In this web series, the BRGM teams present the major scientific advances of the French geological survey in 2021.
6 May 2022

6 societal challenges, 14 major scientific advances

The webinar programme includes 6 video presentations of 14 projects in our 6 scientific fields of research: geology and knowledge of the subsurface, groundwater management, risk management and spatial planning, mineral resources and the circular economy, the energy transition and digital data and infrastructures.

Geology and knowledge of the subsurface

BRGM held a webinar on 1 April 2021 to present a series of significant scientific advances made in 2021. Find out about the advances in geology and knowledge of the subsurface.

This video features: The SISMAORE mission - Isabelle Thinon / The integration of African geology into a single data repository - Yannick Callec.


BRGM SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES 2021 Geology and Subsurface Study We're back speaking about geology and subsurface study. Hi, Isabelle Thinon. We talked last year about Mayotte's seismic and volcanic activity since May 2018, when an underwater volcano became active. To better understand what exactly is going on, you went out on a boat, the Pourquoi Pas, for 55 days last year. It was quite the experience. The floor is yours. You were out 55 days? -Yes. -Why so long? First, because the seismic activity near Mayotte, which began in May 2018, has really puzzled the scientific community. What's the geological layout of offshore Mayotte? What's the basement rock? What are the geodynamics in the region? What other risk factors are there? We realized that this region is understudied, so there's little data available and lots of hypotheses, many contradictory. In September 2018, BRGM working with academic institutions put together a proposal for an oceanographic study that would collect data for 55 days. So... BRGM scientists, some 30 scientists from various organizations, laboratories, French, German, Comoran, along with six students, five PhD level, and two science teachers from the Mayotte school district to teach the results in schools. This was called the Sismaoré Mission. We explored 80,000 km2, 60,000 of them near the Comoros Archipelago, which is four volcanic islands: Ngazidja, Nduzwani, Mwali, and Mayotte. Almost like an explorers' mission, you gathered a lot of important data. Tell us about it. The video you see shows three sets of data. The first is the map of the sea floor. There's geophysical and bathymetrical data that gives us the depth and topography of the sea floor. There's reflectivity data showing us its nature. That's where we notice lava flows, for example. We also gathered water-column sonar data to see if there were other eruptions, active or not. Mapping the ocean floor helped us locate over 2,200 volcanic structures, they're small, but still reach 600 m in height, as well as lava flows and rifts. We also located two volcanic fields running 2,000 to 5,000 km2 in surface area. Quite the adventure! The other data set is geophysical data, they're other geophysical data that tell us more about the subsurface. We have over 10,000 km of what we call sediment probes, which are high resolution and give us the architecture of the top dozen meters of sediment. We have high-resolution reflection-seismology data and long-term seismic-noise data. For example, we took a seismic profile of the new volcano as it was erupting. That way we can see, layer on layer, the structure of the volcano and the substratum. We now know it sits on a layer of sediment and basement rock. That was a PhD student's work. You mentioned that. You gathered a lot of data and they're being studied. Yes, but there's even more data, refraction data, data on heat flows, magnetism, granulometry, as well as rock and sediment samples taken so we can date them and find out their composition and origin. In a word, there's an enormous amount of data, very diverse, so it needs interpreting, and even before that, it needs analyzing and processing. We're very happy about our project called Coyote funded by the ANR to provide money for three thesis projects, a post-doc and masters theses, as well as create a scientific community of around 40 people to research these topics. ANR Coyote's end goal is to create new knowledge and improve what we know about this region's geology to minimize the risks in the region. Thanks a lot for your wonderful campaign. Let's leave Mozambique for greater Africa with Yannick Callec. - Hi. - Hi. You helped created a reference platform integrating African geological information. Tell us what that's about. Sure, thank you. As fears heighten across the world about availability of resources, in particular, technological and energy resources, which you hear about daily in geopolitics, BRGM thought it necessary back in 2020 to create a program to define and later establish a geological and strategic-resources reference platform for Africa. Florence Cagnard is the program coordinator. She's not here today, I'm representing her. You may ask, why Africa? BRGM has worked on the African continent for over 70 years, working on geological mapping as well as mining explorations. The other reason is Africa represents 20% of the Earth's land area, but it only receives 13% of the international budget for mineral exploration. There's a lot of potential there, and it's likely that mining potential is being underestimated. Also related to the tech and energy revolutions that I mentioned, metals that were once thought of as secondary in importance are now becoming strategically important. Even small deposits of minerals represent a lot of value. That's what helped propel the creation of this project. The project comprises two major efforts. First is capitalizing on BRGM's existing data. I mentioned we had 70 years' experience in Africa. Imagine all the data we have, reports, databases, maps of every scale, from 10:1,000,000 to 25:1,000. The second part involves researching to establish criteria for predicting different kinds of deposits, looking at both potential as well as the processes involved, what geological processes create or develop certain deposits. This is a map by Mathieu Chevillard from DGR showing spatial data on various mineral resources. On the map are minerals deemed strategic by the European Commission in 2020. The colors show you the diversity of minerals and the size represents deposit size. You can see the distribution is very diverse, and many areas are likely unexplored. What you also need to understand is that the idea here is to integrate our various projects, acquired and current, like Pierre presented, with recent projects in Malawi and Cameroon. We create mapping at various scales, and we try to integrate them into one reference platform. For that we need common reference tools and standards so we can unify our geological and mineral data. You're consolidating the platform. Right, we're not starting from scratch. BRGM has been doing explorations for a while. We're piggybacking off a project that Jean-Pierre Milesi ran from the late '90s till 2004 called SIGAfrique. We're taking that program and giving it new life. We want to capitalize on all the mapping and mining projects we've carried out since 2000, i.e. 20 years' worth of projects we'll reintegrate into a standardized platform, reviewing even how we understand them so we can make use of them and the results of those programs. That's the first part of the project, deriving value from the data. The other is research, and like I was saying, we're trying to understand what conditions create what deposits. The conditions can be structural, can be temporal, can depend on pressure and temperature and whether or not liquids are present to help create a mineral. We can't turn over every stone across every inch of ground. We're trying to develop predictability models, which Blandine will speak about, delving more into part two of the program, and roll out that model across the African continent. It will catalyze other projects. Exactly. It'll support our services, aiding public policy in these countries and offering diplomatic resources for France and Europe through the AfricaMaVal project, that Christophe mentioned. Thanks to all three of you for those presentations on geology and subsurface studies. A lot's been done and there's a lot to do. Well done and good luck.

Groundwater management

BRGM held a webinar on 1 April 2021 to present a series of significant scientific advances made in 2021. Find out about the advances in groundwater management.

This video features: The impact of seismicity on the evolution of hydrodynamic properties of a volcanic aquifer - Benoit Vittecoq / New tools for measuring water quality - Anne Togola.


BRGM SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES 2021 Managing Ground Water Resources We'll move right along with management of groundwater resources. Let's welcome Benoit Vittecoq calling in from Martinique, hello, Benoit. Hello, everyone. The connection's good. You study aquifer permeability as it relates to seismic activity. Can you explain what that is? Sure, basically my job is looking at how seismic activity changes the permeability of volcanic aquifers. As a refresher, permeability in hydrogeology is the speed of water circulation in the water table. With volcanic rock formations, the permeability of those aquifers reduces over time due to alterations in the rock due to the tropical climate and movements of hydrothermal fluids. These are volcanoes after all. First, I looked at all the permeability measurements from our boreholes in Martinique, and found the tendency for permeability to reduce over time wasn't the case here. In fact, we observed a striking uptick in permeability, meaning faster groundwater movements, by geological standards, so over 15 million years. What was the reason for that? The hypothesis that we arrived at is that Martinique lies in a seismic zone with lots of seismic activity that human history hasn't seen much of, but which was common thousands and millions of years ago, and this seismic activity created cracks and fractured the aquifers, increasing their permeability. To prove that hypothesis, we created an original methodology, working with data from a borehole that I worked on in 2005 that records water-table fluctuations every hour. Among many things, that borehole showed fluctuations in the water table twice a day, based on the pull of the moon. It's a similar phenomenon to tides we see along coastlines and in ports. Trees are also sensitive to those same gravitational fluctuations, though it's less pronounced, but in the boreholes fluctuations can be several centimeters. Given that we know the positions of the Earth relative to the moon, the amplitude of the tide can be calculated at all times. Our method involved calculating over a 15-year period the difference between the waves of tide change and the water-table fluctuations observed in the borehole. What results did you arrive at? The results of our work are pretty remarkable. For each of the five earthquakes near Martinique from 2005 to 2020, we observed significant change in that differentiation. Crunching the numbers, you can calculate an aquifer's permeability and show the increase in permeability over a given period of study. As Dominique was saying, we also showed that extreme-weather events like hurricanes or strong tropical storms that regularly visit the island cause a temporary increase in permeability by, in a way, cleaning out the cracks and fractures of the aquifers. Where does that lead you? First, from an operational standpoint, it helps hydrogeologists when doing explorations and digging for water. When they work in volcanic areas or areas with seismic activity, our study shows that old aquifers that went unused because they weren't thought permeable are in fact interesting targets. Our work also helps better understand changes in permeability, aquifer vulnerability, especially concerning pesticide transport, which could increase if groundwater starts moving faster. Lastly, the method we developed for calculating permeability using analyses of ocean-tide waves can also be used at other sites. Does that mean Martinique is a pilot site? Indeed, our early methodologies for calculating phase shift in Martinique showed to be promising. We published our findings in a new thesis, funded by the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and launched in partnership with BRGM. A special research project was set up to continue trying to understand these phenomena, develop equations, then roll out this methodology in other areas. Thanks a lot, Benoit. Good luck going forward, enjoy the sunshine, we could use it! - See you. - Thanks. Let's come back to our panel here. Hello, Anne Togola. We were just talking about water quality. You're working in two key areas to improve quality assessments. Tell us more. Hello. Yes, we are looking at two areas for water-quality assessments. That starts in sampling, meaning how we take water samples from sites for best representation, as well as how to improve analysis and what we'll measure. We're working on new methods, non-targeted screening in particular, that will make use of new equipment for high-resolution mass spectrometry. High-resolution mass spectrometry? It's a technology that helps us measure and find molecules and components in the water based on their chemical structure. Our goal is to identify new molecules to improve assessment and better understand a given site by getting a better picture of what's there in the natural setting. Both these approaches fall under two major BRGM focus areas BRGM has expertise in, i.e. the analytics and the transport of contaminants in the groundwater. We tackled these focus areas with two flagship projects in 2021. One was a large-scale demonstration across France using passive sampling devices. I brought one with me. I wondered what that was. You can see on screen how we set them up. These capture molecules in the water that we can then take to the lab as a representation of a natural setting. It was a three-year, nationwide project ending in 2021. Another project more geared toward targeted molecules, the ACCES project, focused on finding new molecules called pesticide metabolites. We study pesticides, which break down in nature. ACCES wants to understand those molecules better. Another major interest the past few years are bisphenols. Many have heard of bisphenol A, but there's more. It's being replaced by bisphenol S. There are some 15 molecules that can be substituted. We're looking for those molecules in the natural setting, then our partners research the potential toxicity involved. Your research is helping inform public policy. Absolutely. We're developing approaches to improve assessment and understand what's in the natural setting. We want to go from sampling to scientific advancements to regulation. We also want to improve monitoring by flagging new molecules and providing new methods for finding them. Our work has policy consequences nationally and internationally, but we're also very active at the regional level and even smaller than that. We work very closely with local governments that have close ties to real stakeholders. I mentioned water quality and passive sampling. One operational piece we're actively involved in is the long-awaited new monitoring order that will lead to a framework directive on water monitoring at the national level. We were able to introduce new molecules into it based on our prior research at BRGM. We also added new tools. We consider that a huge victory. We went from pretty fundamental research to rolling out ideas and working with stakeholders to bring our expertise to real projects on the ground. - It's concrete. - Exactly. You spoke about contaminants. We just heard from Dominique Darmendrail about emerging contaminants. What are those? Well, in the word "emerging," you have the idea of molecules not yet known to regulatory bodies. We know little about them. Are they new? Not necessarily. That's what's tough. We spoke about pesticides. I just mentioned pesticide metabolites. We know parent structures, not derivatives. We'll talk about pharmaceuticals. We'll talk about natural hormone molecules. They can affect the environment as well. Hormones are found in the environment? Yes, they have an effect on ecosystems. They're not regulated, and we're looking into them. These are a subset of a large class of emerging contaminants. We find them a lot. They're released into the environment by any number of human activities: farming, industry, and even domestic products. We do research on care products and contaminants found in things we use every day. UV filters, medicines, caffeine, we find a lot of that. It's things we use and consume a lot of that create problems. We heard about PFAS, perfluoroalkyl substances. We find those molecules in just about everything you can imagine. Household items, non-stick pan coating is one example, couch coverings. They're everywhere. They pose a real environmental threat. We talked about the EU PROMISCES project trying to address those issues. We've been warned! We didn't know they were that bad! Thanks so much. Now we know what to expect from the findings we have or need to find to better care for this precious resource. Thanks to both of you.

Risk management and spatial planning

BRGM held a webinar on 1 April 2021 to present a series of significant scientific advances made in 2021. Find out about the advances in risk management and spatial planning.

This video features: The new method for characterising the treatability of polluted soils - Stéfan Colombano / Shake-maps, crisis management tools and rapid damage estimation - Samuel Auclair / Prevention strategies, analysis of land movement scenarios in Martinique - Marc Peruzzetto.


BRGM Geosciences for a Sustainable Earth BRGM SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES 2021 Risks and Earthworks Hello. You work with heavy metals and hydrocarbons mainly, cleaning them up. Tell us about that. Sure. Our research looks at site and soil clean-up. Why clean up contaminated sites and soils? Because we need to keep our groundwater drinkable, so we restore brownfield lands, converting brownfield lands into residential areas or other things. There are different ways to remediate. There are thermal methods for remediation. We can heat the ground, wash it. That's more physical cleaning. There are chemical processes as well, using chemical washes, oxidants, things like that. There are biological processes which use bacteria. All of these processes used in situ carry with them risks due to homogeneity in our remediation because subsoil is heterogenous. Permeabilities vary. We experiment with homogenous remediation of heterogenous subsoil. Let's look at an example. A typical chemical remediation method. What do we do? We use what are called surfactants, which work like dish soap. We inject that dish soap into the ground, which varies in its permeability, and the surfactants, which are biodegradable, of course, draw out the contaminants. If we inject them into a permeable layer, it'll pass through pretty easily. In mixed layers of permeability, it'll be harder to get our product to penetrate the less permeable layers. We'll see preferential penetration only in permeable layers. To counteract that, we developed remediation methods using non-Newtonian fluids. One non-Newtonian fluid, to use a common example, is mayonnaise. When you mix up mayonnaise with a spoon, the viscosity of the mayonnaise will change depending on the speed you stir the mayonnaise. So, viscosity depends on constraints we put on the liquid. Going off of that, we use non-Newtonian fluids, gels or foams, with viscosities that decrease based on the force applied. Taking our example of the surfactant or dish soap, if you combine it with a non-Newtonian fluid, in areas of mixed permeability of soils, we can get an ideal viscosity that doesn't require much force for the surfactant and non-Newtonian fluid together to penetrate. Viscosity is important for reducing force. In the less permeable layers, we'll have to use force and viscosity will decrease. Viscosity depends on permeability. Playing with the properties of non-Newtonian fluids, we can almost uniformly clean up any ground type, no matter how heterogenous, to attain high levels of purification. We use those fluids to carry remediation products as a vector for different things, chemicals... We can test all of this using a platform we call PRIME. - In the lab. - Exactly. The PRIME platform... is very important for us because it helps us see what's happening at different scales. It helps us develop monitoring and modeling techniques, or fine-tune remediation procedures. Typically in remediation, you test on a very small scale, a few vials, etc. We can increase scale in the experiments we do. We can start in columns and tanks of a few centimeters, and scale up to multiple liters or even across a multi-metric platform, a 160m3 pilot platform. With that platform, we can work at all those scales in 1-D, 2-D, and 3-D. You can simulate in the lab the situation you find on the ground? Right, adding complexities, trying to recreate the situation on the ground. We can extrapolate what we'll do on the ground with the pilot, using models rooted in scale changes that make it easier to predict what will happen on the ground and what would happen given other conditions in other situations. We model all that via image interpretation and other geophysical methods. We'll send electric current into the ground to see what's happening based on how the current moves over time, if we've sent it down correctly. A patent for this dual image and geophysics process was recently submitted. Thanks a lot. Congratulations on the patent and your amazing 2021 work. Let's talk to Samuel Auclair. Hi, Samuel. You're going to tell us about crisis-management tools and fast earthquake-damage calculation tools. What's all that? An earthquake is completely unpredictable. It takes everyone off guard. First, government needs to step in to manage risks. They need quick summaries about the amplitude and intensity of the disaster and its consequences. What we've done up until now is quickly estimate the intensity of the quakes using only seismometer readings, coupled with other models that take into account local readings tied to specific sites, topographies, geological structures. The past few years, BRGM has been working on incorporating other monitors, specifically social monitors with data gathered from social media, Twitter especially. After an earthquake, people take out their phones to report about what just happened. We can gather that information automatically in real time as its own kind of sensor to help us calibrate our mapping of quake intensity. As part of an EU project called TURNkey, we worked on fusing together these data, vastly diverse data, physical and instrumental monitors coupled with social monitors, using those to complement an assessment that's very accurate, i.e. seismometers, but France is short on those instruments. Only a few hundred, not millions, so complementing those readings with very inaccurate but higher-volume outputs. We have "hard" readings on one hand and "soft" on the other, and we can fuse them with Bayesian networks to better calibrate our maps. Our results show an increment of reliability. That's very important, because if we can better estimate in real time, meaning minutes after seismic activity, if we're able to better calculate intensity, we can then better predict the damage it will cause. You mentioned social media, Twitter, and the tweets you gather to get a reading in real time through its soft data as part of a project called Suricate-Nat. Right, starting in 2016, we set up a platform with the MAIF Foundation to monitor social media, namely Twitter. That was the first step. We had to create a monitor, know how to read it, analyze it, take our first analyses, do our first screenings, and figure out how to get value out of it. What we did this year is we used the Suricate-Nat monitor to better calibrate our maps. You're a seismologist, but you don't just study seismic activity. Right, I said seismic activity is unique in its unpredictability, so we can only react to it. - No anticipating. - Exactly. Reacting quickly to estimate the amplitudes of the quakes. For other events like weather events, tornados, storms, tsunamis, you have to predict before the results are on the ground. BRGM is working in those areas as well, but the science problems you face are different. What's hard is our models work pretty well when we have the time to run those models, but they're slow, and seismic activity is so fast that we don't have time to run models as far as we'd like. Our approach is to model the model. We make metamodels that are much faster in their calculations, offering more compatibility with first responders, local governments, firefighters, etc. So, they're quicker and more useful for the use case. Exactly. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your work. Let's turn now to Marc Peruzetto, hello. Looking into preventing landslide risks, as we just spoke about mudslides, you carried out a study in 2021. Tell us about it. Sure. The study was part of a larger project that BRGM Martinique is leading at the request of DIREN Martinique. The study looks at the risks associated with mudslides in the Prêcheur River. It's a river in the north of Martinique, running along Mount Pelée. At the source of the river is a cliff called Samperre Cliff that for 50 years has been eroding. In that erosion, there's all kinds of sand, bricks, etc. piling at the cliff base. Then when it rains, the rainwater moves the debris in mudslides that wash into the river. They're dangerous for the village at the mouth of the river. There are two main risks. The first is overflow, which we saw in 2010. The mudslide can cause overflow, damage housing and endanger people. Infrastructure is also at risk. The bridge over the river can be destroyed, stranding villagers on the north bank, and leaving them no route for going south. - No other bridges? - No. Our project quantified those risks via digital simulation. We worked with the Paris Globe Institute of Physics using what's called a Chaltop model to model dynamics and the propagation of mudslides and the debris therein. There are two important points to remember with these tools. Yes. The first is that before simulating, know what you're simulating to be confident in it. The first step before simulating is gathering data in the field, all kinds of data. That's what we did. Topographical data, samples taken from the river, etc. That data will inform us of the parameters we'll use in the simulation, which will influence the slide, how fast or slow it is. That data also helps guide our simulation scenarios, usually debris volumes based on what's been seen in the past. That's the first point. Second is once we're at the point where we feel confident with our simulations, we use simulation results to quantify the village's risks. We do a whole battery of simulations of debris movement of differing volumes at differing speeds. We change the shape of the riverbed based on protective infrastructure on one bank, and seeing how different situations create different risks, typically how many buildings will be impacted. In real terms, that's very useful for government and stakeholders. You even went up in the air. I did. In 2022, sorry, 2021, I was doing a campaign there that took us on a helicopter with civil defense. It was important because in terms of data gathering, we got lots of photos of the river which you're seeing now, and from the photos we made a 3-D photogrammetric model. This is the upstream section of the river. It was important to model the state of the river at date T in the upstream section where mudslides generate. Specifically, we could estimate the potential volume of debris that could get moved during a mudslide. Did you move to Martinique for the study? No, I'm still based in France, but I've done two campaigns there of three weeks each. The first in 2019 working on my thesis. So I had a background in this research. Then again in 2021, when we made the photogrammetric model. The two visits were important for seeing what was happening on site, and using my own eyes to help me understand my modeling and data. I also got to talk to stakeholders, both BRGM Martinique and DIREN Martinique, as well as the Observatory of Vulcanology and Seismology on Mount Pelée, directed by the IPG, which contributed to the project. Is the study over? Yes, it is over. We submitted our report to DIREN. We have to do a presentation. Lots more to do, but the study is over. Thanks a lot and well done, great work. Thanks for the visuals. It made it real for us here. Thanks to all of you for presenting your work pertaining to our topic.

Mineral resources and the circular economy

BRGM held a webinar on 1 April 2021 to present a series of significant scientific advances made in 2021. Find out about advances in mineral resources and the circular economy.

This video features: Predictivity maps - Blandine Gourcerol / Bioleaching of mining waste - Anne-Gwenaëlle Guezennec.


BRGM Geosciences for a Sustainable Earth BRGM SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES 2021 Minerals and the Circular Economy Let's hear from Blandine Gourcerol. Hi there. As we just saw, metals are getting more specific, and there are more and more of them. To grapple with that trend, you work on predictive mapping. Correct. Predictive mapping is something BRGM has been working on for several years. We're working on two major projects, one that just wrapped, FRAME, which is a GeoERA project. GeoERA? GeoERA is from the European Commission funded by the H2020 program, bringing together twenty partner organizations. BRGM is one of them, led by Eric Gloaguen and Guillaume Bertrand working to put it together. The project looks to predict areas with high potential for deposits of seven substances, lithium, cobalt, rare earths, phosphates, niobium, tantalum, and... I'm forgetting one... We won't remember, don't worry. We see there's a lot! It's a Europe-wide project looking to predict areas with high potential for these metals using the CBA method, or cell-based association, which BRGM created to help overcome certain gaps in information in different geological sites. It also uses lithostratigraphy in the rock structures where these deposits can be found. That's the CBA method used in FRAME. Along with that, we have a new project called ION4RAW, a project likewise funded by the H2020 program, which got off the ground in 2019 to process the ore debris from gold, silver, and copper mining and derive smaller metals from them such as gallium, germanium, indium, and tellurium. These metals don't get derived with our current practices. One of the steps in that project was to find parts of Europe where we could find these metals, because they're not identifiable in the European databases we have. To that end, we used a new methodology called DBQ, likewise developed at BRGM, whereby we can increase our chances of finding them and draw from complementary sources that our algorithm factors in to identify areas with potential based on metallogenic families and elements associated with these metals. Both projects are complementary, and will perhaps help locate potentially available resources in Europe. Exactly. For an example of predictive mapping, you see two maps on the screen developed for the ION4RAW project. They were developed using DBQ to find cobalt. One innovation we've made is regrouping certain smaller metals to predict geological processes. We have predictive mapping for epithermal deposits so we can see where to find smaller metals in the Balkans and Carpathians, typically associated with a metal family that we can't find in any of the databases. Are these important metals for the green transition? - Absolutely. - OK. Are these maps publicly available? Yes, online. They're published for ION4RAW and available on the site of the European Commission. For FRAME, seven maps were made for the seven substances, which are also available online for anyone to see. We know where to look. Exactly. Thanks a lot. Thanks for your work. I'm sure it'll prove very important in the coming years. Let's stay on this topic with Anne-Gwenaëlle Guezennec. We're looking for solutions for securing metal supply. We talked about recovering ores. That's something you work on in the NEMO project started in 2018. You look at bioleaching ores. I'll let you tell us more. Yes, hi. So, in the NEMO project, we do something BRGM has a lot of expertise in, and that's bioleaching. To extract metals found in mining ores, we can dissolve them using pretty strong chemical reactions, but in bioleaching, we use micro-organisms, bacteria specifically, that have characteristics we typically find in extreme environments like mines. The bacteria create chemical reactions when they come in contact with the ores, namely iron and sulfur. For example, the bacteria can create sulfuric acid from sulfur found in the ores. As you can see, it's an interesting process because it's less chemically intensive than other methods. Another advantage is the bacteria work at relatively low temperatures, between 40 and 50 degrees at atmospheric pressure. With other methods, you have to work at much higher temperatures. Those methods also require high pressures in the hundreds of bars. We save a lot of energy working with micro-organisms. Once again, we have a green process, like we spoke about earlier. Yes, exactly. The impact of this method on the environment is rather limited compared to more chemically intensive ones. Where does NEMO come in? The NEMO project is a massive EU project funded through the H2020 program. It brings together 15 partners, which are public research organizations, universities, as well as small businesses and major corporations. It's an interesting project in that it's focused on recovering ores in European mining operations. Our two case studies look at two different mines in Finland. The project's also interesting in that it aims to develop methods for recovering ores and creating demonstrations. So, we're looking at a level of development that's rather high. What are the goals? The goal of the project is to be able to recycle 95% of what's found in recovered ores and stabilize the 5% left over. Of course, we're looking to extract value from the recovered ores, but we're also looking for ways to use the useless leftover material called gangue. Some of my colleagues are developing procedures for transforming the gangue into valuable construction materials. Nothing goes to waste? Some small fraction won't be able to be recycled, but we hope to get that down to 5% of the ore that can't be recycled. So, one of the goals is to produce the sought-after metals we just mentioned, the other is to derive value and limit waste after the recovery. And bolster EU sovereignty? Yes, precisely. Are these technologies still in the pilot phase? Yes, they are. We're working with immense volumes. To give you an example, we received five tonnes of ore from each of the mines we're working with and we processed all of it. We recovered metals through the bioleaching process. Then, we... In the photo, you see a 2-m3 vat that we use to process the ores. From there, we recover the metals and send the gangue, the leftover material, to our colleagues to make construction materials from it. What's also original here is we're developing a digital model that's helping us to scale up and devise solutions for this process on an industrial scale. That's something very new. It's common in other industries, but not much in ours because our processes are so complex. The way our processes can interact is also very complex, but certain advances have been made in our field. Our ability to calculate is also much greater than before. Philippe mentioned that. It's why today, as you can see, we're able to imagine applications on an industrial scale. Well done. Thanks a lot to all three of you. Congratulations on these advances in a field the whole world is monitoring.

The energy transition and subsurface space

BRGM held a webinar on 1 April 2021 to present a series of significant scientific advances made in 2021. Find out more about the advances in the field of the energy transition.

This video features: Lithium-rich geothermal brines - Laurent André / Performance analysis method for "energy systems involving the subsurface" - Thomas Le Guénan.


BRGM SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES 2021 The Green Transition and Subsoil I mentioned geothermal brine in France that contains lithium. Laurent André, you're a geochemist, tell us more. You'll also tell us about using geothermal brine as a heat source. Hello. I'm going to talk about geothermal brine. Before beginning, what we can do first is say what geothermal brine is. Geothermal brine is a liquid found at different depths that tends to be hot, as per the name, and that tends to be pressurized, with high salt concentrations. By that I mean groundwater with salt concentrations greater than in seawater. Geothermal brines achieve their chemical composition and get infused with salts as they travel underground and interact with rocks either through rock fractures or through porous rock. Brines are useful for their energy potential. They can generate not only heat but electricity as well. What's unique about brines is they also contain substances with high economic value. They can contain any number of substances dissolved in them such as silica, magnesium, as well as metals. The most well known and discussed is lithium. A critical mineral. A critical mineral indeed. In geothermal brines from the Upper Rhine Plain, lithium concentrations can reach around 150 to 200 milligrams per liter. Those are pretty high concentrations, so we can co-produce multiple products from that brine, using it for heat and energy, and also producing and creating value from mineral extraction. Do we know how to extract the lithium? It's very difficult because the brines are so highly concentrated that other elements in the concentration impede the extraction. We try to do selective recovery or selective extraction. BRGM is working with industry on extraction processes. Today, we were supposed to have Romain Millot and Bernard Sanjuan present on the EuGeLi project. That's an EU project BRGM is involved in with Eramet and others, working on solid-liquid lithium extraction from geothermal brines. It should be noted that in 2021, the very first kilograms of lithium carbonate were extracted from geothermal brine from the Upper Rhine Plain. For the first time ever, kilograms... That deserves a hooray! A first in Europe. Kilograms of lithium carbonate were extracted at the Rittershoffen plant. On the screen, you see those first samples. We're also involved in other projects, France-based projects such as Géodénergies, the Thermali project, Adionics, where we work with liquid-liquid recovery. In those projects, BRGM is involved in various capacities, both securing that resource, as when you want to co-produce from one resource, you want to guarantee that the resource will be available. We're involved with extraction processes, optimizing those procedures using geochemical modeling. As you said, there's a lot to be extracted from brine, but this isn't without consequences, injecting, reinjecting, extracting, etc. Absolutely. It's important to note that at the outset, the brines are balanced underground. Chemically and thermally balanced. When we extract them and take energy and lithium salts from them, we offset their chemical and thermal balance. Change their properties? Yes, one of the consequences can be higher reactivity, which is likely to create things like mineral deposits somewhere in the cycle. There can be deposits in the heat exchangers, in the wells, or in the reservoir. In the Horizon 2020 REFLECT project, we're working on predicting and anticipating those kinds of risks to aid industry in their extraction of lithium carbonate and other substances. Is there economic value in co-production? There certainly is economic value in co-production. The key word in all this is co-production. That means using geothermal brine for both energy and recovering its heat, which helps us to be more energy independent, then there's also recovering and extracting minerals. With that, we really optimize the economic values in brines, while addressing issues of independence and sovereignty through supply of minerals. Thanks, we keep coming back to sovereignty. It's very important. Thanks! I'll hand it over to Thomas Le Guénan. You work on subsurface energy systems and creating analytical methods. Absolutely, I'll be talking about a project that deals with TRL assessments trying to develop an analytical methodology for global performance of subsurface energy systems. The subsurface energy systems BRGM is interested in are CO2-storage systems, other storage systems for gases like hydrogen. - As we mentioned. - Storing heat, deep and shallow geothermal systems. Our project was born from a realization at BRGM. We often did two types of work in parallel. We kept technical issues on one side, like what Laurent just talked about, extracting heat and energy. On the other side, we analyzed risks. We have a lot of expertise in that area. This project looked at how we can combine the two sides to strengthen connections across all of BRGM's silos. What for? To answer that, I have to define performance. I'll simplify it. Good performance in a project means best responding to stakeholder expectations. Industry will have technical and financial expectations. National and local government will expect greater environmental performance. That's one way, one global, systemic approach that helps us to grapple with different goals, different expectations, and compare the technical goals with public-relations goals, etc. I'll use an example. With a hydrogen-storage unit, we can determine its size based on its flow rate, meaning the amount of hydrogen we can inject or extract per unit of time. The flow rate determines its technical performance because the more you extract, the more energy you get or the more you store. That determines its economic performance. We can better serve our clients by quickly providing them with the service they need. That also determines environmental performance because flow rates that are too high can cause mechanical problems. So, you see that by taking a global approach, one parameter has an effect across the performance spectrum. Risks are possible. Yes, we talk a lot about safety risks and environmental risks. The main risks we look at are leaks, loss of integrity, mechanical problems, typically resulting from seismic activity. Certain visions of risk can be a bit limited. Looking only at the risks, your best option is not using subsurface systems because you'll always have associated risks. We take a broader, global view of the risks. We see risk in light of our goals. What's the likelihood that we don't reach our goals? This project created a global risk methodology looking at different scenarios like a parallel reality. Within each scenario, you have to account for variables because we don't know everything about the subsurface. There are always variables. From there, we get a series of parallel realities, all our models put together. Performance doesn't look for an average based on one use case, but across all scenarios put side by side. It requires developing specific methods and models. Then checking your work and optimizing it. Exactly. Samuel mentioned metamodels. That's one our methodologies. The most reliable models are the hardest to use to their full capacity, so we need lighter ones. These methodologies we're still... Continuing to work on. An advance that's still underway. - Yes. - Thanks a lot. Thanks, all three of you, for presenting on this topic.

Digital data, services and infrastructure

BRGM held a webinar on 1 April 2021 to present a series of significant scientific advances made in 2021. Find out about advances in digital data, services and infrastructure.

This video features: Water transfer at great depth in Reunion Island - Bertrand Aunay / The digital platform concept: EPOS and Vigirisks - Jean-Baptiste Roquencourt / New digital standards on water data - Sylvain Grellet.


BRGM SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES 2021 Data, services and digital infrastructure We'll hear from Bertrand Aunay in Réunion Island. Can you hear us, Bertrand? Yes, loud and clear. Hi, everyone. The connection's good. Hi there. Thanks for joining us this afternoon. Philippe Calcagno just mentioned the amazing project that you're leading on Réunion Island, tackling how to transport water using very unique techniques. Can you tell us a bit about it? I think before I talk about the project, I'll explain the context. It's typical of Réunion Island. The project began in the '80s. Like Philippe was saying, it was to transport water from the rainy east of the island to the west via a system of various tunnels. That started back in the '80s, several tunnels were built over the decades, and then in 2001, one of the tunnels, one of the last ones to be dug, struck a large water reserve that forced the site to shut down for four years. That posed a heavy financial burden, and the scientists wondered why this particular zone had such a large water reserve. To avoid running into that problem again, local government called on BRGM to undertake new projects and works, correct? Exactly right, there's a project for a new tunnel that BRGM will be taking on, and as it so happens, the tunnel is near to the large water reserve. Local government and the Réunion water department really want to know if there's any risk of striking another major water reserve. This is a case where we're helping government to tackle this very poignant issue for governance and the water department. It's a hard question to tackle as scientists, because the water table is 1,000 meters deep. There's no way to probe that depth, etc. Our challenge is having a 3-D map of the water-table layout to avoid striking another reserve. You devised an innovative solution, tell us about it. We did. We implemented something BRGM has never done before. We produced 3-D imaging at depths of 1,000 meters. First, we took data from 2014 when, like all French Overseas Territories, Réunion Island underwent an aerial geophysical survey. In short, an aerial geophysical survey is a helicopter flying in straight lines north-south, east-west, sending electrical waves into the water table. The water table reacts, agitating the water particles, and we record that reaction. It can tell us if there's a lot of clay or if we're looking at solid rock. We can get an idea of structure and create a geophysical model, which isn't what we see here. That was the images we had up before. From there we can build a geological model. BRGM has never done imaging at this depth before. I mentioned the survey taken in 2014, it only went down 300-400 m. In 2021, we carried out a new survey to try to get down to 1,000 m. That was a challenge, but we were able to get down near to 1,000 m. Lastly, one of the ways we were similar to the Datanum program is we concatenated all the data from the near surface, i.e. the 2014 data at 300-400 m, with data at deeper depths, i.e. the 1,000-m data. All the data was concatenated as a 3-D slab... When you say concatenate, you mean put together? Compiling all the data. Compiling, then modeling the data to get a geological model, then "poured water through it", looking at how the water moves. This was an iterative process rooted in dialogue between geologists, hydrogeologists, and geophysicists to get the most accurate model possible from our exchanges, despite the fact we had little calibration data. Input from the hydrogeology side helped us piece together the geophysical models, which is how we got to our rather robust model. A robust, reliable model needed to go ahead with the tunnels. Is the project over? We're on the tail end of the project. We'll send in our report very shortly. What's interesting is that this project is operational, so it started with a scientific dilemma and the fruit of the project is something very operational. First in the hands of government, then project managers, with mapping of the hydrogeological risks and estimates of subsurface flows that can be encountered when digging the new tunnel, so various risk scenarios that are very operational. This we have to publish, which we hope to do soon. Do you have an idea of when? The report is due shortly. We hope results will be out in a few months. OK. Thanks, and kudos on this great work. Back to our panel here in Orléans. Hello, Jean-Baptiste Roquencourt. You'll expand on what Matthew Harrison was speaking about. Absolutely, but first, what's a digital platform? It sounds a bit abstract at first. Using an iceberg as an analogy, a digital platform is a website, but behind it is a rich network of things. BRGM is working on a number of digital platforms. I want to talk to you about Epos and Vigirisks. Epos first. Epos is a way to bring together all available Earth-science data. That's data on seismic activity, vulcanological data relating to volcanoes, and mineral-resource data. Epos is kind of like Google for scientific data. - Offering any and all data out there? - Exactly. But only looking at Europe, France included therein, along with its Overseas Territories. Epos has been up since 2021. This year, it'll undergo a massive content and user-experience overhaul. It occurred to us that use of our website has changed. The purpose of this platform is to be able to look at all this data. It took a long time to create, to store all the data, and make it available for scientists, the public, and public officials. Vigirisks demonstrates how it works. Exactly right. Vigirisks uses Epos data. Epos is a bit complicated because the data comes from different fields, it's all over the place. To understand Epos, let's say I asked you to build me a computer. You need a graphics card, a case, a screen, but I give you copper and a soldering iron and tell you good luck. That's a challenge. I couldn't do it. Exactly. So, what Epos does is it makes it easier to crossbreed data to carry our knowledge further. Coming back to Vigirisks, that platform uses scientific data and the skills of our scientists to process data in vast amounts that help policy makers in regional government. I'll offer up a scenario. I want to pick out clothes and shoes for tomorrow, so I check the weather. I can look to see if there'll be inclement weather, or I can choose to get specific to time and what kind of terrain I'll be walking on: concrete, stone, or will I be walking on soil? Once I know that, I can then decide boots, perhaps moccasins, or perhaps hiking shoes. Vigirisks, relating to that analogy, in that same way, I'm going to get specific to what I'm looking at. Take a road in the Cévennes with rocks nearby. I'll put up rock-fall barriers around a work site. Do the barriers need reinforcing? I look at precipitation data over a longer period of time. I'll also look at the make-up of the rock. All that information can be found in Epos. Depending on what I find, I adapt my works project. All together, it lets us assess risks and offer recommendations to public organizations about whether or not it's necessary to reinforce barriers, etc. You see how digital platforms use scientific data almost like fuel. You can't do much without data. We take scientific data, crossbreed it, and process it on our digital platforms to reach scientific conclusions to grow scientific knowledge and give us insights into risks that various groups may encounter. It makes decision-making easier? Exactly. Our scientists come in with special tools and skills they use to interpret data, and make sense of this complex mass of data and data processing to help inform public policy. But to get there, data needs to be collected, which is quite an undertaking, as we'll hear from Sylvain Grellet. - Hi, Sylvain. - Hi. The immense undertaking of producing and managing data is what creates standards, right? Yes. Piggybacking off Jean-Baptiste, you can have a great platform, but without data, it's like an excellent car with no energy source, gas or electricity. Data are the heart of the thing. I'll use a metaphor to explain what my job is, summed up in this comic you see here. A number of studies have shown that it takes forever to gather data from outside partners and understand it before using it. Looking at this comic, my job is the first and second slide together, necessary so my colleagues can do their job. The metaphor I wanted to use is computers, like Jean-Baptiste said. Let's say you want to connect a new device to your laptop, a mouse, a printer, etc., it takes no time because it's all been set up for you. The idea of "plug and play" in the '90s when I was young was more like plugging, futzing around for hours with equipment and researching in hopes of being able to play. That's what we want to do with data. We're fortunate in this day and age. For the past two decades, there have been groups out there like BRGM that structure information and find ways to describe hydrogeological phenomena, describe a rock sample. We're lucky not to start from scratch. The second point worth remembering in a research group is that not a day goes by that we don't hear about climate change, health crises, and financial crises. Research groups can no longer afford to work alone reinventing the wheel before sharing. We can root ourselves in the collective expertise that I already mentioned, with freer and more open data exchange between people and platforms, and within platforms. That all depends on interoperability, which we talk a lot about in our reports. Standards are created through a collective effort born from observation of the environment, as you said, and hydrology. Exactly. 2021 was a very active year. We came near the final step of something started in 2019, a revision of the international standard on how to describe and structure observations and samples. It's used on environmental platforms, as well as things that have nothing to do with the environment. It's an ISO standard, so it's used the world over. We submitted a draft, one of the stages of submission to the ISO, and we hope to see approval this year. Meaning... It'll be certified, usable, and recommended across industries and platforms, be they scientific, digital, etc. The second standard we worked on in 2021 is called GroundWaterML 2. BRGM helped initiate this standard. It's for describing underground hydrogeological resources. It's important to note how standards get better the more they're used. To this standard, we added observations from the field, with input from the Epos community Jean-Baptiste mentioned. We improved the standard via field experience. That's the second piece. The third piece is the new API. There's a lot to unpack there. It's a digital tool allowing servers to exchange observation data, so we have a new international API called SensorThings API. Using tests carried out by BRGM using data from BRGM as well as Pôle INSIDE, a joint OFB-BRGM pole, to look at water data from all over, we pushed standards as far as we could. Those have been our major projects. Anyone can use these standards? Yes, absolutely. Is it subject to regulation? No, it's not. We want best-practices groups to push them, but in Europe there are different regulations we have to deal with regarding open science, the INSPIRE Directive, and open data. When working on SensorThings API, we worked in tandem with the EC's Joint Research Centre tasked with seeing through INSPIRE to get another rubber stamp from the INSPIRE side, to tell everyone if you use it, you're on track, your data is interoperable for exchange between organizations. - Thanks a lot. - No problem. You made it understandable. It's not easy to understand for us non-experts. Thanks for your time, and well done on all these advances, thank you.