The possibility of storing huge volumes of carbon dioxide within these reservoirs, or producing significant quantities of gas and geothermal heat, is tremendously important as we transition to a low carbon society.
Securing clean, affordable and sustainable energy for the future is vital – and one multidisciplinary research team believes that carbonate reservoirs could hold the solution to this.
Carbonate reservoirs hold over 60% of the Earth’s remaining conventional oil reserves. The problem is, the majority of the oil contained in these reserves cannot be captured or used at present.
This is where Professor Sebastian Geiger, Energi Simulation Chair and Director of Research for the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, comes in. He believes that developing technologies that will allow scientists to extract energy – in the form of oil, gas, or geothermal heat – from carbonate reservoirs more effectively could improve energy security for the future and help to reduce global carbon emissions, especially if energy production is combined with CO2 injection.
There are a number of extremely talented students and researchers in Professor Geiger’s research group. Comprised of 17 different nationalities, the team is taking a holistic approach to studying carbonate reservoirs. They focus on the minute details – such as the study of how fluids and minerals interact with each other within a single pore of a carbonate rock – and on the big picture, whereby they predict how fluids travel across many kilometres in the reservoir as a whole. They also draw on knowledge and innovations from other disciplines, including geology, engineering, physics, mathematics and material science.
“We like to refer to ourselves as ‘carbonate reservoir scientists’ who try to break down traditional silos,” he explains. “For instance, we are currently combining 3D printing with lab experiments and simulations to provide fundamental new insights into how oil, gas and water flow in carbonate rocks.”
The team’s multidimensional approach to studying carbonate reservoirs has led to some fascinating discoveries to date. They have developed new models that can more accurately predict how fluids flow through carbonate rocks that contain fractures and they have found out more about how two immiscible fluid phases displace each other within the pores of a carbonate rock. Excitingly, their analysis of data from carbonate reservoirs and the new technologies developed in the group have often enabled energy companies to revise production strategies.
Increasingly the team is also mapping its expertise to other types of reservoirs, for example by partnering in the GWatt Project which supports the development of the once-in-a-generation United Downs Deep Geothermal Project in the UK.
“But with each new discovery, as exciting as it may be, we also learn how much we still need to discover – our journey is far from over!” Professor Geiger says.
Professor Geiger’s research has important implications for the real world. Because access to energy is directly linked to human wellbeing, there is an onus on governments across the world to provide citizens with clean, affordable and sustainable energy. As he argues, carbonate reservoirs will play a fundamental role in securing access to sustainable energy, by providing the base load of our energy supply for decades to come while we transition to a low-carbon society.