Specialist detector will be key to new method of reducing carbon emissions

Cosmic rays

Our muon detector could play a major role in reducing the UK's carbon emissions by monitoring stored carbon.

Scientists in the Particle Physics Group at the Department of Physics and Astronomy have built a detector which will provide a novel, cost-effective method for monitoring sites used for carbon capture and storage (CSS).

CSS requires the use of sub-surface areas deep beneath the seabed to store carbon dioxide and is one of the newest measures for reducing the emission of CO2 gases into the atmosphere. Carbon is 'captured' from power stations, compressed into a fluid and then stored deep underground in places such as off-shore depleted gas fields.

We're in the early stages of development but in principle we are creating a powerful tool to monitor carbon capture and the rate at which carbon is escaping from a site, which is key to carbon capture and storage.

Professor Lee Thompson, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Crucial to the effectiveness of CSS is a site's capacity for carbon storage and its ability to retain the carbon without migration. This is what our muon detector can potentially help monitor.

The current method of measuring the capacity and storage capability of CSS sites is costly and infrequent. The muon detector could provide an accurate and potentially more economical alternative.

Leading the detector development is Professor Lee Thompson. He said: "We're in the early stages of development but in principle we are creating a powerful tool to monitor carbon capture and the rate at which carbon is escaping from a site, which is key to CSS."

"Boreholes are drilled into the deep storage site and then used for injection of CO2. Our detectors will be inserted into such boreholes, just beneath the injection site. The boreholes are about 20cm in diameter and our detectors need to be able to fit within them"

Our experts are conducting muon detector experiments at a multi-disciplinary underground laboratory based at Boulby Mine.

Professor Thompson said: "Currently the project is testing the detectors by monitoring muons in a simulated borehole in the mine. In addition we are carrying out a proof-of-principle experiment using another detector which detects muons which have travelled through the North Sea and then through a kilometre of rock to a cavern in Boulby Mine. As the tide changes above the mine, the amount of water that muons travel through changes and these tiny variations can be picked up by our detector system."

A visit to the mine from the UK government minister of state for energy, Michael Fallon, highlighted the significance of the project and its implications for helping reduce carbon emissions by monitoring CSS sites.

Discussions are underway with oil instrumentation companies to seek further funding to continue the research, according to Professor Thompson, "This would enable us to run not just one but multiple detectors semi autonomously."

The project is currently funded by Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Premier Oil. it is a collaboration of the Universities of Bath, Durham and Sheffield, Boulby Underground Science Laboratory and NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.