Key role for Liverpool scientists in UK green energy development research
Earth scientists from the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences are part of a £3.6million project to research how to access green energy resources safely.
The project, called “SeisGreen” and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), aims to better understand the possible risks associated with green energy technologies. These risks include induced seismicity, whereby small earthquakes occur as a result of injecting fluid into rocks - a technique used as part of various green energy technologies.
By quantifying this risk, and understanding how to minimise it, the researchers hope to unleash the full power of geothermal energy, carbon sequestration, and subsurface hydrogen storage, to help the UK move to greener energy sources.
The project is led by Imperial College London in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester. The project will focus specifically on green energy technologies, and will not investigate any technologies aimed at the extraction of oil or shale gas.
Fluids, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or water, are injected into the rocks beneath our feet for a variety of reasons: to capture and remove CO2 from the atmosphere, to produce geothermal energy to heat water, or to store hydrogen for future use. All of these activities are important parts of large-scale green energy solutions, and will help to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.
However, injecting these fluids into the rocks can cause seismic activity, in the form of low-magnitude earthquakes, due to rock movements that release energy and create seismic waves. This new project will try to understand and mitigate the risk of this seismic activity using lab studies and modelling.
Without a safe way to inject fluids deep underground, the door to some of the UK’s most important green energy technologies would be shut.
Professor Dan Faulkner and Professor Ben Edwards from the University’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences are bringing their expertise in earthquake mechanics and seismology to this research project.
Utilising the unique facilities available through the University’s Rock Deformation Laboratory, they will conduct carefully controlled experiments to inject fluids into simulated faults under high pressure in order to understand the number and size of miniature earthquakes that are produced.
Professor Faulkner said: “This is an important project that will address the crucial issue of induced seismicity as we look to secure new, clean, and green future energy sources.”
“Liverpool’s novel expertise in high pressure laboratory experiments and engineering seismology provide key components in the quest to gain a fundamental and practical understanding of how earthquakes are produced through fluid injection into the subsurface.”
Professor Edwards added: “Liverpool will bring together the world-leading experimental, computational and observational components of this project into a practical holistic framework to model and mitigate induced seismicity. We will develop dynamic seismic hazard forecasts, incorporating advanced numerical simulations and real-time observations, with the aim to ensure the safe implementation of green energy-transition technologies, such as geothermal energy and carbon sequestration.”
A hydrogen future
The outcomes of this research could be key to the future of the hydrogen economy. In the long term, hydrogen could be an excellent renewable source of energy, as it can be produced using solar or wind energy. Yet hydrogen cannot be stored on the surface in large quantities, and so understanding how to safely store it underground without causing seismic events will be crucial to the success of hydrogen energy in the future, thereby helping to reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons.
This research will launch on 1 October 2022 and will be funded by NERC, which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Industrial collaborators include the British Geological Survey, Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage, Geothermal Engineering Ltd, Storegga (formerly Pale Blue Dot Energy), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Bergen, University of Calgary, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the Carbon Capture and Storage wing of BP, GT Energy, and Applied Seismology Consulting Ltd.
The project fits within the University of Liverpool’s Climate Futures research theme that is targeted towards understanding climate change as well as developing technology for a sustainable future.
It also is central within the Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences’ research themes on ‘Future Energy’ and ‘Geohazards and Tectonics’.