2019 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition:

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New Frontiers in Salt Research


The German energy transition involves massive changes from nuclear power and coal fired power stations towards renewable energy sources. This “Energiewende” policy of the German Government, poses great challenges for power and heat supply for industry and private households. A share of more than 50 percent renewable energy in the power sector requires large-scale energy storage. Oil and natural gas have been stored in salt caverns for decades as a national strategic energy reserve. Compressed air or hydrogen generated from surplus electricity of renewables can be stored there too. Brines generated during cavern development can be used in oilfield and geothermal operations or for chemical processes e.g. chlorine electrolysis or lithium extraction. The development, operation and abandonment of the new generation of caverns poses important challenges and opportunities for salt research and development. In addition, new frontiers in salt energy systems include building the world’s largest natural battery storage system in salt caverns, and high-temperature liquid salt energy storage. Germany holds the world’s largest subsurface storage capacity and at the same time an unprecedented wealth of subsurface information from a large number of salt mines. This 3D exposure offers unique opportunities for applied and integrated salt systems research. Despite the fact that salt research is more than 100 years old, there is much research need on how anisotropic salt successions behave under varying stress, pressure and temperature conditions. Geological research in this context has the unique opportunity to integrate structures and processes external and internal to the salt (stratigraphy, structure, pressure, fluids) and contribute to new storage and mining concepts and risk assessment of ventures in salt exploitation and engineering. For example, the coupling between fluid and gas occurrences and the lithologic and geomechanical structure of evaporites and the surrounding rocks are not well known. These new research results will also provide a solid basis for the safe and sustainable management - and ultimately the disposal - of radioactive waste, one of the grand challenges of our times. This contribution will summarise current approaches using geological, geochemical, and radiometric techniques to improve our understanding of structure and thermo-mechanical behaviour of salts through time from the Permian Zechstein Salt Basin in Germany and The Netherlands.