EGU24-17949, updated on 11 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Modelling coupled hydro-mechanical processes of gas flow in the Opalinus Clay

Matthijs Nuus1, Antonio Pio Rinaldi1, Robert Cuss2, Manuel Sentis3, Jocelyn Gisiger4, Bastian Graupner3, Fabiano Magri5,8, Frederic Bernier6, and David Jaeggi7
Matthijs Nuus et al.
  • 1Swiss Seismological Service (SED) - ETH, Zürich, Switzerland (
  • 2British Geological Survey, Notthingham, UK
  • 3Swiss Federal Inspectorate for Nuclear Safety (ENSI), Brugg, Switzerland
  • 4Solexperts AG, Mönchaltorf, Switzerland
  • 5Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE), Berlin, Germany
  • 6Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), Brussels, Belgium
  • 7Swiss Federal Office of Topography (swisstopo), Bern, Switzerland
  • 8Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Deep geological repositories rely on a natural geological barrier with a low permeability to ensure radioactive waste containment and prevent radionuclide transport into the biosphere. For the Swiss repository concept, the Opalinus Clay formation is considered as the natural geological barrier. After high-level radioactive waste are disposed of in a repository within the host-rock, corrosion of metal containers in anaerobic conditions can result in the release of hydrogen. Due to the low-permeability of the host-rock, elevated gas pressures are expected. If the gas pressure exceeds the minimum principal stress, fracturing of the rock could occur. It is therefore important to assess the possible impacts of this process on the integrity of the repository such as a possible increase of the permeability of the host formation.

Production of hydrogen is anticipated to span more than 100,000 years, and understanding how gas transport occurs in a low-permeable host-rock is therefore an important aspect for the long-term safety of the repository. Gas transport can generally be subdivided in four different mechanisms: (1) advective-diffusive flow, (2) visco-capillary two-phase flow, (3) dilatancy-controlled gas flow and (4) gas transport along macroscopic tensile fractures. Gas flow rate and the microstructure of the host rock largely control the dominating gas transport mechanism, but the exact variables determining the process are poorly quantified.

The GT (Gas Transport) experiment at Mont Terri was designed to study the pressure and deformation effects after injecting gas into the Opalinus Clay. Helium was injected with increasing pressure increments until a gas breakthrough was observed. The borehole into which the helium was injected was surrounded by eight observation boreholes providing deformation and pore pressure observations.The results of the experiment have been used to create a coupled hydro-mechanical model using TOUGH-FLAC, which couples the multiphase flow and heat transport simulator TOUGH3 with the geomechanical simulator FLAC3D. The model uses the helium injection rates as input and computes the resulting pressure and deformation responses. By running models with different transport mechanisms (e.g. two-phase only, both two-phase and dilatancy, allowing fracture formation) and by comparing the pressure and deformation results with the observations, insight is gained into the dominant transport mechanisms in the Opalinus Clay. Preliminary results reveal a slow build-up of strain and a relatively small pressure drop after gas injection begins, suggesting that dilatancy-controlled gas flow occurred.

How to cite: Nuus, M., Rinaldi, A. P., Cuss, R., Sentis, M., Gisiger, J., Graupner, B., Magri, F., Bernier, F., and Jaeggi, D.: Modelling coupled hydro-mechanical processes of gas flow in the Opalinus Clay, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-17949,, 2024.