Investigating the Surface and Subsurface Coupling of a Deep Geothermal System towards Energy Decarbonisation in the UK

Supervisor: Dr Christopher Brown

School: Engineering


In the wake of COP26 in Glasgow, the international community is striving for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050; therefore, renewable resources must be considered to replace fossil fuels. Deep geothermal energy can aid the decarbonisation of heat by providing a constant base load, which is independent of weather and seasonal conditions (unlike solar and wind energy). This project will contribute to the solution by identifying the thermal capacity of potential geothermal developments in the UK and matching this to the surface demand.  

There is significant uncertainty and risk associated with deep geothermal energy exploitation in the UK due to limited exploration and development wells for geothermal prospects, whilst only one commercial scheme is in operation at Southampton. Furthermore, there is limited knowledge of the subsurface resource, with few studies coupling this to the surface demand.  Therefore, the aim of the project is to develop a numerical model that will simulate heat and fluid fluxes in the subsurface, whilst considering heat exchange to a district heat network on the surface This will involve using software such as MATLAB, OpenGeoSys, DoubletCalc2D and Hortienergy. Both underground thermal energy storage and extraction will be considered. 


This project will be based on existing numerical and analytical modelling approaches (using the tools listed above), but there will be opportunity for the student to develop their own models and choose the case study. Data will be obtained from literature or provided based on notional sites. 


The specific aims of the project include: 

  1. To identify a suitable case study based on geological constraints and surface demand. This will involve geological characterisation, geothermal resource evaluation and analysis of local surface constraints.
  2. To build a numerical model capable of accurately predicting heat and fluid flow in the subsurface. This will potentially consider energy storage and extraction, and incorporate data from the local geology, thermal and pressure fields.
  3. To investigate heat transfer through a heat exchanger at the surface using a mathematical model, which will allow the economic optimisation with input parameters from the numerical model of the subsurface.


The outputs from this project may include contributions to publications in academic journals or presenting at conferences.