Improving fluid flow in geothermal reservoirs by thermal and mechanical stimulation: The case of Krafla volcano, Iceland

G. H. Eggertsson*, Y. Lavallée, J. E. Kendrick, S. H. Markússon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The magmatic-hydrothermal system at Krafla Volcano, North-East Iceland, is an important source of fluids exploited for geothermal energy. Here, we employ laboratory measurements to constrain the porosity and permeability of the main lithologies forming the reservoir, and investigate the impacts of different thermal and mechanical stimulation practices to improve fluid flow. Six main rock types were identified and sampled: three basalts (a dense and a porous lava, and a surficial dyke); a hyaloclastite; an obsidian; an ignimbrite; a felsite; and a gabbro. Permeability measurements were made in a hydrostatic cell using the steady-state flow method at a range of confining pressures (1–100 MPa). The measurements show that permeability generally increases with porosity, but that permeability may vary significantly for a given porosity, depending on the presence of pore connectivity and micro-fractures. We note that an increase in effective pressure results in a decrease in permeability due to closure of pre-existing cracks, abundant in some rocks. When unloading, samples fail to recover pre-loading permeability, as cracks do not necessarily entirely reopen. To further examine the hysteresis imposed by crack closure, we cyclically loaded/unloaded a felsite sample ten times by varying pore pressure which resulted in a further nonlinear decreases in permeability with each pressurisation cycle; thus an understanding of the pressurisation path may be a requirement to constrain fluid flow variations in geothermal systems. To test the effects of thermal stimulation on fluid flow, samples of dense basalt and felsite were thermally stressed by heating to 450 °C and cooling at different rates (in air, in water and at a controlled rate of <5 °C·min−1). The results show that the permeability of originally highly fractured rocks is not affected by thermal stressing, but originally unfractured rocks show a nonlinear increase in permeability with each thermal stressing cycle, especially with the largest thermal shock imposed by quenching in water; thus thermal stimulation may not be expected to result in a similar magnitude of permeability creation along the length of a borehole. Finally, following the permeability measurements on intact rocks, the Brazilian tensile testing method was employed to impart one and two (orthogonal) macro-fractures, and permeability was measured after each step. The creation of one macro-fracture strongly enhanced the permeability of the rock (especially dense rocks), resulting in a narrower range of permeability (as a function of porosity) for the fractured rocks. Imparting a second fracture had trivial additional impact on the permeability of the rock. Yet, the presence of fine fragments and possible minor offset of fracture interfaces was found to obstruct fracture closure, which resulted in higher permeability irrespective of effective pressure; thus hydraulic fracturing may locally increase fluid flow, especially when employing proppants to obstruct fracture closure and ensure a stable permeable network in a reservoir. We discuss the implications of the findings for a first order constraint on the permeability of the reservoir rock and the potential of thermal and mechanical stimulation methods on energy production in geothermal systems nested in active volcanic fields.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106351
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Early online date11 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


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