FAQ

What is the research focus of the “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies”?

At the “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies” ETH Zurich studies, in close collaboration with national and international partners, techniques and procedures for a safe, efficient, and long-term use of geothermal heat. A focus lies on the physics of induced seismicity. Researchers conduct different experiments. Whereas some put a strong emphasis on the geothermal processes involved, others test different drilling and stimulation techniques. A dense monitoring system allows to observe even the smallest changes in stress, pressure, and fluid movements. Only in a rock laboratory, such close monitoring is possible and affordable.

What is the expected impact of the experiments conducted?

We hope to gain a better understanding of the relevant processes in the framework of a deep geothermal exploration. Our results aim at contributing to a safer and more sustainable use of geothermal energy in Switzerland and elsewhere. This is a precondition for being able to increase the share of geothermal energy by five to ten percent, needed to fulfil the goals set in the Energy Strategy 2050.

The “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies” itself will not generate any heat or electricity for commercial use, but one experiment will create a geothermal reservoir, which will be used to test heat exchange on a monthly and yearly basis.

Are there any potential risks associated with the work conducted at the “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies”?

Very small, not perceptible earthquakes are an inherent part of deep geothermal projects. They cause fractures and keep them open, both enhancing the permeability of a reservoir necessary for an efficient operation. The aim of every geothermal project is to enhance the permeability without causing any felt or damaging earthquakes.

At the “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies”, very small earthquakes are as well expected. Compared to natural, damaging earthquakes, the size of the volume stimulated and the depth of the rock volume are considerably smaller. Therefore, the risk of provoking perceptible or even damaging earthquakes is extremely low. A dense monitoring system allows us to observe even smallest seismic activity. In case predefined magnitude thresholds are exceeded, the procedures will immediately be adapted and, if needed, stopped. Our aim is to study how we can prevent felt or damaging earthquakes and not to provoke any at the “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies”.

For the environment, there are no potential risks, as no chemicals will be injected in the rock nor will any other harmful substances being used.

A rock laboratory including the handling of different instruments naturally offers a less safe working environment than a regular office. Therefore, different measures are taken to protect the technicians and researchers working at the “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geoenergies”. Besides instructions to wear protective clothing, operational procedures are predefined and monitored.

For each experiment, a detailed and rigorous risk study will be produced specifying the saftey measures to be obeyed.

Is there any additional information about the experiments planned?

Please have a look at the following page: Activities.

How long will the “Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies” be in operation?

The owner Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn has currently given ETH Zurich the permission to use the tunnel as a research infrastructure for eight years.

The Bedretto Tunnel

The Bedretto tunnel, connecting the Ticino with the Furka tunnel, offers ideal conditions to perform these experiments. It allows to pursue the research conducted in laboratories at universities and in other rock laboratories, e.g. at Grimsel, on a bigger scale. This is an important advancement to prove previous concepts in a setting reflecting as closely as possible the conditions in the deep underground. The coverage of 1,000 to 1,500 meters above the tunnel simulates well the pressure conditions at relevant depths for a geothermal reservoir.

In order to operate such a rock laboratory, the tunnel has undergone extensive construction work: the floor was levelled out and unstable rocks were secured; a ventilation system, a communication network, and electricity were installed. The owner Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn has currently leased the tunnel to ETH Zurich for eight years.

Why was the Bedretto tunnel chosen for this research infrastructure?

Similar experiments have already been conducted on smaller scales at university laboratories or at the Grimsel rock laboratory. The ”Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies” now offers the opportunity for experiments on a bigger scale, which allows verifying previous results in a more realistic setting. Instead of stimulating rock formations at a couple of centimetres as in a laboratory, or at a scale of 10 meters as in Grimsel, experiments will be conducted on a scale of 100 meters and more. Therewith, the rock formation stimulated is still smaller than in a real deep commercial geothermal project, but significantly bigger than what has scientifically been analysed so far. In addition, the coverage of 1,000 to 1,500 meters above the tunnel simulates well the pressure conditions at relevant depths for a geothermal reservoir.

Who are the partners?

What is deep geothermal energy?

Deep geothermal energy accesses rock structures at least 400 meters into the earth, and various uses are possible depending on the temperatures in the subsoil.

Temperatures of between 20 °C and 70 °C are found in aquifers (layers of rock or soil that can absorb and hold water) at depths of 400 to 2,000 meters. The thermal water found at these depths is suitable not only for bathing but also for heat production, and systems that exploit the drainage water from tunnels can be put to a similar use (SFOE, Nutzung der Erdwärme - Überblick, Technologie, Visionen).

At depths of 4,000 meters, temperatures beneath Switzerland are between 150 °C and 200 °C. Geothermal energy projects that access these layers of rock generally use part of the energy recovered directly for power production, while the rest can be fed into a district heating grid.

A distinction is made between two systems for energy recovery at great depth: petrothermal and hydrothermal. For further information visit: www.seismo.ethz.ch/en/knowledge/things-to-know/geothermal-energy-earthquakes/forms-of-geothermal-energy/.

General

The Bedretto Lab can only be visited by appointment.

Visiting the BedrettoLab

Visits are possible by appointment only. Please contact us if you are interested in visiting the BedrettoLab.

Guided Tours

Currently, the Bedretto Lab can only be visited by partners and specialists. Due to capacity reasons we are unable to offer guided tours for the public at the moment. We aim at providing public tours in the future and we will advertise them on this website and on our Instagram account.

How to get to the Bedretto Lab

See Contact for more information.