Led by Catherine Peters, Princeton researchers are working with partners at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to plan an experimental facility for the DUSEL underground laboratory in South Dakota, USA. Funded by the National Science Foundation, LUCI, the Laboratory for Underground CO2 Investigations, is being designed to study vertical flow of CO2 in porous media over length scales representative of leakage scenarios in geologic carbon sequestration.

The plan for LUCI is a set of three vertical column pressure vessels, each of which is ~500 m long and ~1 m in diameter (Figure 17). The experiments are configured to simulate CO2 leakage by releasing CO2 into the bottoms of the columns, which will be filled with brine and sand or sedimentary rock. Each vessel will have an inner column to simulate a well for deployment of down-hole logging tools; in partnership with Schlumberger, a comprehensive suite of geophysical logging instruments will be deployed to monitor experimental conditions as well as provide data to quantify vertical resolution of sensor technologies.

The scale of the LUCI facility will permit measurements to study CO2 flow over pressure and temperature variations that span supercritical to subcritical gas conditions. It will enable observation or inference of a variety of relevant processes such as buoyancy-driven flow in porous media, Joule-Thomson cooling, thermal exchange, viscous fingering, residual trapping, and CO2 dissolution. Experiments are also planned for reactive flow of CO2 and acidified brines in caprock sediments and well cements, and for CO2-enhanced methanogenesis in organic-rich shales.

The experimental observations from LUCI will generate new understanding of the processes governing CO2 trapping and vertical migration, and will provide valuable data to calibrate and validate large-scale model simulations. Pending congressional review and approval for the entire DUSEL laboratory, construction could start in 2012 and experiments might begin as early as 2014.

Figure 17. A graphical depiction (not to scale) of the LUCI experimental facility, showing the three vertical columns, the surface building, and the access drifts. The Empire State Building is depicted to indicate the vertical extent of this facility.