Despite the recent advances in drilling to access oil & gas reserves, drilling costs remain high and can amount to half of the capital cost of a new geothermal power plant. Plasma-Pulse Geo Drilling (PPGD) is a developing, contactless drilling method that has been shown to penetrate crystalline rock at a fraction of the cost of conventional rotary head drilling. In addition to applications for geothermal or oil and gas reservoirs, Plasma-Pulse Geo Drilling can be utilized in numerous applications where excavation of basement rock has been traditionally cost prohibitive. During Plasma-Pulse Geo Drilling, an electric discharge forms plasma along a conductive pathway within the rock, causing the rock to fragment and break away. However, the operation of this drilling technique, especially at high depths and pressures, is not well understood. Therefore, the Geothermal Energy and Geofluids (GEG) Group in the Institute of Geophysics at the Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zürich, Switzerland, invites applications for a
PhD Position in Plasma-Rock Interaction
The objective of this PhD position is to develop, apply, and test plasma-pulse drilling—using existing plasma-rock interaction research—to new rock types at elevated temperatures and pressures. This research will be a combination of laboratory experiments, numerical modeling, and field research. Plasma-rock interactions to investigate include the relationship between plasma type, probe configuration, rock type, grain size, pore fluid, pore pressure, lithostatic stress, or temperature on drilling outcomes such as rate of penetration, energy consumption, or makeup fluid rate. Laboratory experiments will involve scaled testing of plasma-rock discharge and visualization of plasma pathway at simulated depth in a tri-axial press. Modeling will include thermo-mechanical simulations of plasma formation along conductive pathways within the rock. This fundamental research will occur alongside commercial development of PPGD by our industry partner SwissGeoPower, which currently has a working PPGD prototype, enabling rapid testing of laboratory-generated hypotheses in the field.
A master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science, Engineering, Physics, or a related field is essential. The ideal candidate has a strong background in physics and may have experience simulating and/or experimentally testing plasma or similar processes. Additionally, knowledge of material behavior and (geo)mechanics is a strong plus. Knowledge in programming or numerical simulators is also desirable. The candidate should possess excellent analytical and critical thinking skills, be proficient in English, and have excellent writing and presentation skills. The candidate needs to function well both as a member of an interdisciplinary team and individually without requiring permanent supervision. The maximum duration of the position is three years, pending a successful completion of the Research Plan Defense after one year. Benefits, work hours, salary, insurance, and pension are subject to ETH Zürich standards.