Fieldwork can prove value of CCS to industry says geoscientist

schmidt-hattenberger

Cornelia Schmidt Hattenberger

Interview with Cornelia Schmidt Hattenberger, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

Researchers can help demonstrate to industry that carbon capture and storage has a commercial future, says German researcher Cornelia Schmidt Hattenberger.

The geoscientist, who was deploying equipment at the Field Research Station (FRS) recently, says research conducted at CCS test sites can show which monitoring systems are crucial for detection and which are useful but optional.

“We can use test sites, such as the one Don has, to make our monitoring more efficient and to evaluate from a very critical point of view what technologies are very useful and what we can drop,” says Schmidt Hattenberger, a researcher with the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences who was in Alberta recently conducting baseline Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) tests at the FRS.

Being able to recommend approaches that are both effective and cost efficient may encourage industry and governments to look more favorably on CCS as a way to reduce carbon emissions in industry, says Schmidt Hattenberger.

“This should be the end point, the final point, to say this very clearly and then to make a cost balance and to put this result to decision makers for an industrial project.”

Electrodes deployed at field research station

Cornelia Schmidt Hattenberger at the research station.

Cornelia Schmidt Hattenberger at the research station.

Schmidt Hattenberger and her team deployed 192 electrodes on the surface in a relatively close series of profiles which were interfaced with the 16 electrodes CMC has installed in one of two observation wells at the site. The measurements will provide a three-dimensional picture of the space between the injection well and the observation well.

Once CO2 is injected, Schmidt Hattenberger will return to track the migration of the CO2 plume from the injection well to the observation well – which could take up to or over a year. The speed at which the plume moves will depend on a number of factors including the amount of CO2 injected, the injection rate, and how often injections occur throughout the year.

Schmidt Hattenberger worked for ten years on Pilot Site Ketzin, the first European on-shore CO2 storage demonstration project. Between 2008 and 2013, over 67,000 tonnes of CO2 were injected and stored in a sandstone reservoir at a depth of about 630 to 650 metres. The site is in its post-injection phase with one of five wells shut down and the others scheduled for closure next year.

Learnings from Ketzin

Like the FRS, Ketzin provided a site for testing multiple technologies and comparing the results. “Ketzin was also a small scale project . . . so (we can take) what we have learned in Ketzin, what’s ongoing here, and share the data and compare it.”

For instance, researchers will examine how long sensors and electrodes survive underground in conditions where CO2 and the saline formation water react. “This is an aggressive medium. We have the Ketzin experience; we have all the instruments down hole since 2007 when the first wells were drilled. And we are interested to see how long everything will last in the FRS wells.”

Fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries will be part of the global economy for decades and experts agree that the world will not be able to substantially reduce atmospheric levels of carbon without the large-scale implementation of CCS. Collaborative research can help move carbon storage forward but Schmidt Hattenberger says at some point action must be taken.

“But I think it’s doable and if we start relatively soon we could bring a good contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases – better than if we wait another decade and do nothing – only talking.”

About Cornelia Schmidt Hattenberger

Dr. Schmidt Hattenberger is a researcher with the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. Her research interests include CO2 storage in saline aquifers, electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) for geological storage, permanent sensors and monitoring techniques for surface and downhole geotechnical applications, and multi-parameter monitoring concepts in combination with numerical modelling.