A personal take on GHGT12, Austin TX

Finally! I was diligent enough to write about my poster presentation on the final day of the conference, and I’ve previously submitted some quick thoughts to Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage (SCCS). But I’ve only just got around to writing about my overall conference experience here since I’ve been busy making a start on writing my thesis. That’s the excuse I’m sticking to, anyway!

The International Energy Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies (GHGT) conferences have been running since 1997, and are held every two years in North America, Europe or Asia. This year was the 12th, and although pitched as a “greehouse gas mitigation technologies” conference, it is really the world’s largest conference on carbon capture and storage (CCS), since virtually all talks are CCS focused. Around 1200 – 1400 delegates attend from all scientific and industrial disciplines for 4 days of presentations, and is therefore a great place to share latest research, meet and great, and expand one’s knowledge.

I was lucky enough to be given a bursary by the the GHGT organisers to attend the previous conference in Kyoto, two years ago, on a student mentoring programme. Both conference and city were fantastic, so GHGT12 had a lot to live up to.

To get the negatives out of the way first, neither the city of Austin, nor the Austin Convention Centre are a patch on Kyoto and it’s International Conference Centre. Kyoto felt much more intimate, and without the gigantic warehouse conference hall in which meals and posters were held. Neither did Kyoto feel like an enormous energy vacuum; for a conference about reducing CO2 emissions, holding a conference in a massive air-conditioned (and mostly empty) centre felt at odds with what we are trying to achieve.

However, this shouldn’t detract from the purpose of such conferences: to engage with fellow researchers and industry. In that respect, for me, GHGT12 achieved this purpose, and I’m delighted for it. As an early career researcher, and one who wants to carry on in research beyond my PhD, GHGT12 was a great opportunity to listen to talks and read posters by other researchers around the world who have similar research interests to me. Not only that, but getting to chat with them was interesting and valuable.

For example, I attended talks by Elizabeth Keating on CO2 flow and leakage, Susan Carrol on groundwater quality impacts, and Jerry Blackford on the results of the fantastic QICS project. I chatted with, amongst others, Diana Bacon about her work modelling trace element concentrations. I was very pleased that having made connections with these researchers, they then sought me out to talk about my work (see the gathering at my poster). Whether this interaction leads to anything more substantial, we’ll have to see.

As well as engaging face-to-face, I made an effort this year to use Twitter to follow developments in other technical sessions, using the #GHGT12 hashtag. I racked up something like 70 Twitter interactions (tweets, retweets, favourites) over the 5 days of conference activities, tweeting out things I found interesting, e.g.

Since there were only a few technical sessions directly relevant to my research interests (i.e. environmental impacts), then much of the rest of my time was spent keeping abreast with the latest storage, risk management and social science research. In fact, probably the most interesting session I attended was final technical session on Communication & Attitudes Towards CCS. From big data research on TV broadcasts about CCS, to digital communications, community engagement and public perceptions to CCS in China, it was fascinating!

Informally, a lot of time was spent socialising with delegates at various evening functions. In one instance, I talked to a lady researching the researchers about the language used in communicating what we do. And it was not all science…I spent a bit of time in the swimming pool of the hotel we had across the street from the conference centre, and the final night of GHGT12 was a hearty Texan barbecue at the well-known Salt Lick restaurant/ranch just outside of Austin.

So overall, worth attending! And if I’m still around in CCS by the time the next GHGT rolls into Lausanne, Switzerland, then I will most likely be attending. Maybe see you there?

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