2017 – Dr. Eva Schill/KarlsruheInstitute of Technology (KIT) in Germany

Interview with Dr. Eva Schill

Dr. Eva Schill – KarlsruheInstitute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, has received Nova FoU:s award ”Annual award for research and development 2017”.

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I am an avid geologist and mother of two children. Since 2014, I am leading the Geoenergy Group of the Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. With my change from the Chair of Geothermics at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland) to the large-scale research sector of KIT, I have the chance to participate to the Renewable Energy research program of the Helmholtz association. This offers me to contribute to the large-scale infrastructure initiative GeoLaB, a geothermal underground laboratory research program that involves also my research in the Äspö Hard Rock laboratory.
Before joining KIT, I received my PhD in Geophysics from the University of Tübingen (Germany) in 2000 and worked for four years at ETH Zürich (Switzerland). In 2007, I became Junior Professor for Geothermics at the University of Mainz (Germany), from where I moved to Neuchâtel.
Recently, I am in charge of the CO2-neutral heat supply projects of our campus using geothermal energy and work in two European projects called DEEPEGS and GEMex. I have co-authored more than 30 publications and I am co-editor in chief of the most important scientific journal on geothermal energy Geothermics.

One day at work

My favorite workdays take place all over the world from Chile, Iceland, Sweden to Armenia. During field work, I typically get up early to install geophysical measurement instruments either around geothermal wells in order to monitor hydraulic experiments that are carried out to enhance the performance of wells, or at new geothermal sites to explore the physical properties of the subsurface and thus, to contribute to the identification of geothermal reservoirs. Often after sunset, we discuss the first data acquired over the day.
A more classic working day at KIT starts after bringing my daughter to school. Besides my editorial duties and emails that I try to answer in the first hour of the day, my work includes interesting discussions with my PhD students, Madeleine, Nadine, Yizhou and Max on their work. I enjoy working on publications and exchange ideas with colleagues, for which I have optimal condition at KIT. Besides administrative work that I do before picking up my daughter from school, I join meetings on the KIT geothermal program and develop new research projects. Once a year, I teach Deformation and Plate tectonics to first year students of KIT.

Describe your research

My research concerns mainly geothermal energy research in fractured reservoir systems with special focus on Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) and takes place on the interface of geological description to process quantification in fractured reservoirs. They are of particular interest since they may provide preferential pathways for fluid transport or may inhibit sealing off reservoirs or repositories from external hydrogeological influence. At long-term, my research activities aim at minimizing environmental impacts in EGS development. To achieve this, quantitative description of geologically controlled reservoir parameters and their spatial distribution, is extended to their temporal variability, i.e. 4D exploration. By combining these studies to laboratory experiments, a basis for improved input parameters for reservoir modelling is created.
The technical feasibility of EGS has first been demonstrated in fractured crystalline basement at the Soultz-sous Forêts project (France),where I was employed for one year. Different hydraulic experiments were performed at this site to enhanced significantly the hydraulic yield of these reservoirs. Aiming at low environmental impact of hydraulic stimulation, we identified cyclic injection in combination with circulation between wells reaching high hydraulic yields at comparatively low pressure and thus, minimizing induced seismicity. Such findings have also been further investigated on medium-scale in the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory (Äspö HRL).
At Äspö HRL, my research concerned new monitoring approaches addressing changes in hydraulic connectivity by electromagnetic methods: These methods are now tested in EGS project around the world, e.g. in the Islandic Deep Drilling project.
To meet the evolving needs to carry out more EGS-specific experiments including monitoring in space and time, I investigate the condition of the crystalline complex adjacent to the geothermal fields of Germany for a Geothermal Laboratory in Crystalline Basement (GeoLaB). This geothermal underground research infrastructure project is aimed as the first geothermal reservoir simulator for reservoir technology and borehole safety, in order to accomplish cutting-edge research in crystalline rock next to thermal hotspots.

Of what use will your research be in the future?

Geothermal utilization is one example of increased human interference with the geosphere that is a consequence of the growing demand for energy, natural resources and urban expansion during the last two centuries. The increasing number of geothermal projects intervening the densely populated areas raise public concerns related to their environmental and social impact. Our research may assist the society by addressing their issues and thus, support more sustainable practices at the interface of human beings and the geosphere.
Geothermal research in the Äspö HRL or GeoLaB represent an approach for transparent, tangible science that can serve to enhance mutual understanding of different social groups. As a generic site, Äspö HRL or GeoLaB can develop scientific-technological solutions for a responsible exploitation of geothermal energy accompanied by sociological studies. They will serve as a platform for science communication, participation and dialog of stakeholders from industry, politics, administration and society.

What possibilities do you think that Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory will have in the future?

Although inherent complexities in rock mechanics are discussed since more than 20 years, they remain key aspects in characterizing mechanical processes in a reservoir until present. The implications of engineering measures on hydraulic field and rupture mechanisms are obvious and can be easily extended to thermal and chemical impacts. Providing the specific experimental background is an important perspective for reservoir engineering. Careful analyses can only be performed in a 3D environment, where processes are monitored in space and time. In this context, underground research laboratories are best suited to monitor and quantify the interrelated processes during large volume injection in fractured rock. Such experimental facilities for application and monitoring of experiments should address key aspects of a safe and economically efficient use of geothermal energy.
Among the underground research laboratories in crystalline basement, the Äspö HRL fulfils a large number of the criteria that are crucial for EGS experiments. Thus, it may be used in a qualified sense for many aspects in EGS development. In cooperation with GeoLaB, this new scope of the Äspö HRL is conceived for solving long-lasting challenges in reservoir engineering specific to fracture networks and thus, EGS technology, by matching environmental challenges.