EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Deformations and permeability variations in fine sediments induced by freezing-thawing cycles caused by borehole heat exchangers

Giorgia Dalla Santa1, Simonetta Cola2, and Antonio Galgaro1
Giorgia Dalla Santa et al.
  • 1Università degli Studi di Padova, Department of Geosciences, Padova, Italy (
  • 2Università degli Studi di Padova. Department ICEA - Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering

In closed-loop Ground Source Heat Pump system, the circulation of a heat-carrier fluid into the heat exchanger provides the thermal exchange with the underground.

In order to improve the heat extraction from the ground, the fluid temperature is often lowered down to subzero temperatures; as a consequence, the thermal alteration induced in the ground is more intense and can cause freezing processes in the surroundings. In sediments with significant clay fraction, the inner structure and the pore size distribution are irreversibly altered by freezing-thawing cycles.

A wide laboratory program has been performed in order to measure the induced deformations and the permeability variations under different conditions of mechanical loads/depth [1], interstitial water salinity [2] and soil plasticity [3]. In addition, vertical deformations and permeability variations induced by freeze-thaw cycles have been measured also in Over-Consolidated silty clays at different OCR [4].

The results suggest that, despite the induced frozen condition is quite confined close to the borehole [5], in Normal-Consolidated silty clay layers the freezing-thawing-cycles induce an irreversible settlement up to 16%, gathered cycle-after cycle depending on sediment plasticity, pore fluid salinity and applied load. In addition, despite the overall contraction of the soil, the vertical hydraulic conductivity may increase by about 8 times due to a remarkable modification of the soil fabric with increases in pore size, pores connectivity and orientation [6].

The OC silty-clays show an opposite behavior. Experimental results point out that, in case of OC deposits, higher the OCR lower the freeze-thaw induced settlement. In case of OCR > 15, the settlement turns to a slight expansion. Conversely, the observed augment in vertical permeability increases with the OCR degree [4].

These occurrences are significant and irreversible and could affect the functionality of the system as well as lead to environmental effects such as local settlements, negative friction on the borehole heat exchangers or interconnection among aquifers in the probe surroundings.

  • [1]. Dalla Santa G*, Galgaro A, Tateo F, Cola S (2016). Modified compressibility of cohesive sediments induced by thermal anomalies due to a borehole heat exchanger. Engineering Geology 202, 143-152.
  • [2]. Dalla Santa G*, Galgaro A, Tateo F, Cola S (2016). Induced thermal compaction in cohesive sediments around a borehole heat exchanger: laboratory tests on the effect of pore water salinity. Environmental Earth Sciences, 75(3), 1-11.
  • [3]. Cola S, Dalla Santa G, Galgaro A (2020). Geotechnical hazards caused by freezing-thawing processes induced by borehole heat exchangers. Lecture Notes in Civil Engineering, 40, pp. 529–536
  • [4]. Dalla Santa G, Cola S, Galgaro A (2021). Deformation and Vertical Permeability Variations Induced by Freeze-Thaw Cycles in Over-Consolidated Silty Clays. Challenges and Innovations in Geomechanics, 117
  • [5]. Dalla Santa G*, Farina Z, Anbergen H, Rühaak W, Galgaro A (2019). A Comparative Study on the Relevance of Computing Freeze-Thaw Effects for Borehole Heat Exchanger Modelling. Geothermics 79, 164-175.
  • [6]. Dalla Santa G*, Cola S, Secco M, Tateo F, Sassi R, Galgaro A (2019). Multiscale analysis of freeze-thaw effects induced by ground heat exchangers on permeability of silty-clays. Geotechnique 2019, 69(2).

How to cite: Dalla Santa, G., Cola, S., and Galgaro, A.: Deformations and permeability variations in fine sediments induced by freezing-thawing cycles caused by borehole heat exchangers, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-348,, 2020.

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