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NCGC Research Summary



The objective of the DOE Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) for Nanoscale Control of Geologic CO2 (NCGC) is to use new investigative tools, combined with experiments and computational methods, to build a next-generation understanding of molecular-to- pore-scale processes in fluid-rock systems, and to demonstrate the ability to control critical aspects of flow and transport in porous rock media, in particular as applied to geologic sequestration of CO2. The objectives address fundamental science challenges related to far-from-equilibrium systems, nanoscale processes at interfaces, and emergent phenomena.

The specific overarching goals are to (1) establish, within 10 years, novel molecular, nanoscale, and pore-network scale approaches for controlling flow, dissolution, and precipitation in deep subsurface rock formations to achieve the efficient filling of pore space with injected supercritical CO2, with maximum solubility and mineral trapping and near-zero leakage, and (2) develop a predictive capability for reactive transport of CO2-rich fluid that is applicable for 100–1000 years into the future.

The major technological gaps to controlling and ultimately sequestering subsurface CO2 can be traced to far-from-equilibrum processes that originate at the molecular and nanoscale, but are expressed as complex emergent behavior at larger scales. Essential knowledge gaps involve the effects of nanoscale confinement on material properties, flow and chemical reactions, the effects of nanoparticles, mineral surface dynamics, and microbiota on mineral dissolution/precipitation and fluid flow, and the dynamics of fluid-fluid and fluid-mineral interfaces. The construction of quantitative macroscale process models based on nanoscale process descriptions is a critical additional fundamental knowledge gap.

A combination of carefully integrated experiments and modeling approaches will be used to evaluate essential molecular and nanoscale processes, and to treat the transition from the nanoscale to pore scale, and the effects that arise at that scale. Multiscale computational models and lab-scale experiments will be used to understand the emergence of macroscale properties and processes. Unique BES experimental facilities at the primary work site, LBNL, together with facilities located at ORNL and LLNL, will be employed, as well as expertise in materials science, geochemistry, hydrology, biology and geophysics at these and associated academic institutions. The unique character of the center will derive from its integrated multidisciplinary approach, and a focus on directing CO2-rich fluids.

The products of the Center will provide the fundamental knowledge necessary to develop a revolutionary level of control and predictive capability for subsurface fluids. It will facilitate the safe storage of CO2 in subsurface reservoirs to address the threats of global warming, and produce important advances related to fluid manipulation for other types of energy resource development and management.

The efforts of the Center investigators are grouped into three Themes:

  • Caprock Integrity
  • Reservoir Processes
  • Upscaling

The three Themes represent groupings of investigators whose work in the Center will be directed at closely allied scientific challenges. However, there are a large number of cross connections within and between these Themes. The three Themes have three to six lead scientists, representing all of the institutions involved and constituting the management and scientific leadership of the Center.