Ceri Vincent, Principal Geophysicist, British Geological Survey

Ceri Vincent · 15 May 2024

Prospect member Ceri Vincent is a Principal Geophysicist at the British Geological Survey (BGS), researching the geological storage of carbon dioxide, which it is hoped can play a key role in helping us meet our Net Zero climate targets.

I joined the British Geological Survey straight out of university, where I studied geophysics, and the first time I heard about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) was at my job interview.

I remember, after they explained the concept to me, I asked back: is that economically feasible? I’m still here 23 years later and still working on CCS!

Geological storage of CO2 is the idea that we take the bit that we want to use out of fossil fuels, and we put the rest of the carbon dioxide securely underground. It’s a climate mitigation technology. It works for power plants and for heavy industry where CO2 is generated as part of the chemical processes, and it’s just starting to take off commercially in Europe and across the world.

We currently store something like 40 million tonnes per year across the world, but we need to be storing more like 50 million tonnes every year by 2030 just in Europe, if we’re to reach the basic climate targets that we’ve set for ourselves.

Ceri Vincent, BGS

CCS isn’t a silver bullet. We need to be doing everything, using all the tools and technologies that we have, like energy efficiency and switching to renewables.

CCS is there to mop up the whatever emissions are left because we can’t just stop using fossil fuels tomorrow altogether – that’s not realistic. Fossil fuels are used in the production of so much of the world around us, like cement, steel, tarmac roads, and for plastics. It’s not just fuel and heating.

Storing the CO2 allows us to use fossil fuels in a more sustainable way and gives us time to transition to a net zero future.

Unfortunately, the longer we wait, the more we’ll have to do and the faster we’ll need to do it. That’s the challenge.

My role

I’m a geophysicist, so I undertake the characterisation of sites that are potentially suitable for CO2 storage. I manage projects to make sure the science deliverables are achieved.

At the moment, I’m particularly focused on monitoring geological storage sites and that’s where my expertise has developed in the last few years.

I’ve also involved in policy work and producing strategic documents.

A lot of my work has been in Europe with the European Commission’s executive agencies, on Climate and Energy and most of all with the CO2GeoNet Research Association, where I also serve as its President.

I love working in CO2GeoNet because it connects so many researchers across Europe who are all driving towards the same climate goals.

Making CCS happen

In the UK, we did our first assessments in the mid-1990s and then looked across the UK and all the surrounding subsurface in the early 2000s, which then became a ‘storage Atlas’ of potential sites for the UK, CO2Stored.

The Sleipner project in the Norwegian Sector of the North Sea has been storing 1 million tonnes every year since 1996.

In the UK, companies apply for an exploration permit, in order to then get an injection license. We’ve had one storage licensing round.

It’s very exciting because five years ago there were just a few potential storage projects in the UK. Now from the licencing round there are more than 20 potentially looking to store CO2 deep underground in the 2030s.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride getting here but we’re getting very, very close. Things are really starting to take off across the EU and globally, so it’s a very exciting time for CCS.

A common argument made against CCS is the fear of leaks. There is a comprehensive monitoring programme for each site that stores CO2, and we haven’t seen any leakage back to the atmosphere.

It’s very important to realise that this is a highly regulated environment; companies must have solid plans in place to manage risks, and plans in place if they ever see the storage site not responding as expected (e.g. leakage), before they can be granted an injection licence.

At the same time, each CCS project always throws up new research questions that require investigation. So, the science never ends, which is great fun.

I’ve been researching this for my whole career, and it initially struggled to get off the ground because it’s cheaper to dispose of CO2 into the atmosphere, than it is to store it responsibly.

Now it’s starting to become an investable business, which is what needs to happen.

Science for the public good

Job satisfaction is incredibly important to me. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to work for BGS. We are delivering science for public good; BGS is delivering world-leading science and that was what I wanted to be doing.

I love working with the people at BGS because it’s very much one organisation and we all work together.

I have to say I enjoy the autonomy I have over my career too. Obviously, you have to deliver projects within the BGS and UKRI strategy, but you still have a lot of agency over your own career. I value that independence and that freedom to work on different projects.

For example, my work with CO2GeoNet, I love doing it; I’ll even do it in my free time if I need to.

I firmly believe my work is a public good, but I just love what I do. I love rocks, I love geophysics and I love investigating tricky research problems.


Climate emergency

Public Services

From protecting our rivers to keeping us safe, Prospect members do vital work across a range of professions.