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The overarching objective of CMC-UF is to garner cross-cutting geoscience knowledge to achieve mechanistic control over the strongly coupled non-equilibrium physical and geochemical processes in extreme geological environments with nanoscale pores. Collectively, these are referred to as unconventional formations.


Challenges we focus on

Scientific effort within the Center for Mechanistic Control of Unconventional Formations (CMC-UF) is organized around four challenges to enable system-
level understanding of these important geological formations:

  1. the physics of fluid transport that makes seals effective barriers and phase behavior within them including dominant molecular interactions between rock/fluid molecules under confinement;
  2. the mechanical behavior of unconventional rocks, especially in the presence of non-aqueous fluids such as H2 and CO2;
  3. reactivity of solid/fluid interfaces governed by complex processes that are strongly coupled to transport and mechanics; and
  4. a reliable (closed) description of physicochemical processes at any single scale of observation.

Science Goals

Five cross-disciplinary science goals illustrate the Center approach.

  1. Exploit advanced multiscale imaging and characterization capabilities to analyze the fabric of disordered nanoporous media at nm to m scales before, during, and after interaction with aqueous and non-aqueous fluids (e.g., CO2 & H2).
  2. Elucidate the coupled phase behavior, geomechanical, and transport mechanisms of single and multiphase flow through nanoporous media across cascading length and time scales to understand, model, and control the flow and transport of water and non-aqueous fluids.
  3. Delineate fluid and solute transport and reactivity across shale-mineral interfaces, and the influence of water composition on matrix, microfracture, and fracture fluid transfer and transport.
  4. Characterize the mechanisms of viscoplasticity and ductility of shale when exposed to brine, CO2, and H2 as relevant to the clean energy transition.
  5. Enable translation of physical and chemical mechanisms to assess their influence at macroscopic length and time scales using advanced algorithms and modeling.


Science Questions

Our main science questions are as follows: (please click on an image to enlarge)

Importantly, addressing these scientific gaps has impacts in other areas of energy. For example, basic scientific knowledge of shales is essential to understanding isolation of chemical and nuclear wastes in the earth’s crust. Shale reaction fronts are also not unlike those observed in engineered materials, such as porous battery electrodes and concrete, although the chemical complexity and heterogeneity in shales is much greater. Additionally, the Center is focused on geoscience, but the understanding of the interplay of sorption and transport is important to improved understanding of multicomponent gas and liquid separations.

In view of the economic, strategic, and environmental importance of shale resources, the mission of this EFRC is to provide the fundamental knowledge needed to achieve mechanistic control over the various nonequilibrium physical and geochemical processes that occur in extreme geological environments such as shale, mudstones, and other tight rocks with nanoscale pores.  Our vision is to enable science-based management of the US shale resource to provide foundational understanding for building subsurface hydrogen and carbon dioxide storage infrastructure as well as for reduced environmental impacts of natural gas production in the short term.

Meeting these basic-science goals means that our Center will deliver (i) a set of experimental tools to acquire essential data; (ii) greatly improve understanding and the mechanisms related to the interplay of mineralogy, pore networks, sorption, and reactivity that govern transport at and across scales; (iii) a set of algorithms and modeling tools for scale translation.