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Assessing geothermal potential with valuable tools

March 21, 2023

Update : May 10, 2023

Student Fiona Chapman is using high-performance software to conduct a major research project in the Yukon.

INRS doctoral student Fiona Chapman’s study project evaluate the geothermal potential of southwestern Yukon.

Over the past year, Fiona Chapman has been working on an exciting project evaluating the geothermal potential of southwestern Yukon in northern Canada. Thanks to the generous support of Petroleum Experts, Fiona is about to gain access to a suite of modelling software worth an impressive £4,549,535.83 (equivalent to over CAN$7 million). This suite of tools will help Fiona quantify the geothermal potential in the region and will allow her to integrate field results into her numerical modelling.

Last summer, Fiona Chapman conducted her fieldwork in the Duke River area of the southwestern Yukon. This fieldwork was completed on the traditional territory of the Kluane First Nation who reside locally in Burwash Landing. She is conducting her research under the supervision of professors Jasmin Raymond (an expert in geothermal energy) and Renaud Soucy La Roche (an expert in structural geology).

Photo left to right : Renaud Soucy La Roche, co-supervisor and INRS Professor, Mafalda Miranda INRS postdoctoral fellow and Fiona Chapman PhD student at INRS.

We spoke to Fiona, a Ph.D. student in Earth Sciences at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), to learn more about the Integrated Production Modelling (IPM) suite and how she intends to use the programs MOVE and REVEAL in her project.

Why was it important to be able to work with such powerful software?

When assessing the deep geothermal potential of an area, we consider three main parameters: heat, permeability, and fluid availability. The IPM tool suite will be used mainly to determine the permeability in the geographic area we’re studying.

The MOVE tool will allow me to integrate the fracture data we collected in the field—including fracture aperture, length, and orientation—to build a representative numerical model of the fractures (discrete fracture network)  Being able to build a discrete fracture network means that I will be able to represent fractures in a numerical model as they appear in a real rock mass. From there, MOVE will allow me to calculate the hydraulic conductivity of each discrete fracture network. Developing a network like this and estimating hydraulic conductivity is an essential step in developing a regional flow model and ultimately estimating the geothermal potential around Burwash Landing.

What is the value of studying geothermal energy during a national energy transition?

Remote communities in the Yukon use natural gas and diesel for most of their energy needs, including home heating. It’s reliable as an energy source, but it isn’t an economically and environmentally responsible option for off-grid communities. Unlike other renewable energy sources like solar or wind power, which are intermittent, geothermal energy could provide constant heat or power. It can eventually reduce communities’ dependence on diesel.

Personally, I’m mostly interested in open-loop deep geothermal systems, which take hot water directly from a groundwater reservoir. Depending on the temperature of the water and the system that carries it, this heat can be used indirectly to produce electricity or directly to heat buildings. In both cases, once the water is used, it is cooled before being added back to the same reservoir through another well. Because of the direct interactions with the water in the reservoirs, the system’s potential depends on the permeability and hydraulic conductivity of those reservoirs.

The MOVE software allows me to evaluate the properties using measurements of fractures on the surface.

When you’re on the ground in the Yukon, how do you collaborate with local communities? 

Burwash Landing is a small community of around 80 people that sits on the Alaska Highway. It was very important for us to keep the community informed of how the project was advancing. After all, we were guests on their land. During the summer of 2022, I had the opportunity to work with Jason MacDonald, Burwash Landing’s Public Works Manager. He helped us access the community’s deep hot water wells. This relationship has proven to be invaluable and has provided a sense of the social impact of this type of project.

Field photo in the Yukon.

Later in the fall, I prepared a poster summarizing my work and findings. It was presented by Leyla Wetson, a geologist with the Yukon Geological Survey, during the Kluane Lake Research Station open house for scientists and community members. Working with them and the community members has been an eye-opening experience.

This fall, I hope to be able to present the results of preliminary models I will have developed using the IPM suite provided by Petroleum Experts.