Surely the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, has no owner as such? Not so in the world of carbon capture and storage.

A“distinctly different” project to develop a method for fingerprinting carbon dioxide captured from fossil-fuel burning facilities will see Scottish researchers work alongside two pioneering carbon capture and storage (CCS) initiatives in Canada.

The two-year project by scientists from the Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage (SCCS) partnership will examine how levels of natural tracers in CO2, such as noble gases like helium or argon, could provide a unique “fingerprint” linking CO2 to its capture facility. This, in turn, could help to identify the source of CO2 in the event of a leakage – an important aspect of the development of multi-user storage sites in the UK and further afield.

The study, which has secured part-funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRCC), will analyse CO2 from different capture facilities in the UK and North America, including CO2 captured from the Boundary Dam power plant in Saskatchewan province, Canada.

At Boundary Dam, the captured CO2 will be fingerprinted prior to its injection at the nearby Aquistore project’s saline aquifer storage site. A comparison of CO2 recovered from a monitoring well will show whether the CO2 has retained its fingerprint after movement through the aquifer.

Dr. Stuart Gilfillan, research fellow with Edinburgh-based SCCS, who will lead the study, said, “Ongoing debate about the possibility of CO2 leakage from storage sites includes concerns over reliably identifying ownership of CO2. Research to date has failed to identify a cheap and effective means of unambiguously identifying leakage of CO2 injected, or a viable means of identifying ownership of it.”

“Our research will show if this is a viable technique for tracking the movement of CO2 in future storage sites, particularly offshore saline aquifers that will be used for storing large volumes of the UK’s CO2 emissions.”

Dr. Gilfillan’s project was highly rated by EPSRC and was awarded funding for the project on the grounds that it demonstrated a “distinctly different” approach from other proposals, and was considered “novel and timely with clear and appropriate aims”.

Canadian utility SaskPower is currently building at Boundary Dam what could be the world’s first full-scale CCS project at a coal-fired power plant. Meanwhile, Aquistore is a four-year research and monitoring project by Canada’s Petroleum and Technology Research Centre to demonstrate that storing CO2 deep underground is a safe, workable solution to reduce greenhouse gases.