Four scientific field sites will be developed; in these sites the investment from the EU will leverage ~500M Euro in prior investments from S4CE partners. Building on scientific activities that are only possible with access to these field sites, S4CE will quantify environmental risks associated with selected sub-surface operations, allowing policymakers to make informed decisions in the best interest of the European socio-political landscape. Cutting edge instruments will be developed and deployed at field sites, complementing existing infrastructure. S4CE will establish techniques, workflows, and best practice procedures that will promote the development of a widely accepted approach to Monitoring, Reporting and Verification services (MRV), with the potential of becoming the cornerstone of a future industrial full service MRV package. S4CE will have a direct quantifiable positive impact on European technology, with the expansion of existing SMEs, and with the support of two start-up companies advanced by this consortium. S4CE will develop and expand programs to train the future experts in the sustainable deployment of geo-energy.

S4CE has the ambition to bring to fruition the following innovations:

  • Environmental impact: The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach is becoming popular to certify the sustainability of industrial operations, but the methods are application specific and somewhat subjective. S4CE will improve the current LCA approach by providing a systematic method for compiling the data obtained during monitoring the geo-energy sub-surface operations. For the first time, the approach will combine information from multiple sensors. S4CE will generate the first software, ready to be plugged into existing platforms, to assess all indicators of environmental impact of a geo-energy operation (CCS, unconventional oil and gas, and EGT).
  • Viable enhanced geothermal (EGT) energy operations. Currently, energy production via EGT energy is limited because of the high costs and the high risks. Partnering with OR and conducting demonstration activities in the Cornwall site, S4CE will demonstrate for the first time how to reduce both the cost and the risk of renewable energy projects based on geothermal operations. It will be shown that by capitalising on pre-existing, inactive, fault structures that are aligned with favourable, vertical stress regimes will benefit deep geothermal in two ways. Firstly, the vertical fault structure enables us to drill one deep well (4.5kms) for production and one shallow well (2.5kms) for injection: the water from the injection well will naturally move downwards towards the production well. This lowers the capital cost of the operation, since the injection well is rather shallow. Secondly, drilling through pre-existing, favourably aligned, inactive fault structures enables us to capitalise on the natural permeability in the fault structure. This is expected to enable more flow to occur at lower injection pressures, improving the long-term economics of the project. Success of the EGT operation in Cornwall will be a game changer for caseload renewable energy supply.
  • CO2 storage: Although CCS is essential for adhering to the 2015 Paris agreement, very few success stories exist (one notable example being CarbFix). S4CE will extend the applicability of the CarbFix process, will screen and identify possible sub-surface formations in which to test CO2 carbonation. Proving the success of CO2 fixation in the presence of seawater will be a breakthrough in our societal goals of reducing CO2 emissions, as much of the ocean floors consist of porous basalts overlain by altered impermeable basalts providing huge potentials for CCS offshore.
  • Emission detection: One of the major challenges for the development of accurate and robust sensors for gaseous fugitive emissions is cost-effectiveness, sensitivity, and confident quantification over large operational areas. CO2 emissions are notoriously difficult to measure due to the atmospheric background. The unique approach implemented by MIRICO Ltd, based on laser dispersion spectroscopy, allows all-weather operation and, combined with transport models, the two dimensional localization of sources and of emission rates. The instruments will be able to discriminate biogenic from non-biogenic gases, which currently can only be done in centralized facilities in North America. S4CE’s success will therefore be a game changer for the industry because the new S4CE instruments will be light, easy to mount, not interfere with the sub-surface operations, and they will provide real-time quantification of the emissions. In addition, these instruments will, for the first time, allow quick identification of fugitive emissions, with the potential of fast response leading to enormous reductions in the environmental footprint.
  • Leaks detection from concrete casings: Fugitive emissions from abandoned wells as well as from old and faulty pipelines contribute significantly to the environmental footprint of oil and gas operations. Currently, because of the high density of concrete, there are no tools available for monitoring fluid transport in large concrete samples non-intrusively – radiation based methods (such as x-ray tomography/radiography) provide high resolution information on the moisture distribution and, especially, on the pore structure, but only if samples are small. Typically, radiation-based methods are used for samples of thickness below 10 cm. S4CE will advance the current state of the art via the implementation of the electrical tomography technologies, which are radiation-free and provide high temporal resolution, up to hundreds of images per second. This will be a game-changing technology. S4CE will also develop the sensing skin, which for the first time will allow to significant reduction of the environmental impact of sub-surface operations providing a fast, cost-effective identification of cement-based concrete seals that are decaying and require replacement.
  • Fingerprinting sub-surface fluids: Tracers are routinely used in the oil industry to study how subsurface fluid flow, for stimulation/hydraulic fracturing and well production performance monitoring. Most commonly used oilfield tracers include radioactive elements (e.g. Iridium-192, Scandium-46, Antimony-124), tritiated water (HTO), mono-, di- and tri-fluorinated benzoic acids, fluorescent molecules (e.g., fluorescin), halides (Cl- and Br-) and light alcohols (methanol, ethanol, isopropanol). Generally, these tracers are detected at the part per million (ppm) or part per billion (ppb) levels. S4CE will surpass this state of the art in oilfield tracing via the encapsulated DNA-tracer technology. As opposed to current tracer technologies, the use of DNA permits generation of as many distinct fingerprints as needed, since unlimited DNA sequences are available, allowing complex multi-tracer applications (that is, for the first time ever each well could be identified with a unique signature) and eliminating background problems associated with the re-use of the same tracers. Additionally, tracer design is harmless and environmentally friendly.
  • roxol: While the effect of the poroelastic stress transfer can be studied numerically with existing Finite Element Methods (FEM) based software packages like COMSOL Multiphysics, those packages lack the possibility of explicit modelling fracture propagation. S4CE will bridge this gap: GEOMECON GM will implement a software package based on the eXtended FEM (XFEM), i.e., roxolTM to simulate the propagation, initiation and reactivation of fractures; the software offers the unique possibility to understand the fracturing process during hydraulic fracturing campaigns applied in the extraction of unconventional oil and gas, which will enable the safe deployment of geo-energy operations.
  • Microbial interactions in the sub-surface: A majority of the modern biosphere thrive in the piezosphere, yet our ability to study and quantify microbial interactions at HP conditions are hindered by the need for expense, expertise and custom-made equipment. Building on the unique PUSH50 instrument, S4CE will quantify if and how microbes collapse upon lowering the pressure to which they have adapted and will improve our capability to cultivate and isolate microbes from the sub-surface. This is a world first, as at present it is impossible to retrieve high-pressure biological samples from geologic formations and maintain such samples at HP for characterization. Because it is likely that high-pressure habitable niches were common in the early Earth, by using PUSH50 S4CE could identify new unexpected bacteria communities, shedding light on the important debate on the origin of life. More relevant to LCE 27, it is possible that by better understanding the interactions of sulfate reducing bacteria such as Pseudomonas, Citrobacter, Aeromonas, Desulfovibrio capable of generating H2S with methanotrophic Archaea (ANME), S4CE will for the first time identify techniques for detecting such communities in the sub-surface, limit their stimulation and the production of harmful gases (i.e., H2S) and hence reducing the amount of biocides used. This will be the start of game changing technologies that will lower the environmental footprint of geo-energy operations.