Thermo-Sensitive Tracers For Investigating The Temperatures In Geothermal Reservoirs

With the depletion of fossil fuels, geothermal has been gradually entering the field of view on renewable energy in the past decades. A crucial aspect of successful geothermal development mostly depends on site characteristics (Lu, 2018). Tracer tests provide important insights into system characterization, assisting sustainable geothermal reservoir research and management.

One of the most common and useful applications of tracer testing in geothermal is to evaluate and monitor the cooling of the reservoir due to reinjection during the operation. During the past several decades, extensive research has been conducted to study the application of existing tracers and to discover new tracers for a wide spectrum of geothermal fields (i.e., Maier et al., 2015; Nottebohm et al., 2012; Rose et al., 2001).

One approach is to use classical tracers like naphthalene sulfonates, Amino G, and rhodamine WT as thermo-sensitive tracers (Rose and Clausen, 2017, 2014; Rose and Adams, 1994). This approach, however, is limited to high-temperature systems (from 200 to 350 °C).

Another approach, applying to low enthalpy systems (below 200 °C), is based on hydrolysable compounds such as esters, amides, and carbamates (target design possible), leading to defined reaction products (Cao et al., 2018; Nottebohm et al., 2012; Robinson and Tester, 1990; Schaffer et al., 2016). These thermo-sensitive tracer compounds are water-soluble and have different fluorescent properties than their hydrolysis products, which allows for the detection of tracers on site.

Thermo-sensitive tracers could cover a wide range of temperatures depending on their underlying decay mechanism (e.g., Adams and Davis, 1991; Cao et al., 2018; Nottebohm et al., 2012; Rose et al., 1999; Schaffer et al., 2016). In particular, amides and carbamates can be potentially applied for exploitation within the temperature range of 100–150 °C or even higher. Furthermore, the hydrolysis reaction of both amides and carbamates is rather independent of environmental pH/pOH conditions, making these compounds favorable for field applications (Cao et al., 2018; Schaffer et al., 2016). For temperatures lower than 100 °C, esters and carbamates are proposed as good tracers to track temperature distribution (Cao et al., 2018; Nottebohm et al., 2012).

The synthesize of thermo-sensitive tracers also highlights the potential of designing of tracer compounds. Based on the knowledge of tracer properties, tailor-made tracer compounds can be developed with the required properties or effects in hydrogeology. This is knowledge-driven approach and can be used to build a big database for currently available reactive tracers. Moreover, this concept can expand the potential application of tracers in other fields (e.g., to predict environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, to quantify processes in the hyporheic zone).

These findings are described in the article entitled The feasibility of using carbamates to track the thermal state in geothermal reservoirs, recently published in the journal GeothermicsThis work was conducted by Viet Cao, Mario Schaffer, and Tobias Licha from the University of Goettingen.


  1. Adams, M.C., Davis, J., 1991. Kinetics of fluorescein decay and its application as a geothermal tracer. Geothermics 20, 53–66.
  2. Cao, V., Schaffer, M., Licha, T., 2018. The feasibility of using carbamates to track the thermal state in geothermal reservoirs. Geothermics 72, 301–306.
  3. Lu, S.-M., 2018. A global review of enhanced geothermal system (EGS). Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 81, 2902–2921.
  4. Maier, F., Schaffer, M., Licha, T., 2015. Determination of temperatures and cooled fractions by means of hydrolyzable thermo-sensitive tracers. Geothermics 58, 87–93.
  5. Nottebohm, M., Licha, T., Sauter, M., 2012. Tracer design for tracking thermal fronts in geothermal reservoirs. Geothermics 43, 37–44.
  6. Robinson, B.A., Tester, J.W., 1990. Kinetics of alkaline hydrolysis of organic esters and amides in neutrally-buffered solution. Int. J. Chem. Kinet. 22, 431–448.
  7. Rose, P., Clausen, S., 2017. The use of amino-substituted naphthalene sulfonates as tracers in geothermal reservoirs, in: Proceedings, 42nd Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering, Standford University. pp. 1–7.
  8. Rose, P.E., Adams, M.C., 1994. The application of Rhodamine WT as a geothermal tracer. Geotherm. Resour. Counc. Trans. 18, 237–240.
  9. Rose, P.E., Benoit, W.R., Kilbourn, P.M., 2001. The application of the polyaromatic sulfonates as tracers in geothermal reservoirs. Geothermics 30, 617–640.
  10. Rose, P.E., Clausen, S., 2014. The Use of Amino G as a Thermally Reactive Tracer for Geothermal Applications, in: Proceedings, 39th Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering Stanford University. pp. 1–5.
  11. Rose, P.E., Goranson, C., Salls, D., Kilbourn, P.M., 1999. Tracer testing at Steamboat Hills, Nevada, using Fluorescein and 1,5-Naphthalene Disulfonate, in: Proceedings, 24th Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering Stanford University.
  12. Schaffer, M., Idzik, K.R., Wilke, M., Licha, T., 2016. Amides as thermo-sensitive tracers for investigating the thermal state of geothermal reservoirs. Geothermics 64, 180–186.

About The Author

Viet Cao

Viet is a research scientist at the University of Goettingen.

Mario Schaffer

Mario is a research scientist at the University of Goettingen.

Tobias Licha

Tobias Licha currently works at the Department of Applied Geology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. Tobias does research in Hydrochemistry, Environmental Geology, Hydrogeology, Environmental Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry. His current projects are INTCATCH (EU Horizon 2020) and Geocat (DFG).

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