Surat Deep Aquifer Appraisal Project (UQ-SDAAP)

Future energy choices

What are our future energy choices?

In transitioning to a low carbon energy future, could carbon capture and storage (CCS) be a real option for Queensland?

As a university, UQ has a responsibility to undertake scientific research which informs choices for more sustainable energy futures. As such, UQ has been undertaking research on CCS for several years.

Background

The world is facing an increasing climate change impact as we continue to emit more greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide.

Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas from power plants, running large industrial plants producing cement, paper and steel and intensive farming are some of the main reasons for greenhouse gas emissions. Excess CO2 traps more heat in the atmosphere and it becomes warmer.

To address climate change, 196 countries participated in the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 to negotiate a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – known as the Paris Agreement. When signing the agreement, participating countries agreed to take measures to reduce their carbon output to limit global temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius.

Carbon Capture and Storage, also called geosequestration, is one way of reducing gas emissions by storing waste carbon dioxide deep underground in suitable geological formations.

South East Queensland has a number of coal and gas fired power stations generating the majority of electricity for the state. Many of these plants are relatively new with projected supply of over 30 years. The cumulative emissions from this power generation are of the order of 29 million tonnes CO2 per year.

Future energy choices image

 

  • What is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)?

    Carbon Capture and Storage, or geosequestration, is a process used to capture carbon dioxide gas which is emitted while producing power (via coal or gas), steel, paper, cement etc. To keep excess CO2 from the atmosphere, it is captured at the power plant or factory, transported (by pipeline for instance) and safely stored permanently deep underground. CCS is one of the options for tackling climate change to reduce global CO2 emissions. The International Energy Agency suggest that no one option will be enough to meet global reduction targets.

  • What is carbon dioxide (CO2)?

    Carbon dioxide is a colourless, odourless and non-combustible gas in the earth’s atmosphere, also formed during respiration. Natural sources include volcanoes and hot springs, and carbon dioxide is freed from carbonate rocks when dissolved in water and acids. It is produced by combustion of wood and other organic materials plus fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. It is also one of the essential ingredients for carbonated water.

  • How does Carbon Capture and Storage work?

    The technology is designed to prevent carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas from entering the atmosphere – to mitigate climate change. It is done by either stripping the CO2 from the smokestacks of conventional power stations or by burning the fuel in special ways to produce emissions of pure CO2. The greenhouse gas is then transported safely and stored deep under the ground, for example in exhausted oil and gas reservoirs. 

  • Do we need Carbon Capture and Storage?

    Reducing the amount of CO2 produced by human beings is important if the world is going to stop significant increases in global temperatures leading to climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, the production of electricity and heat (from fossil fuel sources) is the largest contributor to global CO2 emissions. On top of this, the demand for heat and electricity is set to dramatically increase worldwide over the coming years, and CCS is one energy technology that can reduce excess carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. 

Project

Background

The Surat Deep Aquifer Appraisal Project led by the University of Queensland is part of the research into carbon capture and storage to help reduce emissions.

The project is funded by the Australian Government through the Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development & Demonstration (CCS RD&D) Fund, COAL21 Fund and The University of Queensland.

The project aims to provide information and analysis to inform the broader debate on how Australia might contribute to climate change mitigation and on the suitability of the Surat Basin for large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as a part of this.

This project does not involve injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) into the ground.

Previous studies have found that aquifers in the deepest parts of the Surat Basin (greater than 2000m) at the base of the Great Artesian Basin in Eastern Australia might be a potential place to safely store CO2. The University of Queensland is deeply engaged in work which is updating and revising our understanding of the Great Artesian Basin. This is generally showing greater complexity, heterogeneity and lower connectivity than historically thought.

The research from this project will increase understanding of deep aquifer properties and provide new scientific information on general groundwater assessment in the area. This information will be made public.

UQ - SBDAAP

Objectives

The project aims to provide information and analysis to inform on the suitability of the Surat Basin for large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) for Queensland to support future climate change mitigation actions. It is led by UQ Professor Andrew Garnett, Director of the Carbon Capture Storage program.

The project has two main parts:

1) Developing a low-cost, low-impact methodology to improve our estimation of deep aquifer conditions. This makes maximum use of data available from oil and gas, CSG and other operations. It will inform geotechnical and techno-economic studies on the suitability of CO2 storage deep underground, led by Professor Jim Underschultz, UQ Chair in Petroleum Hydrodynamics.

2) A social science program, which will explore attitudes to CCS and other energy technologies and the trade-offs individuals make about their energy choices. Led by Professor Peta Ashworth, UQ Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures, the program will also investigate the role of social media informing those choices.

Funding

The project is funded by the Australian Government through the Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development & Demonstration (CCS RD&D) Fund, COAL21 Fund and The University of Queensland.

Publications

Reports and publications that arise from the project will be available via links from this page.

Partners

The following educational institutions and organisations are project collaborators either assisting with fundamental research or providing data:

Providers

The following software companies have donated academic software licenses for research projects.

Resources

More information and research on carbon capture and storage is available from the following sources:



Frequently asked questions

Why is UQ undertaking this research?

UQ is committed to research related to climate change mitigation. Research in areas such as clean energy, renewable energy and sustainable development, together with a commitment to sustainable investment principles, is a greater measure of UQ's commitment on climate change.

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj said “UQ acknowledges the significant duty of public research to underpin the innovations needed for a more sustainable, cleaner energy future. It is better to work with all parties and across all areas of the university to ensure effective action on climate change”.


What is the aim of this research?

The project aims to provide information and analysis to inform on the suitability of the Surat Basin for large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to support future climate change mitigation actions. The project will collate and synthesise all existing data from various sources and gather new data from the wells and infrastructures of third parties.


Who are the funding providers for this research?

The project is funded by the Australian Government through the Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development & Demonstration (CCS RD&D) Fund, COAL21 Fund and The University of Queensland.


What is the role of The University of Queensland in the research?

The University of Queensland’s role is to provide high-quality, rigorous, reviewed and independent scientific study. University researchers have designed and will manage the research project and will assure the quality of its output. Recent experience points to the importance of ‘getting the science right’ first, i.e. before any large development decisions can be made.


Why is the Surat Basin being studied?

Many large CO2 point source emissions are located in Queensland (and northern New South Wales). The State and Federal Governments are seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas intensity of the economy. Previous studies have identified aquifers deep within the Surat Basin to be of possible interest for safe and secure CO2 storage, but have consistently pointed out that to establish whether or not a real option exists it requires more basic scientific data and analyses.


What is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)?

CCS is the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) from large stationary emissions sources (e.g. power stations) and its subsequent transport to safe and secure storage in deep underground formations. The purpose of CCS is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change. Further information can be found at http://www.globalccsinstitute.com/understanding-ccs/what-is-ccs. The International Energy Agency considers that given the right policy circumstances and suitable locations, CCS could make substantial contribution to mitigating the risk of climate change (www.iea.org/topics/ccs/).


Is UQ promoting or advocating CCS or CO2 storage in the Surat Basin?

No. The aim of the research project is not to advocate or oppose carbon storage in the Surat Basin, but to collect new data and develop new and informed knowledge about CCS scenarios and their potential impacts. New knowledge is needed for any interested stakeholder to make the judgement about whether or not they would like to pursue CCS as a climate change mitigation strategy in the area.


Will there be injection of CO2 into the Basin as part of the research?

No. The research does not require injection of any CO2 into the aquifers to perform the assessment.


Will the research require the construction of new wells?

No. The project will not require the construction of new wells in the Surat Basin. Existing wells and water bores or well(s) already planned by oil and gas operators will be used for new data gathering.


What effect will the research have on the local landholders?

Data gathering will establish the water quality and aquifer characteristics in the Precipice Sandstone aquifer and/or overlying formations at various locations in the basin. This unique and new information will be of general interest to landholders and regulators and will inform groundwater resource management and modelling on a wider basis. On an operational level, the field work element of the project may include one or two existing well sites on private land which are already operated by third parties.


How will the results of the project be disseminated and used once the research has concluded?

The results of the research will be made public through peer-reviewed journal articles, project reports and presentations. The basic scientific data gathered on the water quality and aquifer properties will be made public and lodged with the Queensland State Geological Survey and Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment.

The data and information will be used by several parties including those interested in groundwater resource modelling and management and climate change mitigation through CCS. Analysis of the test results will be combined with desktop studies of possible CCS deployment. These studies seek to model groundwater impacts and other trade-offs which would be required for CCS to be an option. This will provide policy makers and other stakeholders (governments, companies etc.) with improved knowledge of whether or not they would like to use it as a technology to address the challenges of emissions reductions compared to other options.


What kind of assurance exists that the research undertaken and subsequently disseminated is performed without bias or interference from funding bodies?

UQ has control over what is published. Research integrity at The University of Queensland is guaranteed by adherence to UQ’s research integrity principles. General principles are set out in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

Specific principles are also given to all research staff involved in the project through the UQ Research Integrity Office. Read more: Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and UQ Research Integrity Office. UQ engages with the funding bodies via funding agreements and a steering or oversight committee.

Importantly, within these agreements, UQ owns any intellectual property arising from the research, and is free to publish scientific results arising out of the project.


How does this research relate to CTSCo’s project close to Wandoan?

Details of CTSCo and its project can be found on their website (http://ctsco.com.au/). CTSCo also receives funding from the same funders as the UQ research, including funding through the Australian government’s Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development and Demonstration Fund. The UQ research project is managed independently of the CTSCo project.

Media contact

Carolyn Martin, Communications Manager - UQ Surat Deep Aquifer Appraisal Project email carolyn.martin@uq.edu.au ph. 07 3346 3474

Project members

If you have any questions or comments about this research please contact one of our project leaders.

Prof Andrew Garnett

Project Director - UQ-SDAAP
Director of UQ Centre for Coal Seam Gas

Prof Jim Underschultz

Sub-surface Program Director - UQ-SDAAP
UQ-CCSG Chair in Water
Prof Peta Ashworth, Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures

Prof Peta Ashworth

Program Director, Social Science - UQ-SDAAP