Design of a Meso-Scale High Pressure Vessel for the Laboratory Examination of Biogeochemical Subsurface Processes

Adrienne J. Phillips, Joachim (Joe) Eldring, Randy Hiebert, Ellen Lauchnor, Andrew Mitchell, Alfred Cunningham, Lee Spangler, Robin Gerlach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (SciVal)


A meso-scale high-pressure vessel for testing subsurface relevant processes under simulated in situ pressures was designed and constructed. This system is capable of providing pressures up to 96 bar and capable of housing porous media samples such as rock cores up to 74 cm in diameter and up to 50 cm high. A valved switchboard allows for fluids to be pumped into and extracted from the vessel and to be sampled in a spatially resolved manner. The switchboard assembly also allows for the monitoring of fluid chemistry in real time, such as pH and conductivity of either the injected or effluent fluids. The vessel can be equipped with an optional heating jacket to control temperatures. The system can be used to investigate a wide range of subsurface relevant processes, including those related to a variety of petroleum industry interests such as fracture sealing for improving the security of geologic carbon sequestration or enhancing wellbore integrity.

As an example, this paper describes the use of the vessel to study ureolysis-driven calcium carbonate precipitation to reduce the permeability of a hydraulically fractured core under relevant subsurface pressure (45 bar). The core was inoculated with Sporosarcina pasteurii and biofilm growth was promoted in the fracture, followed by injection of calcium- and urea-containing growth reagents to promote saturation conditions favorable for ureolysis-driven CaCO3 precipitation. This process is referred to herein as microbially-induced calcium carbonate precipitation (MICP). MICP treatment reduced the permeability in the mineralized fracture more than two orders of magnitude. This single high pressure experiment suggests that MICP can be used to reduce permeability in fractures under relevant subsurface conditions. This study also suggests that the high pressure vessel is suitable for testing a range of biogeochemical processes in meso-scale fractured porous media samples under pressure. The high pressure test system could also be well suited for studying microbially-enhanced methane production from coal, wellbore and cement integrity challenges with corrosive fluids, proppant and hydraulic fracturing fluid investigations, enhanced oil recovery, microbially-induced corrosion, or biofouling among many other industry-related biogeochemical processes
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-62
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Petroleum Science and Engineering
Early online date23 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2015


  • subsurface
  • high pressure vessel
  • biogeochemical processes
  • biomineralization
  • geologically sequestered
  • CO2
  • MICP


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