A professor from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK has received a prestigious European Research Council Advanced Award of €3m ($3.3m) to pursue frontier research into ‘smart rocks’ which could assist in the future storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) underground.
The security of water food and energy supplies, including enterprises ranging from the efficient extraction of oil and gas from oilfields to the potential for storing captured CO2 underground, all depend on a thorough understanding of how liquids and gases travel through porous rocks in the subsurface.
Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer and her team will grow ‘smart rocks’ that can ‘talk’ to them about what actually goes on deep underground.
With the award, the team plans to 3D print their own porous rocks with incorporated micro sensors, enabling them to replicate what actually happens deep underground in laboratory conditions. This will provide information at a microscopic level that was not available before.
Professor Maroto-Valer said, “While extensive work over the years has given us some idea about how liquids and gases move through porous rocks at a large scale, we haven’t been able to understand how the process works at the very small pore scale, and how that process can differ between different types of porous rocks.”
“By 3D printing our own core samples we can decide exactly what sort of rock we wish to study, and implanted micro-sensors will be able to tell us directly, in real-time, what is going on as gasses and liquids pass through them. This fundamental knowledge at such a tiny scale will feed hugely into our understanding of such processes at the large scale and enable us to maximise the success of industries from oil extraction to water safety and the storage of captured CO2.”
The €3m award was selected against very stiff competition, and is one of only 16 awards made across Europe in the products and process engineering panel, with over 1,900 applicants received across all panels and disciplines. The funding comes from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
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