Digital Rock Approach to Model the Permeability in an Artificially Heated and Fractured Granodiorite from the Liquiñe Geothermal System (39°S)

Abstract

The Southern Volcanic Zone of the Andes has a high potential in terms of geothermal resources and is an exceptional and poorly explored natural laboratory to study the interplay between tectonic stresses, thermal damage, low-permeable crystalline rocks, and fluid flow. Permeability is mostly related to the damage zones associated with the faults controlling regional tectonics, namely, the Liquiñe–Ofqui Fault System and Andean Transverse Faults. This research presents a laboratory approach comprising a characterization of the analogue host rock from a shallow, low-to-medium temperature geothermal system surrounding the Liquiñe area in Southern Chile (39°S) to better constrain intrinsic and extrinsic factors which allow permeable pathways to exist. We analyse the effect of thermal stress at 25, 150, and 210 °C in a granodiorite, measuring some petrophysical properties before and after applying thermal damage, and then loaded the samples until failure. We also compared petrophysical properties with the fracture network characterization using X-ray microcomputed tomography imaging, segmentation, and fluid flow computational simulations. The results show that thermal stress produces intercrystalline microcracks, which result in: (1) an increase in capillary absorption; (2) a decrease in ultrasonic wave velocities; (3) a decrease in compressive strength; (4) a decrease in fracture aperture, and (5) fluid flow simulations indicate that permeability is similar at different temperatures. We conclude that for the granodiorite host rock of the Liquiñe geothermal system, the combined effect of thermal stress, even at low temperature, may constitute an effective mechanism for sustaining permeability at shallowest depths.

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Acknowledgements

This study is a contribution to the FONDAP-CONICYT project no 15090013 (Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica) (Centro de Excelencia en Geotermia de los Andes, CEGA). The FONDECYT Regular project no 1180167 and PUC VRI-PUENTE P1703/2017 project supported this research. The FONDEQUIP project no EQM130028 provided the X-ray microcomputerized tomography equipment. For the cluster use, we thank Erik Saenger (International Geothermal Centre, GZB, Bochum, Germany) and especially Professor Rolf Bracke for facilitating our access. Eduardo Molina acknowledges the receipt of a Postdoctoral Grant from the School of Engineering at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (DII-2017-631). Tomas Roquer acknowledges the support of Becas CONICYT Doctorado Nacional no 21171178. We thank Rodrigo Gomila and Gert Heuser for their support and enriched discussion regarding the results, and especially Patricia Vázquez for her valuable comments that helped in improving the discussion of the results. Finally, we also want to thank Reviewers for their comments and suggestions, which enhanced the manuscript.

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Molina, E., Arancibia, G., Sepúlveda, J. et al. Digital Rock Approach to Model the Permeability in an Artificially Heated and Fractured Granodiorite from the Liquiñe Geothermal System (39°S). Rock Mech Rock Eng 53, 1179–1204 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00603-019-01967-6

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Keywords

  • Primary low-permeability granitoids
  • Thermal decay
  • Artificial fractures
  • Image analysis
  • Geothermal system