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University of Birmingham researchers at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing have been awarded £29,000 in flexible funding from the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre (UKCCSRC) for a project which will research into how quantum gravity sensors can contribute to the detection and monitoring of CO2 injected into the subsurface – a vital capability for validating the safety of CCS applications.

The project, which partners with the British Geological Survey (BGS), will formally begin at the start of August and conclude after three months, and will investigate how an existing portable cold atom gravity gradiometer could be used to monitor a planned injection of CO2 at the GeoEnergy Test Bed (GTB) a multi-sensor technology platform for CO2 monitoring research. It is planned that approximately five tonnes of CO2 will be injected into the Arden Sandstone Formation at a depth of 10-12 m below ground level over a period of weeks. The aim is to investigate how the CO2 will migrate towards the surface of the formation (which comprises layers of sandstone, siltstone and mudstone) and test technologies, including quantum gravity sensors, to detect and monitor this.

The academics aim to build upon research undertaken in previous projects (see Gravity Pioneer Innovate UK: 104613). Both partners are uniquely suited to this project: Hub researchers at the University of Birmingham have built the UK’s first and only portable cold atom gravity gradiometer (as part of a Dstl-funded project titled Gravity Imager). BGS and the University of Nottingham founded the GTB and will work together to conduct the CO2 injection experiment. BGS will generate complementary sensor data, geophysical images, and ground models which will be made available to the project.

The UKCCSRC is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and hosted by the University of Sheffield in partnership with ten other UK academic partner institutions. Its strategic mission is to help ensure that CCS plays an effective role in reducing net CO2 emissions while securing affordable and controllable electricity supplies, providing low carbon heat and maintaining competitive industries for the UK.

Ten projects were funded to help the UK achieve its net zero GHG emission targets. Successful projects were awarded after a series of industry- and regulator-led workshops were held to identify gaps and explore where fast-track research projects could make the most impact. Following an assessment process with external reviewers, the final project selection was authorised by the UKCCSRC Board.

Regarding the funding award, Dr Jamie Vovrosh (University of Birmingham), said: ”Quantum technology based gravity and gravity gradient sensors have the ability to profoundly enhance our understanding of the subsurface. This project will allow us to understand how the benefits of quantum technology can be used to help better understand and optimise CCS.”

Dr Paul Wilkinson (British Geological Survey) added: “The injection experiment that this project will simulate provides a unique opportunity to test the capabilities of the cold atom gravity sensors to detect and monitor the fate of CO2 in the subsurface. It is a controlled experiment in a geological setting similar to that of the North Sea, but on-shore and at a much more accessible depth.”

The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing (led by the University of Birmingham) brings together experts from Physics and Engineering from the Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Imperial, Liverpool John Moores, Nottingham, Southampton, Strathclyde and Sussex, NPL, the British Geological Survey and over 70 industry partners. The Hub has over 100 projects, valued at approximately £100 million, and has 17 patent applications.

The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing is part of the National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP), which was established in 2014 and has EPSRC, IUK, STFC, MOD, NPL, BEIS, and GCHQ as partners. Four Quantum Technology Hubs were set up at the outset, each focussing on specific application areas with anticipated societal and economic impact. The Commercialising Quantum Technologies Challenge (funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund) is part of the NQTP and was launched to accelerate the development of quantum enabled products and services, removing barriers to productivity and competitiveness. The NQTP is set to invest £1B of public and private sector funds over its ten-year lifetime.