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Los Alamos National Lab

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

Founded during World War II as a home for the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos National Laboratory is dedicated to solving national security challenges through scientific excellence. That includes using the New Mexico lab's world-class scientific capabilities to enhance national energy security. Los Alamos has a budget of $2.1 billion and more than 10,000 employees, making it one of the largest scientific and technology institutions in the world.

Capabilities

For nearly 40 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has brought innovative science to engineered geothermal systems (EGS). Los Alamos pioneered the concept of EGS through the world's first field demonstration of creating fracture-flow in a hot-but-dry rock, recently extending the concept to the use of alternative working fluids (like CO2); Los Alamos holds the patents for both EGS and CO2-EGS.

Los Alamos capabilities are structured into science pillars, two of which are directly relevant to geothermal systems:

Science of Signatures targets extraction and interpretation of signals from natural and engineered systems, including:

  • Advanced seismic imaging—improving resolution to detect fractures
  • Acoustic imaging and monitoring—characterizing fractures and fluids outside the casing
  • Acoustic monitoring and joint inversion—evaluating a reservoir's state of stress (which is important for controlling fracture propagation and for avoiding induced seismic events)

Information science and technology targets theory, algorithms, and platforms to predict behavior of complex systems, including subsurface energy systems:

  • FEHM—introduced in the 1970s to simulate EGS; now includes multiphase flow, multiply interacting continua, and coupled thermal-chemical-mechanical processes. FEHM's high mathematical efficiency allows it to simulate many complex problems without a super computer.
  • PFLOTRAN—recently developed to simulate reactive fluid flow and mechanics on either a laptop or a supercomputer; can simulate discrete fracture networks.
  • Reduced-order models and integrated assessment models for probing impact of subsurface uncertainty on predicted system behavior. These methods are being coupled with multiple data types to improve site-specific understanding of reservoirs for reservoir management and for risk assessment

Facilities

Geochemistry and Geomaterials Research Laboratories (GGRL) houses analytical and experimental facilities for characterizing earth materials and earth systems, including:

  • X-ray diffraction including quantitative mineralogy
  • Chemical analysis (solids, fluids, gases; light stable isotopes)
  • Laser ablation ICP-MS for mapping at trace elements in solids at the 10 micron level. Laboratories include: X-ray Diffraction Laboratory, X-ray Fluorescence Laboratory,

High pressure/temperature experimental laboratories for characterizing the behavior of earth materials and fluid flow:

  • Triaxial flow-through unit coupled with computed tomography to characterize fracture formation and fluid-flow at reservoir conditions
  • Dynamic Stress Stimulation Laboratory for investigating methods to enhance fluid flow using the effects of low frequency stress waves on permeability and fluid flow.

Acoustics laboratories for investigating acoustic phenomena and developing tools for non-destructive analysis, compositional analysis of fluids, and probing the behavior and characteristics of earth systems.

Geographical Information System Laboratory (GISLab)—a platform for the use of geospatial information for analysis and computation.

Photo of aerial view of the Geographical Information System Laboratory (GISLab) at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Photo of  the temperature, elevation, and distance in a hydrostratigraphy chart.