Subsurface Energy Materials Characterization and Analysis Laboratory


David Cole, Ph.D., Geochemist, Professor and Ohio Scholar (
Jeff Daniels, Ph.D., Geophysicist, Professor (
Ann Cook, Ph.D., Geophysicist, Assistant Professor (

Mission Statement: The researchers of SEMCAL endeavor to provide a scientific understanding of pore to field scale rock-fluid interactions through state-of-the-art physical and chemical property analysis. In-depth laboratory analysis of subsurface processes through laboratory analysis will provide a foundation to help develop a sound environmental approach to the economic development of subsurface energy resources in Ohio, the Midwest, the Nation, and the World.

PDF icon SEMCAL Brochure Oct 2016 [pdf]

SEMCAL Overview

SEMCAL is designed to be a state-of-the-art chemical and physical property core measurement laboratory for research in emerging areas of subsurface energy, especially CO2 sequestration in the near term, and gas shale as the industry develops and the need for shale research increases in Ohio and the Midcontinent region. Scientifically, the lab will provide data and research that will lead to a fundamental understanding of the chemical and physical properties of rocks at the micro-pore level, and the transformation of rocks and minerals in the presence of CO2, methane, and other fluids injected into the subsurface. Practically, the lab will investigate and help to develop methods that will help to monitor and control subsurface processes related to injection, extraction, and conversion of rocks and minerals in the subsurface. In addition, one fundamental goal of the lab will be to provide a link between verifiable laboratory measurements, in-situ borehole geophysical and geochemical measurements that are routinely utilized in oil exploration and evaluation, and surface geophysical and geochemical measurements that can be used to monitor processes (e.g., CO2 plume migration) in the subsurface.

The lab has five interlocking primary objectives: 1) to educate and train students about subsurface physical and chemical processes through state of the art laboratory measurements; 2) provide foundation chemical and physical property measurements on cores and subsurface fluids and drilling chip samples for SES students, faculty, and our regional industry and government partners; 3) provide capabilities to simulate in-situ conditions for testing processes over time as described above; 4) develop new methods to image and analyze core and chip samples; and 5) link the laboratory measurements to field-scale needs (e.g., injection capacity, fracturing, seismic and electrical exploration, chemical and physical property monitoring).

SEMCAL provides a set of capabilities that can have a far-reaching impact on other science and engineering departments at OSU and within other Ohio universities. Physical properties measurements such as porosity, permeability, grain and volume densities of unconsolidated as well as consolidated porous matrices (soils, corroded metals, synthetic porous materials, bone, polymers, etc.) conducted in concert with various textural and chemical imaging methods (e.g. scanning electron microscopy) should of great interest to those in chemical engineering, materials science, civil and environmental engineering, and agriculture.

SEMCAL and Subsurface Science

Subsurface energy science is an outgrowth of geological investigations in the drill-accessible subterranean world that lies in the upper crust; the integration of subsurface geologic mapping and characterization, fluid flow, and the movement of injected and natural fluids in layers and fractures in the subsurface. Subsurface energy science is the foundation for full technological utilization of resources, including mineral and fossil fuel extraction, injection of fluid waste and manufacturing byproducts, and in situ utilization of resources. The full utilization of the subsurface is made possible by new technologies, including horizontal drilling, borehole geophysical and geochemical measurements, and geophysical imaging.

For over 50 years, technological advances in subsurface energy science have been primarily the result of hydrocarbon exploration and production development, with exploration research and development concentrated in the geological sciences community and production development centered in petroleum engineering. Not surprisingly, the interface between the exploration and production, often referred to as the side of the business, respectively, has primarily been in borehole and laboratory analysis of rock and fluid properties. Exploration and field development advancements have primarily focused on locating oil and gas accumulations with surface geophysical methods (seismic and potential field methods), the development of new geologic theories (e.g., sequence stratigraphy), and continuous advancements in in-situ evaluation of rock and fluid properties (geophysical and geochemical well logging). Petroleum production (from borehole to refinery) of the business has focused on improved in-situ borehole evaluation tools and well stimulation to improve well production. Stimulation techniques include swabbing, flooding and other methods that are known collectively in the business as enhanced oil recovery (or EOR).

The demands for cleaner forms of energy in the near-term (even the most optimistic predictions show clean renewable energy will only be able to supply about 15% of the world needs by 2050) have led to advances in the development of more constraints on CO2 emissions. The response to this demand by industry has been a rapid increase in research and development in the area of subsurface geologic sequestration of the CO2 emissions from coal and natural gas at electrical power plants, coupled with an intense quest to produce natural gas from shale formations in the subsurface. In addition, it is anticipated that the need to confine CO2 in the subsurface and simultaneously produce energy at great depths away from the surface will lead to in-situ production of syngas from coal. These developments have caused a shift of focus for the fossil fuel industry from the Southwest and Gulf states to the Midwest, with Ohio and Pennsylvania central as revived resource production areas for coal and gas shale.

For hydrocarbon production, the shift from traditional petroleum production to enhanced oil recovery, carbon sequestration, and gas shale production has introduced new questions and challenges for science. We know very little about the geochemistry and physical properties of shale as a source of natural gas or as a seal (cap rock) for CO2 sequestration. Nor, do we fully understand the effect of the interaction of injected CO2 and rocks in the subsurface. Nor, do we understand the changes in mineralogy and fluid chemistry that will result from in-situ production of syngas from coal.

SEMCAL and New Subsurface Energy

We define New Subsurface Energy, consisting of clean coal, in-situ gasification of coal, and geothermal, and new sources of natural gas as the necessary nexus between traditional fossil fuel (coal and petroleum) and renewable energy: the energy bridge to a future of clean renewable energy (e.g., wind, and solar) in addition to new ways to enhance conventional hydrocarbon production in a friendly manner. How does SEMCAL fit into the New Energy equation?

We can, and do, measure fluid and rock properties in the borehole and on the surface at the macro scale with borehole tools (primarily nuclear, electrical, and acoustic measurements) and surface geophysical tools. And, we have the capability at OSU to process and interpret most standard geophysical and geochemical data collected in the field. However, we do not understand the connection between the common geophysical and geochemical measurements and the mineral and fluid properties causing the measurement responses. Research within SEMCAL focuses on developing a fundamental understanding of rock-fluid interactions from the nano scale to the micro and macro scale that will enable industry and government regulators tools to accurately measure subsurface rock properties and mineral/fluid interactions associated with New Energy evaluation production processes by linking physical and chemical property measurements from the nano- to the macro scale.

SEMCAL Equipment

  1. Spectral gamma core scanning – correlate core location in bore hole
  2. Probe gas permeameter (gas)
  3. Pulsed decay gas permeameter (gas)
  4. Mercury intrusion porosimeter (porosity, pore-size distribution, capillarity)
  5. Archimedes work station (bulk and grain volume)
  6. BET surface area and pore size analyzer
  7. Dean Stark and soxhlet organic extraction systems
  8. Leica Ion mill
  9. FEI Quanta 250 Field Emission Gun SEM with QEMSCAN imaging software – rock texture, pore features, 2-D porosity, elemental mapping, mineral mapping
  10. High P-T biaxial resistivity core holder
  11. High P-T triaxial acoustic velocity core holder
  12. Ambient P-T resistivity and dielectric core holder
  13. Parr stirred batch hydrothermal reactors (simulate subsurface conditions; kinetics of reactions)
  14. Picarro cavity-ring down spectrometer with peripherals – 13C/12C in CO2, TOC, DOC, DIC
  15. Costech elemental C-O-H-N-S analyzer
  16. PANalytical X-ray diffractometer
  17. X-ray Computed Tomography
  18. Bruker 20 MHz low field NMR
  19. ThermoFisher Delta V Advantage stable isotope ratio mass spec with gas chromatograph
  20. Computer lab – two work stations and one high-end PC; software -Avizo, COMSOL, Geochemist’s WorkBench (GWB), CRUNCH FLOW, TOUGHREACT