Mission Statement

The Geothermal Energy & Geofluids group is endowed by the Werner Siemens Foundation and investigates reactive fluid (water, CO2, CxHy, N2) and (geothermal) energy (heat, pressure) transfer in the Earth’s crust employing computer simulations, laboratory experiments and field analyses to gain fundamental insights and to address a wide range of societal goals and concerns.

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Earth Sciences at ETH Zurich 7th time in a row Nr. 1 worldwide


Covid-19 infection cases per 100.000 inhabitants

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Source: Johns Hopkins CSSE
Confirmed Covid-19 infection cases per 100.000 inhabitants per 25.01.2021 of a selection of countries


2020 MIT A+B Best Paper Award

Dr. Edoardo Rossi, research associate at the Geothermal Energy and Geofluids (GEG) group and former doctoral student at GEG and the Laboratory for Transport Processes and Reactions (LTR), and his Co-Authors received the Best Paper Award at the MIT A+B Applied Energy Symposium, held virtually at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT, with the paper:

Rossi, E., B. Adams, D. Vogler, Ph. Rudolf von Rohr, B. Kammermann, and M.O. Saar, Advanced drilling technologies to improve the economics of deep geo-resource utilization, Proceedings of Applied Energy Symposium: MIT A+B, United States, 2020 , 8, pp. 1-6, 2020. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]Access to deep energy resources (geothermal energy, hydrocarbons) from deep reservoirs will play a fundamental role over the next decades. However, drilling of deep wells to extract deep geo-resources is extremely expensive. As a fact, drilling deep wells into hard, crystalline rocks represents a major challenge for conventional rotary drilling systems, featuring high rates of drill bit wear and requiring frequent drill bit replacements, low penetration rates and poor process efficiency. Therefore, with the aim of improving the overall economics to access deep geo-resources in hard rocks, in this work, we focus on two novel drilling methods, namely: the Combined Thermo-Mechanical Drilling (CTMD) and the Plasma-Pulse Geo-Drilling (PPGD) technologies. The goal of this research and development project is the effective reduction of the costs of drilling in general and particularly regarding accessing and using deep geothermal energy, oil or gas resources. In this work, we present these two novel drilling technologies and focus on evaluating the process efficiency and the drilling performance of these methods, compared to conventional rotary drilling.



2019 WRR Editors’ Choice Award

Dec. 2020: GEG paper receives a 2019 Water Resources Research Journal Editor’s Choice Award, given to 1% of papers in a given year (here 2019). The paper is:

Kittilä, A., M.R. Jalali, K.F. Evans, M. Willmann, M.O. Saar, and X.-Z. Kong, Field Comparison of DNA-Labeled Nanoparticle and Solute Tracer Transport in a Fractured Crystalline Rock, Water Resources Research, 2019. [Download PDF]


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Inexhaustible resource of clean, renewable Geothermal Energy.
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Grimsel rock lab, feasibility of geothermal power plants.
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Grimsel rock laboratory, safer drilling methods.
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A short video about ETH Zurich
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GEG Events

Doctoral project interim report

Powei Huang (GEG group presentation)
GEG Meetings, ETH Zurich


Shihuai Zhang (GEG group presentation)
GEG Meetings, ETH Zurich

Groundwater level time series forecasting with machine learning

Andreas Wunsch (GEG group presentation)
GEG Meetings, ETH Zurich


Xiang-Zhao Kong (GEG group presentation)
GEG Meetings, ETH Zurich


Friedemann Samrock (GEG group presentation)
GEG Meetings, ETH Zurich


Edoardo Rossy (GEG group presentation)
GEG Meetings, ETH Zurich

Newest GEG Papers

Verification of coupled hydraulic fracturing simulators using laboratory-scale experiments
Deb, P., S. Salimzadeh, D. Vogler, S. Düber, C. Clauser, and R. R. Settgast, Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering, pp. 1-22, 2021. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]In this work, we aim to verify the predictions of the numerical simulators, which are used for designing field-scale hydraulic stimulation experiments. Although a strong theoretical understanding of this process has been gained over the past few decades, numerical predictions of fracture propagation in low-permeability rocks still remains a challenge. Against this background, we performed controlled laboratory-scale hydraulic fracturing experiments in granite samples, which not only provides high-quality experimental data but also a well-characterized experimental set-up. Using the experimental pressure responses and the final fracture sizes as benchmark, we compared the numerical predictions of two coupled hydraulic fracturing simulators—CSMP and GEOS. Both the simulators reproduced the experimental pressure behavior by implementing the physics of Linear Elastic Fracture Mechanics (LEFM) and lubrication theory within a reasonable degree of accuracy. The simulation results indicate that even in the very low-porosity (1–2%) and low-permeability ($10^{-18} m^2 - 10^{-19} m^2$) crystalline rocks, which are usually the target of EGS, fluid-loss into the matrix and unsaturated flow impacts the formation breakdown pressure and the post-breakdown pressure trends. Therefore, underestimation of such parameters in numerical modeling can lead to significant underestimation of breakdown pressure. The simulation results also indicate the importance of implementing wellbore solvers for considering the effect of system compressibility and pressure drop due to friction in the injection line. The varying injection rate as a result of decompression at the instant of fracture initiation affects the fracture size, while the entry friction at the connection between the well and the initial notch may cause an increase in the measured breakdown pressure.
No-Flow Fraction (NFF) permeability model for rough fractures under normal stress
Javanmard, H., A. Ebigbo, S.D.C. Walsh, M.O. Saar, and D. Vogler, Water Resources Research, 57/3, 2021. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]Flow through rock fractures is frequently represented using models that correct the cubic law to account for the effects of roughness and contact area. However, the scope of such models is often restricted to relatively smooth aperture fields under small confining stresses. This work studies the link between fracture permeability and fracture geometry under normal loads. Numerical experiments are performed to deform synthesized aperture fields of various correlation lengths and roughness values under normal stress. The results demonstrate that aperture roughness can more than triple for applied stresses up to 50 MPa – exceeding the valid range for roughness in most previously published models. Investigating the relationship between permeability and contact area indicates that the increase in flow obstructions due to the development of new contact points strongly depends on the correlation length of the unloaded aperture field. This study eliminates these dependencies by employing a parameter known as the No-Flow Fraction (NFF) to capture the effect of stagnation zones. With this concept, a new Cubic-law-based permeability model is proposed that significantly improves the accuracy of permeability estimations, compared to previous models. For cases, where the NFF is difficult to obtain, we introduce an empirical relationship to estimate the parameter from the aperture roughness. The new models yield permeability estimates accurate to within a factor of two of the simulated permeability in over three quarters of the 3000 deformed fractures studied. This compares with typical deviations of at least one order of magnitude for previously published permeability models.
Minimum Transmissivity and Optimal Well Spacing and Flow Rate for High-Temperature Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage
Birdsell, D. T., B. M. Adams, and M. O. Saar, Applied Energy, 289/116658, pp. 1-14, 2021. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]Aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) is a time-shifting thermal energy storage technology where waste heat is stored in an aquifer for weeks or months until it may be used at the surface. It can reduce carbon emissions and HVAC costs. Low-temperature ($<25$ \degree C) aquifer thermal energy storage (LT-ATES) is already widely-deployed in central and northern Europe, and there is renewed interest in high-temperature ($>50$ \degree C) aquifer thermal energy storage (HT-ATES). However, it is unclear if LT-ATES guidelines for well spacing, reservoir depth, and transmissivity will apply to HT-ATES. We develop a thermo-hydro-mechanical-economic (THM\$) analytical framework to balance three reservoir-engineering and economic constraints for an HT-ATES doublet connected to a district heating network. We find the optimal well spacing and flow rate are defined by the ``reservoir constraints'' at shallow depth and low permeability and are defined by the ``economic constraints'' at great depth and high permeability. We find the optimal well spacing is 1.8 times the thermal radius. We find that the levelized cost of heat is minimized at an intermediate depth. The minimum economically-viable transmissivity (MEVT) is the transmissivity below which HT-ATES is sure to be economically unattractive. We find the MEVT is relatively insensitive to depth, reservoir thickness, and faulting regime. Therefore, it can be approximated as $5\cdot 10^{-13}$ m$^3$. The MEVT is useful for HT-ATES pre-assessment and can facilitate global estimates of HT-ATES potential.
Quantification of natural CO2 emission through faults and fracture zones in coal basins
Ma, Y., X.-Z. Kong, C. Zhang, A. Scheuermann, D. Bringemeier, and L. Li, Geophysical Research Letters, (in press). [View Abstract]With the presence of highly permeable pathways, such as faults and fractures zones, coal seam gases, particularly CO2, could potentially migrate upwardly from the coal deposits into the shallow subsurface and then to the atmosphere. This letter reports soil gas mapping and gamma ray survey in coal basin of Hunter River Valley, Australia. The survey facilitated the delineation of fault structures across the sampling regions, where the identified faults were confirmed by an independent drilling investigation later. Furthermore, to evaluate the gas emission fluxes from coalbeds through fault zones, the measured CO2 concentrations, coupled with an inverse modelling, enable the estimation of the width of the fault zone and associated CO2 emission flux in the range of 2×10\(^{-5}\)-6×10\(^{-5}\) mol/m\(^{2}\)/s at the study site. Our new approach provides a way to determine emissions of gases from deep formations, which may contribute considerably to the greenhouse gases cycles.
Quantification of mineral accessible surface area and flow-dependent fluid-mineral reactivity at the pore scale
Ma, J., M. Ahkami, M.O. Saar, and X.-Z. Kong, Chemical Geology, 563, pp. 120042, 2021. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]Accessible surface areas (ASAs) of individual rock-forming minerals exert a fundamental control on the maximum mineral reactivity with formation fluids. Notably, ASA efficiency during fluid-rock reactions can vary by orders of magnitude, depending on the inflow fluid chemistry and the velocity field. Due to the lack of adequate quantification methods, determining the mineral-specific ASAs and their reaction efficiency still remain extremely difficult. Here, we first present a novel joint method that appropriately calculates ASAs of individual minerals in a multi-mineral sandstone. This joint method combines SEM-image processing results and Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) surface area measurements by a Monte-Carlo algorithm to derive scaling factors and ASAs for individual minerals at the resolution of BET measurements. Using these atomic-scale ASAs, we then investigate the impact of flow rate on the ASA efficiency in mineral dissolution reactions during the injection of CO2-enriched brine. This is done by conducting a series of pore-scale reactive transport simulations, using a two-dimensional (2D) scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of this sandstone. The ASA efficiency is determined employing a domain-averaged dissolution rate and the effective surface area of the most reactive phase in the sandstone (dolomite). As expected, the dolomite reactivity is found to increase with the flow rate, due to the on average high fluid reactivity. The surface efficiency increases slightly with the fluid flow rate, and reaches a relatively stable value of about 1%. The domain averaged method is then compared with the in-out averaged method (i.e the “Black-box” approach), which is often used to analyzed the experimental observations. The in-out averaged method yields a considerable overestimation of the fluid reactivity, a small underestimation of the dolomite reactivity, and a considerable underestimation of the ASA efficiency. The discrepancy between the two methods is becoming smaller when the injection rate increases. Our comparison suggests that the result interpretation of the in-out averaged method should be contemplated, in particular, when the flow rate is small. Nonetheless, our proposed ASA determination method should facilitate accurate calculations of fluid-mineral reactivity in large-scale reactive transport simulations, and we advise that an upscaling of the ASA efficiency needs to be carefully considered, due to the low surface efficiency.
Integrated magnetotelluric and petrological analysis of felsic magma reservoirs: Insights from Ethiopian rift volcanoes
Samrock, F., A.V. Grayver, O. Bachmann, Ö. Karakas, and M.O. Saar, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 559/116765, 2021. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]Geophysical and petrological probes are key to understanding the structure and the thermochemical state of active magmatic systems. Recent advances in laboratory analyses, field investigations and numerical methods have allowed increasingly complex data-constraint models with new insights into magma plumbing systems and melt evolution. However, there is still a need for methods to quantitatively link geophysical and petrological observables for a more consistent description of magmatic processes at both micro- and macro-scales. Whilst modern geophysical studies provide detailed 3-D subsurface images that help to characterize magma reservoirs by relating state variables with physical material properties, constraints from on-site petrological analyses and thermodynamic modelling of melt evolution are at best incorporated qualitatively. Here, we combine modelling of phase equilibria in cooling magma and laboratory measurements of electrical properties of melt to derive the evolution of electrical conductivity in a crystallizing silicic magmatic system. We apply this framework to 3-D electrical conductivity images from magnetotelluric studies of two volcanoes in the Ethiopian Rift. The presented approach enables us to constrain key variables such as melt content, temperature and magmatic volatile abundance at depth. Our study shows that accounting for magmatic volatiles as an independent phase is crucial for understanding electrical conductivity structures in magma reservoirs at an advanced state of crystallization. Furthermore, our results deepen the understanding of the mechanisms behind volcanic unrest and help assess the long-term potential of hydrothermal reservoirs for geothermal energy production.
Verification benchmarks for single-phase flow in three-dimensional fractured porous media
Berre, I., W. M. Boon, B. Flemisch, A. Fumagalli, D. Gläser, E. Keilegavlen, A. Scotti, I. Stefansson, et al., P. Schädle, and et al., Advances in Water Resources, 147, pp. 103759, 2021. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]Flow in fractured porous media occurs in the earth’s subsurface, in biological tissues, and in man-made materials. Fractures have a dominating influence on flow processes, and the last decade has seen an extensive development of models and numerical methods that explicitly account for their presence. To support these developments, we present a portfolio of four benchmark cases for single-phase flow in three-dimensional fractured porous media. The cases are specifically designed to test the methods’ capabilities in handling various complexities common to the geometrical structures of fracture networks. Based on an open call for participation, results obtained with 17 numerical methods were collected. This paper presents the underlying mathematical model, an overview of the features of the participating numerical methods, and their performance in solving the benchmark cases.
The Value of CO2-Bulk Energy Storage with Wind in Transmission-Constrained Electricity Systems
Ogland-Hand, J., J. Bielicki, B. Adams, E. Nelson, T. Buscheck, M.O. Saar, and R. Sioshansi, Energy Conversion and Management, 2021. [Download PDF] [View Abstract]High-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission infrastructure can transmit electricity from regions with high-quality variable wind and solar resources to those with high electricity demand. In these situations, bulk energy storage (BES) could beneficially increase the utilization of HVDC transmission capacity. Here, we investigate that benefit for an emerging BES approach that uses geologically stored CO2 and sedimentary basin geothermal resources to time-shift variable electricity production. For a realistic case study of a 1 GW wind farm in Eastern Wyoming selling electricity to Los Angeles, California (U.S.A.), our results suggest that a generic CO2-BES design can increase the utilization of the HVDC transmission capacity, thereby increasing total revenue across combinations of electricity prices, wind conditions, and geothermal heat depletion. The CO2-BES facility could extract geothermal heat, dispatch geothermally generated electricity, and time-shift wind-generated electricity. With CO2-BES, total revenue always increases and the optimal HVDC transmission capacity increases in some combinations. To be profitable, the facility needs a modest $7.78/tCO2 to $10.20/tCO2, because its cost exceeds the increase in revenue. This last result highlights the need for further research to understand how to design a CO2-BES facility that is tailored to the geologic setting and its intended role in the energy system.