Carbon Capture Monitoring With Cosmic Rays
September 15, 2013

Cosmic Rays Could Be The Answer To Carbon Capture Monitoring Issues

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers from Durham University in the UK are looking towards the stars for a method to reduce costs associated with carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a process that could potentially mitigate contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming and ocean acidification.

According to BBC News science reporter Simon Redfern, CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from fuel as it is burned at a power station. That CO2 is then “pumped back down into the very rocks that maybe once yielded that fuel.”

“Likely storage sites for CO2 will be depleted gas and oil fields [0.6 to 1.25 miles] down, with many candidates in the old oil and gas fields of the North Sea,” Redfern explained. “A few test sites around the world suggest that CO2 can indeed be returned to the deep Earth successfully, but attention has now turned to monitoring its behavior at depth.”

Currently, the cost of monitoring CCS repositories is one of the primary obstacles preventing the method from becoming widely implemented. Existing technology requires expensive geophysical seismic imaging techniques, the BBC News reporter said, which would have to be continued and repeated over the long-term.

However, since late last year, Jon Gluyas, a professor at the university’s Department of Earth Sciences, and colleagues have been developing an alternative CO2 storage site monitoring method that uses cosmic rays – high energy particles originating from outside the Solar System.

Gluyas has teamed with geoscientists, particle physicists and engineers from Durham University, the University of Sheffield, Bath University, Newcastle University, NASA and other institutions to analyze the potential of using a type of subatomic particle found in cosmic rays known as muons as an alternative monitoring method.

Muons travel from the upper atmosphere and ultimately penetrate rock several kilometers underground, the research team explained. For that reason, the detection of the particles could be used to map the density profile of the material above the detectors in order to measure on-going carbon dioxide levels at any potential carbon store.

“This technology crosses between traditional scientific disciplines and could radically reduce the cost of monitoring CO2 storage sites, saving perhaps hundreds of millions of pounds per annum,” Gluyas explained in a statement last November. “The essential support from DECC and industry partners will allow us to develop improved detectors and to model and test our technology in practice.”

Last week, Gluyas updated the project’s progress while speaking at the British Science Festival in Newcastle, Redfern reported. He said that their technique used the natural radiation of the muons to see through several kilometers of rock, in much the same way that a doctor uses X-rays or CT scans in order to see the inside of a patient’s body.

The research team is deploying particle detectors underground that are sensitive to the cosmic shower of subatomic particles, using them to create an image of the storage site. Gluyas said that this muon tomography process had already been used to test for cavities in pyramids, as well as magma chambers in volcanoes. The method was also reportedly used to peer inside the damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.

“Scientists have already built a physics lab at the base of the Boulby deep mine in Cleveland near Whitby, [0.6 miles] beneath the surface… They are testing their method by monitoring muons that have travelled through the North Sea and then through the [0.6 mmiles] of rock,” Redferm said. He added that this “proof of concept experiment” was “being extended to designing a system that could be used as a probe.”

“We have drilled a number of geothermal wells in the North East as test grounds,” Gluyas added. “The program should take us to the point, in mid 2015, to be ready to deploy in that setting. If this works out, by 2020 we should have some working schemes.”