Innovators pioneer new monitoring system

VICTORIA, BC — In a lab-to-field collaboration headed by the University of Victoria’s Peter Wild, researchers are pioneering the first fibre-optic system designed to monitor carbon dioxide at underground storage sites.

Monitoring, measuring and verifying what becomes of injected CO2 over the long term is difficult because of harsh environmental conditions, combined with the deep location and size of the storage sites.  Capturing and storing CO2 underground is seen as a viable way of reducing the levels of atmospheric carbon. Although the process is not unproven – for decades oil companies have been injecting CO2 into reservoirs to enhance the recovery of oil – researchers are working on new methods to verify that the compound is securely stored.

Since salt water and other fluids stored underground are affected by the presence of stored CO2 Wild, an engineering professor, plans to use arrays of specialized fibre-optic sensors to measure this impact. “Through this method we hope to better determine if CO2 is being stored safely or if it’s moving or leaking,” he explained.

The three-year project will begin in the lab, then shift outdoors for field tests of the sensor system, first in shallow ground, then in deeper environments. The goal is create a system that could be placed underground near CO2 injection sites or overlying storage formations.

The project is supported by a $983,578 grant from Carbon Management Canada (CMC), a Network of Centres of Excellence that supports game-changing research to eliminate carbon emissions from the fossil energy industry. The grant iss part of CMC’s Round 2 competition which saw 18 projects in Canada receive a total of $10 million.

University of Calgary geophysicist Don Lawton is the CMC Lead for Secure Carbon Storage projects and a collaborator on the CO2 sensor project. “Verification of secure storage is in the public interest and will be required for commercial projects before a closure certificate will be issued by the government,” he says.

In designing a new system to monitor CO2 concentrations, Wild and his collaborators will make use of patented fibre-optic technology, developed at UVic, as well as patented techniques to measure CO2 fluxes, developed by the St. Francis-Xavier University’s “Flux Lab,” which is headed by David Risk, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Earth Sciences.

Collaborating with Wild’s own fibre-optics research group at UVic’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems (IESVic), are experts in environmental monitoring, nanofabrication and micromachining, as well as petroleum engineering. Mechanical engineer David Sinton, formerly of UVic but who now works at the University of Toronto, is one of Wild’s collaborators. UVic investigators on the team include mechanical engineer Martin Jun as well as UVic students.

“It’s a complex problem with lots of dimensions to it,” says Wild, stressing that only an interdisciplinary approach could make the project a success.

Carbon Management Canada is a Network of Centres of Excellence supported by federal and provincial governments as well as industry. CMC is a community of over 150 university researchers, and industry and government practitioners with the vision, the commitment, and the enthusiasm needed to take the upstream fossil energy industry to zero carbon emissions.

Media Contacts
Ruth Klinkhammer, Carbon Management Canada, (403) 210 7879 or ruth.klinkhammer@cmc-nce.ca
Peter Wild (Mechanical Engineering) at 250-721-8901 or pwild@uvic.ca
Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at 250-721-7656 or ppitts@uvic.ca