The GeoEnergy Group is part of the Lyell Centre and integrated into the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering (IGE) within the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society (EGIS) at Heriot-Watt University (HWU).
The Lyell Centre is a strategic collaboration between the British Geological Survey (BGS) and HWU. The centre provides a unique environment, which integrates the research and specialist expertise of both institutions. The overarching objective of the partnership is to develop and apply evidence based solutions to global challenges associated with the Earth’s surface, sub‐surface, oceans, and atmosphere achieved by a synthesis of pure and applied geoscience expertise, combining research in applied geosciences and ecosystem sciences, underpinned by innovative technology.
The mission is to inspire novel and transformative ideas beyond traditional boundaries creating a vibrant home for a new generation of academic leaders and become a focal point of engagement, communication, knowledge exchange and advice for non‐academic stakeholders, policy makers and society. The strategy is to create a central hub and platform for innovation, built around four main core research themes, which will adapt as the societal, economic and research landscape evolves, and new challenges arise. The four themes are climate, life and surface environments; energy from the earth; risks hazards and uncertainties; water and life in subsurface environments supported by a portfolio of income from multiple sources.
The GeoEnergy Group, as it develops at the moment, is focused on research in the context of technologies that build on and expand the knowledge and expertise successfully developed on hydrocarbon exploration and production in IGE over the past decades. Research areas include:
- Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS): This involves storage of CO2 in saline aquifers, depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs and unminable coal seams but also the possibility of co-injecting CO2 and hydrogen to form methane through methanogenesis
- Unconventional Reservoirs: With the booming shale gas and shale oil developments in North America and similar trends in Asia-Pacific, we work on both, characterisation of gas shale and coalbed methane reservoirs
- Subsurface Energy Storage: The increased installation of renewable energy production in the form of wind, solar or hydro requires conversion of energy in times of low consumption and storage in subsurface formations. Hydrogen, produced through hydrolysis can either be directly be stored in saline aquifers or depleted reservoirs or co-injected with CO2 to form methane through methanogenesis.
- Geothermal Energy: This (almost) renewable energy source has a large potential to deliver de-centralised heat or electricity and most parts of the world and can be produced from high (deep, enhanced) or low (shallow) enthalpy reservoirs.
- Natural seismicity: Fault slip due to tectonic stresses can lead to natural seismicity, as opposed to the induced seismicity related to the above operations.
In order to support developments in these research areas, we currently have the following research interests:
- Characterisation of low-permeability rocks to assess the caprock sealing efficiency of CO2 or H2 storage formations as well as pore structure, sorption capacity and matric transport in unconventional shale and coal reservoirs. We do this through an integrated approach:
- Gas sorption capacity for formation gases under reservoir temperature and pressure conditions
- Gas and water flow through matrix samples
- Pore scale characterisation using low pressure sorption (LPS) and small (SANS) and very small angle neutron scattering (VSANS) to determine porosity, pore size distribution, specific surface area and fractal dimensions.
- Hydro-chemical-mechanical coupling in CO2 storage reservoirs though laboratory and field studies. We integrate observations from natural analogues with laboratory work and analytical modelling in order to inform on the long-term consequences of this technology
- Fault and fracture flow to determine the potential and rates of leakage from subsurface reservoirs
- The frictional behaviour of fault rocks. Changes in the in-situ state of stress due to fluid injection can lead to reactivation of pre-existing faults. The frictional behaviour of the fault materials determines whether fault behaviour is stable or unstable (=seismicity).
- Risk assessment in geoenergy bringing together knowledge from key experts in the related fields and data and knowledge gained from specific case studies.