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Geo-Carb-Cymru: Research

At present heavy industry remains an important component of the Welsh economy, in particular steel production and oil refinery, hence the country is a large carbon emitter (producing 13% of the UKs carbon) contributing to man-made climate change. If we can develop methods to reduce carbon emissions by the development of low carbon energy, we will tackle climate change as well as provide energy security and economic prosperity. The ‘GEO-CARB-CYMRU’ Cluster will deliver science and technology to help meet these goals by investigating the subsurface as a locale for low carbon energy pathways specifically to characterise and enhance Geologic Carbon Storage systems and Groundwater Heating Systems in Wales.

Geologic Carbon Storage (GCS), which involves the injection of carbon dioxide into underground rocks, is a critically important strategy to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases generated by the combustion of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency states that GCS could reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 19% and that fighting climate change could cost 70% more without GCS. However, Wales’ Carbon emitters do not have ready-access to conventional carbon storage prospects in depleted gas field reservoirs like in the North Sea. Therefore it is imperative to investigate less well understood unconventional storage options (coals and shales) that are present in Wales. Also while low carbon energy can be developed with GCS, the subsurface also offers other great options for low carbon energy. Specifically, microbially generated groundwater heat in the Welsh coal field could provide the potential for extensive ground source heat pumps which could be optimised on a large scale to provide Wales’ low carbon energy needs.

The GEO-CARB-CYMRU Research Cluster will address this lacuna by developing a major collaborative network between Welsh partners Aberystwyth University, Cardiff University, British Geologic Survey Wales and The ‘Big Pit’ National Coal Museum, as well as other national and international partners (University of Leeds, Zero Emission Research and Technology Centre at Montana State University). We will develop a whole system experimental, modelling and field approach to explore subsurface low carbon energy in Wales characterising and enhancing geologic carbon storage systems and groundwater heating systems in Wales, spanning interfaces between geosphere-hydrosphere and atmosphere, and utilising modelling from the pore to reservoir scale. This will be an international scientific frontier for future low carbon economic development.

The Cluster’s combined interests in reducing the carbon footprint of ‘old’ fossil fuel energy, and enhancing understanding of ‘new’ ground heat energy is state-of-the-art science and technology, and will (i) provide research excellence and build a high quality, long-term sustainable research capacity in Wales for low carbon energy studies and a sustainable low carbon economy, (ii) provide significant potential to leverage further quality funding from RCUK and EC, (iii) will be enhanced by the existing resources and infrastructure of the partners, and (iv) deliver critical information to underpin policy development in Wales and elsewhere.

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