Four weeks at CSIRO in Australia

Written by Dr Sascha Serno from the University of Edinburgh who received the ECR International Exchange Fund to visit CSIRO in Australia for four weeks during April/May 2015

I am Sascha Serno, a postdoctoral research associate in gas geochemistry at the School of GeoSciences of the University of Edinburgh. With the help of the UKCCSRC ECR International Exchange Fund, I was able to visit the CSIRO Energy Flagship in Clayton South, a southern suburb of Melbourne, for four weeks during April/May 2015. CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency and provides ground-breaking research in different fields at different research centres spread all over Australia. Research conducted at CSIRO includes numerical simulation of CO2 storage through the Energy Flagship and geochemical monitoring of CO2 through the National Geosequestration Laboratory in Perth, Western Australia. During my research visit at the CSIRO Energy Flagship, I worked with Tara LaForce, Jonathan Ennis-King and Lincoln Paterson.

Our CCS group at the University of Edinburgh works together with Tara, Jonathan, Lincoln and scientists from CO2CRC and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) on the tracer data interpretation from Phase 2 of the most recent research project at the Otway test injection site in western Victoria at the end of 2014, the Otway 2B extension project. This field study included two phases: Phase 1 involved a test over 2 months to determine differences in reservoir water quality in response to the injection of CO2-saturated water with and without trace amounts of gas impurities, while Phase 2 had the goal to characterise the main CO2 injection by demonstrating that CO2 has been successfully injected and remains in the formation, at what residual saturation level at what distance into the reservoir. For Phase 2, we used noble gas tracer injection and recovery with a push-pull single well technique to study the noble gas behaviour in the Paaratte Formation at 1.4 km depth under baseline conditions with no CO2 in the formation and under conditions of residual saturation in the formation. Numerical simulations with TOUGH2 are used to estimate the residual saturation levels based on comparing the noble gas breakthrough curves from the baseline and the residual saturation tests.

The CCS group at the CSIRO Energy Flagship is world-leading in numerical modelling of CO2 storage in the subsurface, and led the interpretation of the tracer data during the last residual saturation test conducted at Otway in 2011. They are also a leading part of the geochemical interpretation of the noble gas data from Phase 2 of the Otway 2B extension project. The University of Edinburgh currently works together with CSIRO, CO2CRC and LBNL to provide a first interpretation of the noble gas data using geochemical techniques. The gained information is essential for the following interpretation of the data using numerical modelling. 

During my exchange visit, I worked together with Tara, Jonathan and Lincoln to advance in the preliminary geochemical interpretation of the noble gas data from the Otway 2B extension project. Also, we worked together on the numerical simulation of the data to estimate residual saturation levels. The exchange visit provided me with the unique opportunity to gain training in numerical modelling from world experts using TOUGH2 and PetraSim 5, and therefore was of great benefit for me to expand the palette of expertise that I can call upon to address key questions in CCS and other geochemical or environmental research areas. Tara, Jonathan and Lincoln did a great job in training me in only a few weeks to perform numerical simulations of the different stages of Phase 2 of the 2B extension project to better understand the behaviour of reservoir water and CO2, a great achievement considering that I had no background in numerical modelling before coming to CSIRO. 

I also used the opportunity to meet with Ralf Haese, Max Watson and Jay Black from CO2CRC at the University of Melbourne to further discuss and exchange our knowledge gained from the initial data interpretation from both phases of the 2B extension project and to discuss details of upcoming CO2CRC projects at the Otway test site in the next years and how the University of Edinburgh and other suitable UK CCS research groups can potentially be involved in the efforts of CO2CRC. I also gave two seminar talks, one at the CSIRO Energy Flagship and one at CO2CRC, to present the preliminary interpretation and implications from the noble gas as well as oxygen isotope data. For the latter, we collected reservoir water and gas samples during the entire 2B extension project to study residual saturation levels as a result of changes in the oxygen isotope signature of the reservoir water in contact with residually trapped CO2. CO2CRC signaled strong interest in intensifying the already established collaborations with the University of Edinburgh and the UK CCS community to continue working together during upcoming real-world CCS projects in Australia led by CO2CRC.

And when you spend one month in one of the most liveable cities in the world, you have to explore the city and its surroundings. Since I went to Melbourne in the autumn shortly before the start of winter, I just came in time to experience the middle of the Australian Rules Football season, an awesome sport probably best explained as a mixture of Football and Rugby and the winter national sport of Australia that dominates the media coverage. Melbourne is a multicultural city and offers a great selection of restaurants and tourist attractions. My favorite boroughs are Collingwood/Fitzroy, a hip area northeast of the city centre with nice restaurants, bars and trendy vintage and small designer shops, as well as the famous beach boroughs St. Kilda and Elwood. I also used the opportunity to discover the surroundings, including a nice village called Healesville around 2 hours by train from the city centre, which is famous for its sanctuary of Australian mammals and vineries. I also grabbed a rental car and explored Phillip Island and the Wilsons Promontory National Park to the south of the city.

Altogether, my trip to Melbourne was great and very successful. I would like to thank the UKCCSRC for providing the funding for my research visit through the UKCCSRC ECR International Exchange Fund.  The exchange fund provides an ideal opportunity for ECR in CCS to build up collaborations and work on projects in a research environment other than their home institution; therefore, I recommend other ECRs to apply for the exchange fund to conduct CCS research abroad. I also want to thank Tara, Jonathan and Lincoln from CSIRO and Ralf, Max and Jay from CO2CRC for being great hosts for my research visit.