GeoLaB: The research infrastructure
Geothermal energy is one of the world's most important renewable and base-load capable energy sources and plays an important role in the energy turnaround. In Central Europe, the greatest geothermal potential for electricity, heat production and large-scale storage lies in the crystalline basement with important hot spots in tectonically stressed areas such as the Upper Rhine Graben. However, previous projects have shown that new, scientifically sound strategies and technologies are urgently needed for an environmentally sound, economical and socially accepted use of deep geothermal energy.
For a scientifically based realization of these goals, an experimental analysis and scientific description of the manifold complex processes is necessary. Such an investigation of the parameters involved in space and time cannot be achieved with existing underground laboratories worldwide. Existing underground laboratories in Europe are often dedicated to repository research; the target rock here is rock that is as impermeable as possible. Geothermal energy, on the other hand, depends on rock that is as permeable as possible, and therefore cannot conduct technology-specific research in repository research underground laboratories. The same is true in reverse: repository-specific research is not possible in GeoLaB. The planned generic underground research laboratory GeoLaB is intended to fill this gap in generic, geothermal-specific underground research laboratories and to enable geothermal research under reservoir-like conditions for the first time.
The goals of GeoLaB are:
- An efficient and safe management of fractured reservoirs,
- state-of-the-art multidisciplinary and cross-process research with computer visualisation in a fully digitalised laboratory for
- the development of innovative, environmentally sound technological strategies and
- a transparent interaction with the public and decision makers.
GeoLaB supports a CO2-neutral energy future by serving as a nucleus for the development of science and technology and ensuring close interaction with society.
Partners of the GeoLaB project are the Technical University of Darmstadt and the BGE (federal company for radioactive waste disposal).
The TU Darmstadt contributes its expertise in geoscientific topics such as the exploration and characterization of rock fractures. For the establishment of GeoLaB, KIT (as coordinating Helmholtz center and representing the partners GFZ and UFZ) and BGE enter into a cooperation. BGE is involved in the set-up phase of GeoLaB to gain experience in building underground infrastructures with innovative methods (drilling techniques, virtual reality, social research, ...). GeoLaB is the only geoscientific underground research laboratory to be newly established in Germany for several years. In terms of knowledge transfer, the geothermal research project is therefore also ideally suited for building up corresponding mining competencies.
GeoLaB has been approved as a strategic expansion investment of the Helmholtz Association and is in the preparatory phase. The official start of the research infrastructure is January 1, 2023.