Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Laboratory

The Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Laboratory (TFC Lab), is specialised in near-surface gas and water geochemistry since 1980, social aspects of scientific research since 2000, and structural geology since 2006, with applications focussed on CO2 Geological Storage over the last 10 years. In this laboratory, researchers from the fields of geology, engineering and social science work together. 
The different expertise of the group allows an integrated scientific research approach, which comprises geochemical studies, structural analysis and tectonics studies, the engineering of innovative monitoring sensors and prototypes, and the development of tools and channels for the communication with stakeholders and the public. 
Research conducted in the Sapienza Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Lab during more than 30 years of its existence, has addressed a wide range of topics related to, for example, natural hazards (faults, earthquakes, volcanoes), environmental impact (groundwater contamination), and resource exploration (oil and gas, geothermal, minerals), as well as studies examining the safety of storing nuclear waste or CO2 gas in the deep geological sub-surface.
Research Topics and Activities
Natural Field Labs  - The Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Lab team has developed the concept of the natural field laboratory, as main tool for research activities applied to geological storage. Natural field laboratories are sites where naturally produced CO2 is leaking at the ground surface, both onshore and offshore. These sites can be properly equipped to allow researchers from different fields and countries to work together in an “open air laboratory”.
Reserches in these natural conditions allow to:
  • to better understand gas migration mechanisms in the geological environment (e.g. along faults and fracture networks);
  • to test a wide range of monitoring techniques that have been proposed for use at CCS sites (e.g. soil gas, gas flux, open path lasers, remote sensing, shallow geophysics, etc.); 
  • to examine the possible impacts of a CO2 leak on the ecosystem and on groundwater quality. 
  • The most important natural field labs where the group has developed its activities are the Latera Caldera (Latium), the San Vittorino Valley (Latium) and the Panarea Island (Sicily).
Near surface gas geochemistry:
1) discontinuous monitoring - The Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Lab is one of the most experienced European research group in this field, having used soil gas geochemistry and gas flux methods since the early 1980’s as a tool for environmental, resource exploration and risk assessment studies. A large database covering the whole National territory, with more than 40.000 gas samples, has been collected in the last 20 years.

Much of the work has been focussed on using natural field laboratories to better understand gas migration processes, to improve methodologies and to test new ones, as laser systems for atmospheric monitoring and gas sensing probes for continuous monitoring. This group has also conducted extensive research on CCS industrial sites such as In Salah (Algeria), Sulcis (Sardinia), and 5 years of monitoring at Weyburn (Canada).

A particular scenario for gas monitoring are populated areas with natural release of CO2 and other gases of deep origin like Radon, such as the city of Ciampino on the southern edge of Rome and the Latera caldera. In these areas soil gas and aqueous geochemical surveys were performed, as well as gas measurements in private homes. GIS models were developed, indicating zones of elevated risk, and activities with the general public to improve local understanding and safety.

These activities are still ongoing. New sampling strategies are developing, with the aims to combine continuous and discontinuous monitoring and cover the spatial and temporal scale of observation. Moreover, research are focused on baseline studies, on new techniques to distinguish potential leakage anomalies from background near-surface biological “noise”, as well as on improved monitoring strategies, tool development, and data interpretation.

2) Continuous monitoring: COGasPro monitoring station. The team of the Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry has developed, constructed, and deployed a number of autonomous stations for the continuous monitoring of both CO2 and CH4 concentrations in air (that is, in the unsaturated soil horizon or on ground surface) and CO2 concentration in water (in groundwater wells or in surface water bodies). The system can be configured for either real-time data access via an Internet-based server or with an internal memory for intermittent data download where continuous data transfer is difficult (e.g. the deep ocean).

Groundwater and surface water geochemistry
The Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Lab has over 30 years of experience in water geochemistry studies, applied to a wide variety of geological studies. The Lab has facilities for the analysis of major and trace elements and dissolved gases. Studies related to CCS include: i) examining the impact of natural CO2 seepage on the quality of shallow groundwater within the San Vittorino Valley and of shallow seawater near Panarea Island; ii) studying dissolved gas distributions and processes in shallow water at gas-leaking natural sites (Panarea Island, Black Sea) and at potential industrial storage sites (Adriatic Sea);  iii) testing long-term monitoring methods for groundwater tracers in shallow wells as related to sinkhole development within the city of Camaiore (Tuscany).
Fracture modelling and fault characterization
From 2006 the Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Lab team includes the contribution of structural geologists. This has allowed the group to enrich its research, integrating the study of soil gas migration with  fracture modelling, fault zone characterization, geological modelling and seismic interpretation. All these aspects cover a fundamental role in the site characterization phase of CO2 geological storage. In particular, the occurrence of faults in the overburden and within the reservoir requires dedicated studies to support the development of appropriate risk assessment and monitoring strategies.  Research is being developed to coupled fault zone geometry and potential leakage. The group is also engaged in fracture modelling, which is an important step to assess the capacity of a potential CO2 storage reservoir, using a field analogue approach. The group developed fault analysis and fracture modelling techniques within research project in collaboration with oil &gas companies (Schlumberger, Eni, Enel). 
Study of CO2 storage perception and communication
Since the year 2000 the Tectonics and Fluid Chemistry Lab has started to explore the challenges of geological studies’ dissemination. Psychological studies have been undertaken to understand how to communicate the research outcomes to stakeholders and the public. In the context of CO2GeoNet the group has become a leader for Spreading of Excellence activities, coordinating the partners and promoting the integration of multidisciplinary research in the field of CO2 storage and its user friendly communication. Growingly has emerged the importance of interaction of the researchers with the wider societal context, to better address in their work what is of interest and concern to society. This has led the members of the lab to further develop tools for communicating science, as for instance lay reports and videos, and research experiences of direct sharing with stakeholders, the media and the public, as in the FP7 R&Dialogue project. A new phase of this work is going to take place in the context of the Horizon 2020 project ENOS. Research will be dedicated to explore how the collaboration of researchers with members of the public and of the local community, can help the development of satisfactory standards for all, in the best practice guidelines for the geological storage of CO2.
CCS European Community Projects
CCS European Community Projects
Our portfolio of EC funded projects on CCS includes in the Sixth Framework Programme: Nascent, CO2ReMoVe, MovECBM, CO2GeoNet. In the Seventh Framework Programme: RISCS, ECO2, SiteChar, CGS Europe and R&Dialogue.

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