At present, around 90% of the UK's energy needs are met by fossil fuels. This will almost certainly continue to be the main source of our energy for years to come. Developing our understanding of the pros and cons of a range of methods designed to reduce CO2 emissions is vital. Alternative methods available, such as wind, wave and solar power and Carbon capture and Storage (CCS) although workable are not without potential problems and limitations. In this proposal we will be investigating CCS and measuring its potential impact on the environment.
What is Carbon Capture and Storage?
The idea behind CCS is to capture the CO2 during power generation, transport it via pipelines and permanently store it in deep geological structures beneath land or sea. The major location of stored CO2 in the UK will be in rocks underneath the North Sea, therefore our research will concentrate on the potential impacts to the marine environment. However, our work will also be relevant to other rock formations in other locations. Current estimates for geological storage capacity under UK waters are equivalent to 100 years of CO2 emissions based on current UK power generation. Therefore CCS would allow us to develop new forms of power generation with low CO2 emissions whilst still using fossil fuels in the short to medium term.
Why is this research needed?
A small number of projects have been successfully carrying out either capture or storage at a reduced scale, so it is known that the technical challenges can be overcome. Research is also demonstrating that the geological structures are in general suitable for long term storage. However, geological structures are complex and natural underground gas deposits are known to occasionally seep out at the earthís surface. The main aim of this project is to understand what kind of effect a leak would have on the environment before a full scale CCS system is developed. We will also investigate the probability and form of leakage from geological structures. This study will enable a comprehensive risk assessment of CCS.
How will we carry out the research?
Research to date has shown that a leak from a CCS system could alter the sediment and water chemistry and harm a number of marine species. What hasnít been established is the resilience of these species and how much damage would occur from a leak. In this unique project we will investigate the dispersion of CO2 in seawater and the response of a real marine community to a small, highly controlled CO2 release. We will study chemical and biological effects and monitor the time needed for the environment to recover. The results from this research will help us to develop models that can predict the flow and impact of CO2 that can be used in differing marine environments.
The project will also investigate the nature of flow of CO2 through geological formations to give us an understanding of the spread of a rising plume should it escape from the storage reservoir. The work proposed would be a great advance in understanding the science needed to develop CCS risk assessments. We will develop models that can predict the journey of CO2 from storage to ecosystem, which can be used when individual CCS systems are at the planning stage. An important product of our work will be a recommendation of the best monitoring method to ensure the early detection of a leak in the unlikely event that one occurs.
Finally, by comparing our data with that from other research programmes we will be able to contrast the probability and impacts of a CCS-related leak with the environmental impacts of unmitigated CO2 emissions.
Who will use the data?
The work will be carried out alongside interested parties such as stakeholders from industry, government and the public to ensure that the information we produce is useful, understandable and accessible to all.
Who are we?
We are a consortium of academic research institutes funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and an industry contributor. Our role is not to act as advocates or otherwise of any particular carbon mitigation strategy, but to develop knowledge that will allow for informed planning and operation of mitigation to the benefit of the UK as a whole.