Physical properties of geomaterials with relevance to thermal energy geo-systems
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Energy related geo-systems involve a wide range of engineering solutions from energy piles to energy geo-storage facilities and waste repositories (CO₂, nuclear). The analysis and design of these systems require proper understanding of geo-materials, their properties and their response to extreme temperature and high stress excitations, the implications of mixed-fluid conditions when contrasting fluid viscosities and densities are involved, the effect of static and cyclic coupled hydro-thermo-chemo-mechanical excitations, and rate effects on the response of long design-life facilities. This study places emphasis on thermal geo-systems and associated physical properties. Uncemented soils and rocks are considered. The research approach involves data compilation, experimental studies and analytical methods. Emphasis is also placed to engineer geomaterials in order to attain enhanced performance in energy geo-systems. The thermal conductivity and stiffness of most geomaterials decrease as temperature increases but increase with effective stress. This macroscale response is intimately related to contact-scale conduction and deformation processes at interparticle contacts. Pore-filling liquids play a critical role in heat conduction as liquids provide efficient conduction paths that can diminish the effects of thermal contact resistance. Conversely, grains and fluids can be selected to attain very low thermal conductivity in order to create mechanically sound thermal barriers. In the case of rock masses, heat (and gas) recovery can be enhanced by injecting fluids at high pressure to cause hydraulic fractures. Scaled experiments reveal the physical meaning of hydraulic fractures in pre-structured rocks (e.g., shale) and highlight the extensive self-propped dilational distortion the medium experiences. This result explains the higher production rate from shale gas and fractured geothermal reservoirs that is observed in the field, contrary to theoretical predictions.