Our Own Backyard: Can Virtual Reality Help Us (And Others) Understand the CCUS Chain?
12 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 7, 2021
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) as a set of activities have been undertaken in various forms for many tens of years to separate CO2 from natural gas or for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The role of CCUS as a tool to mitigate emissions has been increasingly studied and applied, for example at this series of conferences and through coordinated research around the world (e.g. Carbon Capture and Storage Flagship Program in Australia, Regional Carbon Sequestration partnerships in the US, and a whole range of projects in Norway such as Sleipner).
The overall value chain and processes typically encompass:
• Capture technology (e.g. natural gas clean-up, coal combustion, industrial processes, hydrogen production)
• Utilisation (e.g. EOR, production of chemicals, geothermal)
• Transportation by pipeline and shipping
• Geological storage (aquifer, depleted hydrocarbon fields, EOR, coal, basalts etc.)
• Monitoring of storage over the longer term (leakage, environmental impacts)
These activities are underpinned by regulatory frameworks, international standards, government policy/legislation and social license to operate.
While it is not expected that everyone employed or facing CCUS has expert levels of understanding of all facets of CCUS, few may be familiar or comfortable with the (a) technology (b) footprint (c) scale (d) impacts of the different parts of the CCUS process. How were these observations made? The CSIRO booth at the GHGT-14 Conference in Melbourne (2018) was set up to accommodate two virtual reality (VR) stations with a virtual tour of a carbon capture and storage journey (Figure 1). This was navigated in part by the visitor (i.e. wearing the VR headset) or controlled by the tour guide (operator) or both. The tour provides the visitor with a reasonable proxy for a carbon capture and storage plant.
The use of VR can make significant steps in overcoming this lack of built project in the early stages of full-scale development of CCUS (or other large-scale emerging industries) globally. VR could be used in obtaining social license as it could provide much clearer context for community groups where new developments might take place. Some aspects of the tour are highly conceptualized, in particular the space in the base of the well, the diameter of the well bore and the use of bubbles to mimic CO2 movement. Typically, the CO2 would be injected as a supercritical fluid, not bubbles, but that is harder to render for the purposes of the tour.
Key observations from running the tours over the course of the conference were that prior to taking part in the VR tour most attendees had not really considered what their levels of understanding of the whole of the CCUS process might be. After the tour they felt much more enlightened and comfortable to discuss those aspects; they understood better the challenges in areas that they were not so familiar with and felt better informed to discuss the different steps in the process with non-specialists. Geological storage has been much more challenging to convey through other imagery, description and information/education . The perception of depth and presence of geological rock overburden as a seal to retard CO2 mobility was therefore much better understood. Areas where the visitor could interact with the location and environment were more engaging and the sense of being transported to another location or environment to interact at a site without induction training, personal protective equipment and no change in climate was not lost on those participating.
The tours have now been used in a few Open House activities in relation to the CSIRO In-Situ Laboratory field trial to provide a sense of context for the local community, but a more systematic approach to testing the role of VR tours in social license is required to evaluate this approach as a mechanism to better inform the public of CCUS and its impact locally.
Keywords: VR; training, education, social licence, interactive, hardware, software
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