Flexible Funding 2018: Dr Stuart Gilfillan, University of Edinburgh

Resolving CO2 trapping and tracking CO2 migration in the Carbon Management Canada Field Research Station, Canada, using inherent tracing tools


Key facts about this Flexible Funding research project

Institution: University of Edinburgh
Department: School of GeoSciences
Start date: 1st September 2019
Principal investigator: Dr Stuart Gilfillan
Amount awarded by UKCCSRC: £195,321

Why is this research needed?

The recent Mission Innovation Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge (MI CCIC) report outlines that advances in CO2 monitoring are needed to enable storage performance verification at a higher level of certainty, both during and following injection operations. This monitoring must allow the fate of the injected CO2 to be quantified and provide reassurance that CO2 is not leaking from the storage site.

The ability to identify buoyant and potentially mobile structurally retained CO2 and residual or solubility trapped CO2 is essential to understand how to engineer a secure storage site. However, it is difficult to measure and often poses the single greatest uncertainty in a CCUS project. To date, few studies have attempted to provide a full assessment of residually and solubility stored CO2 from within the storage site at reservoir scale. Furthermore, leakage of CO2 from a breached storage site may intercept shallow aquifers, surface body waters, and escape to the atmosphere, which can be hazardous to both ecosystems and human health.

The current means to distinguish man-made CO2 from that naturally present in the subsurface is to add geochemical tracers to the injected CO2 and monitor for them. Whilst artificial chemical tracers have proved to be successful at tracking CO2 injection at the pilot scale, these tracer compounds are expensive and their co-injection will be cost prohibitive at
commercial scale storage sites, where millions of tonnes of CO2 will be injected over decades.

What is this research investigating?

The work proposed here will determine the fate of CO2 injected into the FRS site by quantifying both the level of CO2 residually and solubility trapped within the reservoir formation. This will be achieved geochemically, using a combination of stable oxygen isotopes to resolve CO2 pore space saturation (amount of CO2 dissolved and residually trapped) within the injection formation and inherent noble gas and stable carbon isotopes to quantify the amount of CO2 dissolved.

The second part of the work will establish the effectiveness of inherent tracers in identifying CO2 migration from a CO2 storage site. This will resolve any changes in the stable carbon, Kr and Xe and radiocarbon fingerprints from baseline levels in the overburden above the FRS injection horizon. This programme will directly address the need for advances in monitoring to enable CO2 storage performance verification at a higher level of certainty, both during and following injection operations, by verifying inherent tracing tools as tracers of both the fate of injected CO2 and CO2 migration.

We will work with one of the world’s leading research organisations focused on CCS, the Containment and Monitoring Institute of Carbon Management Canada. They operate a dedicated research facility focused on CO2 storage, their Field Research Station (FRS) located near the town of Brooks in Alberta. This site has secured $9M of Federal and Provincial
Government funding to date and provides a unique opportunity to develop, refine and calibrate monitoring systems and technologies. This provides an important asset for UK CO2 storage research as the nation currently lacks such an extensive CO2 injection research site. The project also has the support of Natural Resources Canada, who are undertaking bi-monthly sampling of the shallow groundwaters above the FRS, and the proposed programme of work will compliment this ongoing monitoring operation.

The proposed work will directly address two of the Mission Innovation report storage Priority Research Directions (PRDs), namely PRD4 ‘developing smart convergence monitoring to demonstrate containment and enable storage site’ and PRD 5 ‘realizing smart monitoring to assess anomalies and provide assurance’. The MI CCIC report specifically cites that ‘methods that use tracers in new and innovative ways are of interest.’

Research outputs

This research is ongoing. Outputs will be shared below as they become available.


Update Summer 2020 Web Series

See the presentation from our September 3rd webinar >>


Update September 2019 Conference

See the presentation from our September 2019 Conference in Edinburgh >>


Paper 1

Carbon capture and storage at the end of a lost decade



See the dataset at the UKCCSRC Information Archive >>


Paper 2

Multi-Isotope Geochemical Baseline Study of the Carbon Management Canada Research Institutes CCS Field Research Station (Alberta, Canada), Prior to CO2 Injection


Goldschmidt 2022 abstract

Multi-isotope geochemical baseline study of the CMC Research Institutes CCS Field Research Station (Alberta, Canada), prior to CO2 injection


AGU 2020 abstract

A multi-isotope geochemical approach to baseline monitoring at the Carbon Management Canada's CCS Field Research Station, prior to CO2 injection