LEC’s partnership with the British Geological Survey is strengthened with the joint appointment of a geochemist to work on geological carbon dioxide storage

Dr Niko Kampman, an expert in fluid-rock interactions and the behaviour of geological fluids, is researching naturally occurring carbon dioxide reservoirs and engineered experimental sites currently being used to store carbon. The aim is to see what we can learn about the conditions needed for the long term storage of carbon dioxide produced by human activities, in particular by coal fired power stations.

“We want to be able to say with higher degrees of confidence what will happen to that carbon over a period of years because the purpose of carbon capture and storage is to keep the carbon out of the atmosphere,” Niko explains.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has the UK’s highest concentration of scientists working on carbon storage, and Niko’s appointment is part of a new initiative at the BGS to form stronger research collaborations with UK universities.

Natural carbon reservoirs

Niko, who came to Lancaster from Cambridge University, is studying the vast natural reservoirs of carbon stored underneath the Colorado Plateau in America to improve our understanding of the geological processes that take place in these natural reservoirs.

Niko collaborates with colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford and the BGS on research programs into the geochemical aspects of CO2 storage (CRIUS), funded by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC). His current research, funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, is focusing on the reactions between carbon dioxide (CO2), water and the minerals in the cap rocks that seal these reservoirs.

“We have been involved in an international program to drill into these reservoirs to recover rock and fluid samples, in-order to study the impact of the reactive CO2-rich fluids on the integrity of the reservoirs,” Niko explains.

“Some of these natural reservoirs have safely stored CO2 for more than a million years. We need observations from these systems to calibrate models of how CO2 will behave in storage sites over long time periods.

“This is core, fundamental science, aimed at showing how carbon storage works in practice.”

Niko will be based at LEC eight months of the year working with colleagues Dr Greg Holland and Dr Zheng Zhou at the department’s new Noble Gas laboratory. For the remaining four months he will be working at the National Environmental Research Council’s isotope geosciences laboratory attached to the British Geological Survey (BGS), in Keyworth Nottingham.

“Being at LEC allows me to be involved in projects with a range of people from different backgrounds working on carbon capture, such as Nils Markusson a social scientist who sits down the corridor from me. We need to convey to the public the risk and uncertainty involved in carbon capture and storage and social science can play an important role in this.”

Expanding a strong partnership

Professor Kevin Jones, director of LEC, said: “We already have a strong relationship with the BGS. Part of Niko’s role will be extending these links and setting up new projects with the BGS.

“It benefits us because it gives us access to very high spec technical facilities and to funding, and offers our staff and students new opportunities to link into the excellent international work being done by the BGS”

Mike Stephenson, director of science and technology at the BGS, said: “The joint appointment of Niko Kampman will allow BGS to work closely with Lancaster and LEC in carbon capture and storage – an innovative carbon abatement technique – but also explore other areas of joint science in energy and the environment.”

LEC’s deputy director, Professor Philip Barker, was recently made a Visiting Research Associate at the BGS.

Phil, who has worked with the BGS for more than a decade, uses geochemistry to understand past environmental and climate change, particularly periods of drought and flood in Africa. He studies biogeochemical cycling to give a long-term perspective from which to understand climate variability and feedbacks.
Recently he has been working with Prof. Melanie Leng and other BGS staff developing isotope methods from freshwater diatom silica as palaeoclimatic and environmental tracers. He has also worked with BGS to secure UK membership of the International Continental Drilling Programme