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What is in the organic-rich shales and does it provide for a low-carbon transition? (CENTA2-CHEM1-MON1)

Project Description

Shale gas could provide an important source of domestic methane for hydrogen manufacture in a future hydrogen based economy. The accurate estimation of hydrocarbon content of potential source rocks therefore emerges as an essential requirement as we look to manage our environment responsibly in meeting low-carbon energy needs and transition to a net zero-carbon future. This proposed PhD offers an exceptional interdisciplinary research opportunity to combine chemistry, geology and geomechanics and explore the fundamental links between the physics and chemistry of shales and the release of hydrocarbons.

Shale is an abundant sedimentary rock composed of compacted silt- and clay-sized material that often includes organic matter that may generate economically significant quantities of gas and oil hydrocarbons (Aplin & Macquaker 2011) or feedstocks for the hydrogen economy.

Proof-of-principle laboratory experiments (Sommariva et al, 2014) demonstrated it is possible to quantify in real-time (second by second) a wide range of non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) gases as they are released during an extraction process (Figure 1). Systematic variations in total organic carbon content are known to be related to lithological differences (Könitzer et al. 2014) but this has not been linked to the types of hydrocarbons released.

Knowledge of the abundance of methane and speciated NMHC, and how that relates to geological characteristics of the shale is important. The PhD will explore how the physical character and chemical composition (lithology, mineralogy, organic matter type, maturity and abundance, and geomechanical properties) of the rock controls hydrocarbon (methane and other volatile organic compounds) speciation.

Further reading

Aplin, A.C. and Macquaker, J.H.S., 2011, Mudstone diversity: Origin and implications for source, seal, and reservoir properties in petroleum systems: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, 95, 2031-2059.

Blake, R.S., et al., Demonstration of proton-transfer reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometry for real-time analysis of trace volatile organic compounds. Anal. Chem., 2004. 76(13): p. 3841-3845.

Könitzer, S.F., Leng, M.J., Davies, S.J. & Stephenson, M.H. 2014. Depositional controls on mudstone lithofacies in a basinal setting: implications for the delivery of sedimentary organic matter. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 84, 198-214.

Sommariva, R., Blake, R. S., Cuss, R. J., Cordell, R., Harrington, J. F., White, I. R., and Monks, P. S. 2014: Observations of the Release of Non-Methane Hydrocarbons from Fractured Shale, Environmental Science and Technology,48 (15), 8891-8896

Entry Requirements:

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Available for UK and EU applicants only

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

How to Apply

Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at: and use the Chemistry Apply button to submit your PhD application. Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.

Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

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