Dave Jones, Barry Lomax and Janice Lake visit K-COSEM in South Korea

Dave Jones from British Geological Survey (BGS), Barry Lomax from University of Nottingham and Janice Lake from University of Sheffield visited South Korea with funding from the UKCCSRC International Research Collaboration Fund. The aim of the visit was to develop links with the K-COSEM (Korea CO2 Storage Environmental Management) Research Center in South Korea and explore possible collaboration between K-COSEM and the GeoEnergy Test Bed facility being developed jointly by the University of Nottingham and BGS.

We joined a group of other international researchers invited to Korea by K-COSEM – Curt Oldenburg from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Weon Shik Han from University of Wisconsin, both  in the USA; Bernhard Mayer from University of Calgary, Canada and Chris Consoli from GCCSI in Australia.

On our first full day in Seoul we all presented our work at the 6th International Environment Forum for CCS in Seoul. Janice and Barry talked about possible environmental consequences from a CO2 pipeline leak whilst I gave an account of some of our near surface monitoring work at Weyburn. The presentations of the other international invitees and Korean researchers covered the status of CO2 storage worldwide and aspects of leakage risk assessment, monitoring and potential impacts.

The following day we visited the K-COSEM field experimental site at Eumseong, south of Seoul. At the site they are developing two separate facilities, one looking at potential environmental impacts of leakage on plants and microbes and near surface monitoring, the other focussed on groundwater monitoring and impacts. We were given a tour of the sites in very hot and humid conditions and shown the layout of crops (currently maize and beans) that will be subjected to elevated CO2 concentrations in the soil. This will be done through 5 separate 10m long leakage zones in a 50m long horizontal well at 2.5m depth; a similar configuration to the ZERT site in Montana and Ginninderra in Australia. The groundwater test site is a short distance away with monitoring boreholes already in place and planning underway for a CO2 injection well. This site will test both geophysical and geochemical monitoring methods and examine potential impacts on drinking water.

The site has ~30m of soil and alluvium sitting on weathered granite with fresh fractured bedrock at a depth of about 65m. Unusually for such test injection sites the water table is at a depth of around 15m, so shallow injection will be in the vadose zone. Site characterisation has established the geology of the site, the physical, chemical and mineralogical properties of the substrate and the baseline groundwater conditions.

The visit concluded with lunch in a traditional Korean restaurant in the nearby town, where the male overseas visitors, in particular, struggled with sitting on the floor at very low tables! After lunch we were taken to see the greenhouse experiments at Kyung Hee University. Initial short-term studies have investigated the effects of higher soil CO2 on germination of different plant species (cabbage, corn, beans and wheat) and on soil physical and microbial parameters. Oxygen depletion and pH were found to be more important factors in retarding germination than CO2 itself. Soil CO2 concentrations of 10% did not prevent germination. Wheat was the most tolerant species to higher CO2 and soil microbial parameters were not sensitive to short term exposure. Future experiments were being set up involving blueberries and other shrub species, where established plants will be exposed to different levels of CO2. As the addition of CO2 displaces O2 it can be difficult to unravel the relative impacts of higher CO2 and O2 depletion. However, the effect of O2 depletion alone can be tested by injecting inert N2 in place of CO2.

The next morning we were given tours of the War Memorial of Korea(Korean War Museum)  and the Secret Garden within the Changdokkung Palace complex. Having only the sketchiest understanding of the partition of the peninsular into North and South Korea the museum was very informative. We had no idea that so many nations had answered the UN call to support South Korea, including Ethiopia, Colombia, Thailand and the Philippines!

That afternoon was devoted to a seminar at Korea University where we all made a further presentation, mainly to students involved with K-COSEM. I spoke about some recent continuous monitoring BGS and University of Rome have carried out at a site of low-level natural CO2 seepage near the main Rome (Fiumicino) airport. Janice and Barry presented work on the potential impacts of CO2 pipeline leakage covering temperature effects on UK soils and plant responses to hypothetical insidious leakage of CO2.

Our final working morning was spent in discussing possible collaboration between K-COSEM and the various overseas institutions represented. This was a key part of our agenda for the visit and we gave short presentations on the GeoEnergy Research Centre, that has been set up by University of Nottingham and BGS, and the Plant Science facilities at Sheffield University. We followed this with discussion of established research links between the UK and South Korea, such as that between EPSRC and the Korean Science Foundation, and other options, such as the range of possible fellowship opportunities open to overseas candidates.

That afternoon I boarded the high speed express train (French TGV technology) to Daejeon where I visited Dr Insun Song and colleagues at KIGAM (effectively the Korean Geological Survey). After presenting some of our work from Weyburn at a seminar for KIGAM staff I was able to discuss possible avenues for collaboration with Korean counterparts over dinner before whizzing back to Seoul.

Our final Saturday in Seoul before returning back to the UK gave us an opportunity to see a little more of the city, with a visit to the National Museum of Korea. We were also forced to sample some of the finer local beers (well we had to shelter somewhere from the torrential rain)!

We would like to thank UKCCSRC for supporting our visit and to give special thanks to Professor Seong-Taek Yun and all his K-COSEM colleagues for making all the arrangements and for their wonderful hospitality.