australia, 140Km south of Perth. This outdoor laboratory was developed to gather data around the storage of CO2.

The results

Filling the knowledge gaps

CSIRO's research is contributing data and knowledge to the portfolio of geological settings that may be appropriate for CO2 storage.

Results so far show:

  • multiple monitoring tools were able to confirm the presence of a CO2 plume of less than 38 tonnes at 330m depth
  • fibre optic sensing was able to identify and quantify the presence of CO2 in the monitoring well rapidly, and at low volumes
  • surface monitoring techniques could effectively baseline and confirm lack of perturbations to the local environment, during and after the injection test.

The outputs from our research is building increased confidence to drive industrial uptake and investment in CCS, and reduce uncertainty. The results provide fundamentally new, publicly-available data for government, industry and the international research community. Peer reviewed publications are being prepared to share this knowledge. The project has been able to quantify potential impacts of a CCS project at this site, and establish other metrics for measuring, monitoring and verifying storage of CO2 to community and interested parties.

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