Geothermal Systems

Innovative technologies to identify and characterize conventional hydrothermal systems and enhanced geothermal systems

The Geothermal Systems Program is focused on two research thrusts:

1. Developing innovative technologies for identifying and characterizing conventional and hidden natural hydrothermal systems

Typically, “hidden” hydrothermal systems are deep, fault-hosted circulating systems in which surface manifestations have either been modified (obscuring deeper high temperatures) or are nonexistent. Our main research avenues in this thrust include: chemical geothermometry through multicomponent analysis; subsurface characterization using joint inversion of coupled geophysical attributes; locating and mapping surface fluid flux; and play fairway analysis of prospective geothermal regions to identify geothermal systems and better constrain resource potential.

2. Characterizing, developing, and sustaining enhanced geothermal systems through the use of coupled process models, microearthquake (MEQ) monitoring, and laboratory studies

In this thrust we are developing approaches to implement, monitor, and model enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), where hot rock permeability is artificially created or enhanced through hydraulic, thermal, and/or chemical stimulation. Berkeley Lab has played a major role in coupled process modeling and induced seismicity monitoring of several DOE-EGS demonstration projects. The EGS Collab project is designed to test novel modeling, characterization, monitoring, and stimulation methods at intermediate field scales–methods which can be applied at DOE’s Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Energy (FORGE).

In addition, the Berkeley Lab’s Geothermal Program has recently diversified to include a wider range of research and development activities, including direct use applications such as brine desalination, mineral recovery, district heating and cooling, and thermal-reservoir energy storage. The expertise gained over decades of experience in our geothermal program is applicable to emerging science areas such as EESA’s research into subsurface urban geo-systems.

Learn more about the Geothermal Systems Program here.

Photo Credit: Pat Dobson

RECENT Science Advances

  • Developed EGS Collab test bed at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) laboratory to address fundamental challenges in understanding the relationship between permeability creation, induced seismicity, and heat transfer in crystalline rocks under relevant stress and temperature conditions for EGS through a combination of highly monitored fracture stimulation and flow experiments, and coupled process modeling

  • Utilization of ‘dark fiber’ networks as a tool for geothermal exploration that allows  monitoring seismicity and shallow thermal anomalies using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) and distributed temperature sensing (DTS) in the Imperial Valley

  • Applied Thermal-Hydrological-Mechanical (THM) modeling to assess potential impacts of flexible geothermal production on well integrity

  • Use of Play Fairway Analysis for exploration of geothermal systems

  • Development of new modeling capabilities such as:

    • coupled process modeling for supercritical geothermal systems, and to evaluate viability of reservoir thermal energy storage

    • coupled building (Modelica) and subsurface (TOUGH, COMSOL) models for community geothermal applications

    • joint geophysical inversion methods for improved subsurface image resolution


EESA benefits from rich partnerships with our collaborators and sponsors. See project & program links above for more information.

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