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.

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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