Copper precipitation as consequence of steel corrosion in a flow-through experiment mimicking a geothermal production well

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Decreasing production rates and massive precipitation of native copper (Cu(0)) were observed in the production well at the geothermal research facility Groß Schönebeck (Germany). The Cu precipitates filling up the well are a product of an electrochemical corrosion reaction between dissolved copper (Cu2+, Cu+) in the brine and iron (Fe(0)) of the carbon steel liner. It was hypothesized that this reaction occurs not only within the borehole, but also on the outside of the casing at contact between casing and reservoir rock as well as in the pores of the reservoir rock. To verify the assumption of potential clogging of the rock pores as well as to quantify the reaction and to determine reaction kinetics, a flow-through experiment was designed mimicking the reaction at depth of the well between sandstone samples (24 cm3 Fontainebleau), steel (carbon steel or stainless steel), and artificial formation water containing 1 mM Cu2+ at oxic or anoxic (O2 < 0.2 mg/L) conditions in dependence of temperature and salinity. Obtained experimental data served as input for a numerical reaction model to deepen the process understanding and that ultimately should be used to predict processes in the geothermal reservoir. Results showed that (1) with increasing temperature, the reaction rate of the electrochemical reaction increased. (2) High amounts of sodium and calcium chloride (NaCl + CaCl2) in the solution decreased the overall reaction inasmuch more Fe and less Cu was measured in the salt-poor solutions over time. (3) Strongest oxidation was observed in oxic experiments when not only native copper but also iron hydroxides were identified after the experiments in the pore space of the rock samples. (4) No reaction products were observed when stainless steel was used instead of carbon steel to react with the Cu2+ solution. A numerical flow-through reactor model was developed for PHREEQC based on the assumption that Fe(0) corrosion is kinetically controlled and subsequent Cu(0) precipitation occurs in thermodynamic equilibrium within the investigated experimental set-up. Calculated coefficients of determination comparing measured and simulated reaction rates for Fe and Cu underline the validity of the approach.




Regenspurg, S., Geigenmüller, I., Milsch, H., & Kühn, M. (2017). Copper precipitation as consequence of steel corrosion in a flow-through experiment mimicking a geothermal production well. Geothermal Energy, 5(1).

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