Catrin Harris, Imperial College London, with CSIRO Australia
When I applied for the UKCCSRC ECR Collaboration Fund in 2019, my initial aim was to visit Australia to collaborate with colleagues in CSIRO. At the end of the collaboration, I have yet to make it Down Under, however, I have met people from all over the world, performed international experiments and collaborated with colleagues from CSIRO, nonetheless.
Before we knew what the Covid-19 pandemic had in store, we started to make plans for a collaboration hosted in Australia. After meeting online for many weeks, we decided to focus on novel experiments for geological carbon storage, made possible through the shared use of equipment, expertise and facilities at Imperial College London (my home university) and CSIRO. For these experiments, we decided to apply for coveted synchrotron time at the Australian National synchrotron (ANSTO). The imaging and medical beamline (IMBL) at ANSTO would allow us to overcome traditional lab resolution constraints and capture, for the first time, the impact of heterogeneity on the dynamics of trapping at the cm-scale, with pore-scale resolution.
When we were awarded the synchrotron time, we knew we had to make the experiments happen despite the Covid-19 travel restrictions. The new plan became that I would set up the experimental rig and run simulations of the experiment here at Imperial College London. We could use our medical CT scanner to capture the average saturations, before conducting the same experiment with pore-scale resolution at the synchrotron. Once everything was up and running, I would then post the equipment to my collaborator at CSIRO in Australia, Dr Sam Jackson, where he and his team would carry out the experiments.
Surprisingly, everything went swimmingly well. Sam and his team put in a sterling effort running two 24-hour experimental campaigns at the Australian synchrotron. The data was then shared with me via the internet and, through many early morning Zoom sessions, we worked together to analyse the data.
There was still chance I would visit Australia but, once the Covid-19 travel restrictions ended, Sam came for his own international visit to Europe, beginning a collaboration at Ghent University in Belgium with Professor Tom Bultreys. The PProGRess (www.pprogress.ugent.be) group at Ghent are well known in the porous media community, both for their excellent research and state-of-the-art facilities. Sam and I decided one set of international experiments in Australia wasn’t enough and proceeded to plan another experimental campaign at Ghent University, using the in-house ‘Hector’ scanning facility to study the impact of large-scale heterogeneity at the pore-scale. This time the experiments would focus on cyclic injection with application to hydrogen storage also.
In October 2022, I visited Ghent University for two weeks to finally take part in our in-person collaboration. It was definitely worth the wait! Not only did I get to collaborate with Sam from CSIRO, but also meet the whole team at Ghent University. Sam and I worked with Sharon Ellman, a PhD student in the PProGRess group, to help prepare and carry out the experiments. It was great to have the opportunity to carry out experiments at another laboratory, to see their kit, imaging set up and post processing tools. I will use the data analysis skills and porous media knowledge in my own PhD work.
We spent many hours together in the lab, successfully carrying out the experiment and capturing the cyclic drainage and imbibition data. The results from these experiments will help to improve the predictability of field scale simulations. Heterogeneity is ubiquitous across storage sites worldwide, including the Otway site in Australia. Therefore, it is necessary to upscale and incorporate adjustments for heterogeneity in models of subsurface storage. I learnt a lot during my time in the lab, but the thing I am most likely to remember was the kindness shown to me by Sam and Sharon during our time together. Both introduced me to their families and hosted me for dinner, making me feel very welcome in Ghent. I hope our friendships and scientific collaborations last far into the future.
Whilst in Belgium, I was able to present my work to the team at Ghent University on two occasions. I presented my data analysis from the Australian synchrotron at both the departmental geology seminar and the broader Ghent University CT group seminar. I gained valuable insight into my work during the question and discussion sessions, which I will use in my future analysis. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to share my work and to exchange ideas with other experts in the field. Also, I attended the Interpore BeNeLux chapter meeting, which was being hosted in Belgium at the same time as my visit. I listened to many interesting talks on geological carbon and hydrogen storage, networked with the porous media community and presented my research poster.
Now that I am back at Imperial College London, the collaborations are still on-going. I am finalising the Australian synchrotron data analysis with Sam, hopefully writing this into a research paper very soon. I have also recently met with the PProGRess research group online to discuss recent work and to brainstorm on new research ideas. I have connected with a unique group of people with very similar research interests to me and know that this will be the start of many future collaborations. I also made many contacts, both at Ghent University and at the BeNeLux Interpore meeting, which I hope will be useful for future research questions and career opportunities.
I am thankful to have met so many wonderful people, to have visited such a beautiful country and to have learnt so much. Many thanks to Tom Bultreys for hosting me, Sharon Ellman for their friendship and laboratory expertise, and to Sam Jackson for everything he has taught me and for his help and support throughout my PhD. Thank you UKCCSRC for funding this collaboration – I am sure it is just the start!