Postgraduate research opportunities

Understanding Hydrate Formation in Porous Rock for Enhanced Geothermal Systems Applications

Many naturally occurring heat sources are accessed using EGS technology, one of the challenges in this technology is mineral precipitation. This project aims to understand how the precipitation (nucleation) of these minerals occurs in different rock types.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


9 March 2020


8 February 2021


4 years


We are looking for a highly motivated person to undertake multidisciplinary research. The 4-year studentship funding is for tuition fees at the UK/EU only (EU students are eligible, provided they can start before 31st July 2021). Applicants should have a good degree in chemistry/chemical engineering/materials science/physics and be comfortable working in a chemistry lab and using computational chemical tools. To apply please complete an online application: Deadline for receiving applications is Monday 8th February 2021.

Project Details

Enhanced Geothermal Systems An enhanced geothermal system (EGS) is a renewable energy technology that extracts energy from a naturally occurring heat source. Many naturally occurring heat sources are under impermeable rock and EGS technology is used to access these resources through 'hydraulic stimulation'. EGS technology injects a fluid under high pressure, typically water, down into the rock subsurface, fracturing the rock and enabling access to the thermal reservoir. One of the challenges in this technology is mineral precipitation, e.g. formation of carbonates or low solubility sulfates, that can block pores and hence hinder extraction. This project aims to understand how the precipitation (nucleation) of these minerals occurs in different rock types.

Sodium Sulfate Nucleation Sodium sulfate (Na2 SO4 ) is a model system used in standard testing of the soundness of rock types, as it rapidly crystallises out of solution to form hydrates, such as sodium sulfate decahydrate Na2 SO4 (H2O)10, commonly called mirabilite, and metastable sodium sulfate heptahydrate Na2 SO4 (H2O)7 . Crystal nucleation from solution is most likely to occur at the interface between the salt solution and the rock. The interface will play an important role in determining which hydrate is formed and its nucleation rate. This PhD project will take a combined experimental and simulation approach to understand the nucleation of sodium sulfate at different rock surfaces.

Experiment Isothermal nucleation rates will be measured experimentally using a high-throughput nucleation setup [1,2]. Experiments will be repeated in the presence of different mineral types, such as quartz, mica, etc. The resulting hydrate or crystal structures will be measured using IR or Raman spectroscopy. The effect of crystal growth inhibitors will also be investigated using these techniques and X-ray diffraction to investigate formed.

Simulation Simulations can provide molecular-level insight into the formation of hydrates at the nanometer-scale that is not accessible by experiment. Classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations will be used to predict the structure of the salt solution near the rock interface. The solution structures will be analysed to obtain concentration profiles, order parameters, etc. and their variation near the interface. This insight will provide understanding about why nucleation differs in different rock types. The student will have access to the high performance Archie-WeSt supercomputer and will gain expertise in using a Linux environment, and MD software, such as LAMMPS.

Funding Details

The PhD studentship is fully funded and covers tuition fees and annual stipend at the level agreed by the UK’s Research Council organisation, UK Research & Innovation. It includes a generous £20k budget to facilitate your research e.g. for computer and equipment facilities, lab consumables, data collection, conference and training course travel. 


The student would be supervised by an interdisciplinary team, including Dr Andrea Hamilton in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Dr Karen Johnston, in Chemical and Process Engineering (CPE), and Prof Jan Sefcik, CPE.