Innovative energy project set to use cosmic rays for monitoring

November 21, 2012

Geoscientists, particle physicists and engineers will work together to examine the potential of using muons -sub-atomic particles from cosmic rays- which cascade from the upper atmosphere and go on to penetrate rock several kilometres underground. The detection of cosmic ray muons can be used to map the density profile of the material above the detectors and hence measure on-going levels of CO2 in any potential carbon store.

The team comprises Durham University, University of Sheffield, Bath University, Newcastle University, the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech supported by Premier Oil & Gas and Cleveland Potash Limited.

The Department of Energy & Climate Change is providing £647,000 for the monitoring project alongside matched funding from industry.

Carbon storage could play a major part of UK and global environmental policies to tackle global warming but still allow us to generate clean, affordable energy.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from major sources of emission, such as fossil fuel power stations, to prevent it entering the atmosphere. The carbon is then transported (this could be in fluid form by pipeline) to a storage site. Old oil and gas fields, such as those in the North Sea, are considered to be potential storage sites. Capturing and storing carbon dioxide is seen as a way to prevent global warming and ocean acidification.

The current monitoring methodology is expensive and typically involves the collection of seismic data which enables snapshots of carbon storage levels to be taken over time. Muon tomography offers the chance to develop a continuous and passive monitoring system for deep sub-surface storage sites.

Project leader Professor Jon Gluyas, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, said: "This technology crosses between traditional scientific disciplines and could radically reduce the cost of monitoring CO2 storage sites, saving perhaps hundreds of millions of pounds per annum.

"The essential support from DECC and industry partners will allow us to develop improved detectors and to model and test our technology in practice."

Dr Lee Thompson, Reader in Particle Physics at the University of Sheffield, added: "Applying Particle Physics know-how to the issue of monitoring the storage of captured carbon is a novel and innovative idea. This grant will enable us to refine our experimental techniques for this particular application and perform trial deployments of cosmic ray detectors."

The devices developed will be tested deep underground at Boulby mine on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. Dr Sean Paling, Director and Senior Scientist of the Boulby Deep Underground Science Facility said of the award: "We are very pleased to be a part of such important research on carbon capture and storage. Boulby will be a key partner with Durham in this project as it is one of the few places available in the world for the team to develop CCS monitoring technology in an environment that is safe, relatively easy to access and one that simulates the depths and geology within which future Carbon Capture sites will operate. Our involvement in this work further demonstrates the versatility of the facility we have at Boulby and the increasing breadth of internationally significant science areas we are participating in."
-end-
The DECC grant is part of a larger funding stream of £18.5m for CCS innovation projects, the latest funding to be awarded from the Government's 4-year, £125m CCS R&D Programme. 13 projects have been awarded funding to develop and test new ideas to further reduce the cost of CCS.

Durham University

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