The role of fluid chemistry on permeability evolution in granite: Applications to natural and anthropogenic systems

C. Sanchez-Roa*, G. D. Saldi, T. M. Mitchell, F. Iacoviello, J. Bailey, P. R. Shearing, E. H. Oelkers, P. G. Meredith, A. P. Jones, A. Striolo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


Efforts to maintain and enhance reservoir permeability in geothermal systems can contribute to sourcing more sustainable energy, and hence to lowering CO2 emissions. The evolution of permeability in geothermal reservoirs is strongly affected by interactions between the host rock and the fluids flowing through the rock's permeable pathways. Precipitation of secondary mineral phases, the products of fluid-rock interactions, within the fracture network can significantly reduce the permeability of the overall system, whereas mineral dissolution can enhance reservoir permeability. The coupling between these two competing processes dictates the long-term productivity and lifetime of geothermal reservoirs. In this study, we simulate the conditions within a geothermal system from induced fracturing to the final precipitation stage. We performed batch and flow-through experiments on cores of the Carnmenellis granite, a target unit for geothermal energy recovery in Cornwall (UK), to understand the role of mineral dissolution and precipitation in controlling the permeability evolution of the system. The physico-chemical properties of the cores were monitored after each reaction-phase using ICP-OES, SEM, hydrostatic permeability measurements, and X-ray Computed Tomography. Results show that permeability evolution is strongly dependent on fluid chemistry. Undersaturated alkaline fluids dissolve the most abundant mineral phases in granite (quartz and feldspars), creating cavities along the main fractures and generating pressure-independent permeability in the core. Conversely, supersaturated alkaline fluids, resulting from extended periods of fluid-rock interactions, promote the precipitation of clay minerals, and decrease the permeability of the system. These results suggest that chemical dissolution during geothermal operations could generate permeable pathways that are less sensitive to effective stress and will remain open at higher pressures. Similarly, maintaining the circulation of undersaturated fluids through these granitic reservoirs can prevent the precipitation of pore-clogging mineral phases and preserve reservoir permeability in granite-hosted geothermal systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116641
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date06 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge financial support from the Science4CleanEnergy consortium (S4CE) , which is supported by the Horizon 2020 R&D programme of the European Commission, via grant No. 764810 . We thank L. Cotton, R. Law and the GeoScience Limited team for advice on sampling sites and valuable discussions. Finally, we thank Associate Editor Dr. H. Handley and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • clay mineral precipitation
  • dissolution
  • fluid-rock interaction
  • geothermal systems
  • permeability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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