South Dakota School of Mines researchers believe fracking can be used at depth in hard rocks that contain no oil or gas to improve geothermal energy production. Fracing could enhance the use of the earth’s own heat as a source of clean energy.

Liangping Li, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, has received an award from National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research entitled “Inverse Methods of Hydraulic Fracturing for Enhanced Geothermal Systems in a Deep Mine.”

Li is working alongside projects already underway at the Sanford Research Facility (SURF) including kISMET (permeability (k) and Induced Seismicity Management for Energy Technologies) and the Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) project. Hydraulic fracturing research at SURF uses no chemicals, so unlike some fossil fuel fracking operations, the fracking fluid used in these studies is water only.  Researchers also note that these fractures are being created 4,850 feet underground, far below drinking water aquifers.

Researchers want to better understand fracture development in rocks deep below the earth’s surface during hydraulic fracturing operations and to develop tools that will help understand and quantify fracture growth and the exchange of heat between rock and fluid. This project leverages on the hydraulic fracturing experiments now underway at SURF, and builds on the state-of-the-art numerical models developed by Li and Idaho National Laboratory. “If successful, the results would help design injection parameters for permeability management in geothermal system engineering beyond the award period,” Li said.

The two-year NSF award totaling $211,356 enables Li and a graduate student to spend three months each year working with scientists at Idaho National Laboratory to model hydraulic fracturing propagation at SURF.

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