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Understanding Hydrate Formation in Porous Rock for Enhanced Geothermal Systems Applications

   Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Glasgow United Kingdom Chemical Engineering Environmental Chemistry Inorganic Chemistry Materials Science Physics Physical Chemistry

About the Project

An enhanced geothermal system (EGS) is a renewable energy technology that extracts energy from a naturally occurring heat source. Many naturally occurring heat sources are under impermeable rock and EGS technology is used to access these resources through 'hydraulic stimulation'. EGS technology injects a fluid under high pressure, typically water, down into the rock subsurface, fracturing the rock and enabling access to the thermal reservoir. One of the challenges in this technology is mineral precipitation, e.g. formation of carbonates or low solubility sulfates that can block pores and hence hinder extraction. This project aims to understand how the precipitation (nucleation) of these minerals occurs in different rock types.

Sodium sulfate (Na2SO4) is a model system used in standard testing of the soundness of rock types, as it rapidly crystallises out of solution to form hydrates, such as sodium sulfate decahydrate Na2SO4ּּּּּ1ּ0H2O, commonly called mirabilite, and metastable sodium sulfate heptahydrate Na2SO4ּ7ּH2O. Crystal nucleation from solution is most likely to occur at the interface between the salt solution and the rock. The interface will play an important role in determining which hydrate is formed and its nucleation rate. This PhD project will take a combined experimental and simulation approach to understand the nucleation of sodium sulfate at different rock surfaces. 

Experiment: Isothermal nucleation rates will be measured experimentally using a high-throughput nucleation setup [1,2]. Experiments will be repeated in the presence of different mineral types, such as quartz, mica, etc. The resulting hydrate or crystal structures will be measured using IR or Raman spectroscopy. The effect of crystal growth inhibitors will also be investigated using these techniques and X-ray diffraction to investigate the effect on the solid salt formed.

Simulation: Simulations can provide molecular-level insight into the formation of hydrates at the nanometer-scale that is not accessible by experiment. Classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations will be used to predict the structure of the salt solution near the rock interface. The solution structures will be analysed to obtain concentration profiles, order parameters, etc. and their variation near the interface. This insight will provide understanding about why nucleation differs in different rock types. The student will have access to the high performance Archie-WeSt supercomputer and will gain expertise in using a Linux environment, and MD software, such as LAMMPS.

Why do a PhD with us at Strathclyde? The PhD studentship is fully funded and covers tuition fees and annual stipend at the level agreed by the UK’s Research Council organisation, UK Research & Innovation. It includes a budget to facilitate your research e.g. for computer and equipment facilities, lab consumables, data collection, conference and training course travel. The student will be based in the Faculty of Engineering, one of the largest and most successful engineering faculties in the UK, and the largest in Scotland. The student would be supervised by an interdisciplinary team, including Dr Andrea Hamilton in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Dr Karen Johnston, in Chemical and Process Engineering (CPE), and Prof Jan Sefcik (CPE).

Deadline for applications: 6th February 2022, shortlisting and interviews by 10th March 2022, final decisions by 15th March. Early applications are strongly encouraged and an extension to the deadline is possible until 1st March 2022. 

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded 4 year PhD studentship, covering tuition fees and an annual tax-free stipend for 4 years at the standard UK research rate (£15,609 in 2021/22). A generous allowance is available for instrument access, travel and conference attendance.
The applicant is expected to start by October 2022.
Available to students from the United Kingdom or the European Union (if they have settled or pre-settled status in the UK).


[1] M.J. Vesga, et al. CrystEngComm 21, 2234 (2019)
[2] D.J. McKechnie, et al. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 11, 2263 (2020)

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