Experiences from a recent international conference

Three weeks ago, I was lucky enough (i.e. I had enough money in my research grant to travel) to attend the IEA GHGT combined network meeting in Canberra, Australia. The combined meeting brought together two of IEA GHGT’s networks: monitoring and environmental research.  As the focus of IEA GHGT is essentially CCS, the meeting was relevant to my work, as I covered in my previous post.

I don’t want to summarise or regurgitate any of the talks, findings, and such from the meeting; not that they weren’t interesting or exciting, but the findings of the meeting will be published by IEA GHGT in due course, and besides I didn’t take comprehensive notes! I decided that I would write a quick blog post though on my experience of the meeting, and offer some thoughts on how I felt the meeting went, for me at least.

Firstly, on a personal note, I was initially a little daunted by the seniority and expertise present at the meeting! Not surprising that in a field where much research is undertaken in the USA and UK, sending representatives half way around the world is pretty expensive and unlikely to attract students or early career researchers. I mentioned this to Tim Dixon (technical and regulatory CCS manager and all-round good guy), expressing to him that I (and a fellow PhD also present) felt a little like spare wheels in conversations with more senior/experienced individuals. My feeling had been that the distance to Canberra had stopped more students from attending, and it seemed that I was correct, as previous meetings had seen more students, although exact numbers of students/industry/academics is not something that IEA GHGT keep a track of. Very nicely, Tim then invited me along to the pub later in the evening to help ‘integrate’ a bit more with the group, however as soon as he gave me the name of the venue, I forgot it! The silver lining, however, was that I then met a couple of American students and we had our own wee night out, and have now made a few more contacts over in the US of A.

Aside from this particularly personal issue, I felt the meeting seemed to go very well. A few points I jotted down during the three days of talks were:

  • The discussions were particularly good at the end of each session of 4-6 speakers. I suppose this is the benefit of the meeting format, rather than simply a conference where one or two questions may get asked at the end of each presentation, but there is no time for a big discussion amongst many experts. Many good points were raised and discussed, and it was good to see differences of opinion on some areas.  Critical debate is crucial to good science and I think was achieved throughout the week.
  • It was great to see the results of field experiments, with lots of data on show. Laboratory experiments have their place (of course, I’m doing a lab-based PhD!) but monitoring and experimenting at field scale is fantastic if the cash and resources are available. My only gripe was that, despite the expertise of the presenters, many of the graphs shown were terrible to try and read; tiny axis labels, too much on one graph, not explained better, and so on. I get it drilled in to me at Edinburgh University to make my presentations easily readable, or at least explained in full – perhaps the current generation of post-grads are more adept at fiddling with graphs to improve their legibility in different formats (that’s fiddling the layout, NOT the data, just so that we’re clear on that!).
  • While I understand that IEA GHGT have a separate social science network, I thought the meeting could really have benefited from a presentation or two and the opinions of social scientists. The catchphrase of the conference, if you could call it that, became something like “who cares?”. A bunch of [well-informed, expert] geologists, chemists and environmental scientists is going to struggle to answer that question at a meeting like this, and I was left feeling like a voice had gone unheard.
  • And finally, a more general thought that the discussions around monitoring and what was required/needed to detect and quantify any possible CO2 leaks were very much focussed on small demonstration, pilot or research projects. I wondered what the set up for monitoring would be in the future scenario of a fully rolled out CCS industry, with potentially many sources of CO2 being stored in a single formation by one or more operators. Who does the monitoring? How do we detect whose CO2 is leaking? Who is responsible? My thought was that tracers could help with this, but this was something only really covered in one of the last sessions of the week. Tracers seem to be a research field largely not participated in by the group attending the Canberra meeting.

The final day of the conference, if you hung around for it, was a field trip around Canberra and the local area.  A mixture of geology, wildlife and history (and a free lunch and dinner), it was a great way to end the week.

Many thanks to IEA GHGT, Geoscience Australia, CO2CRC and Chevron Australia, hopefully see you at the next one!

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