Utrecht University has great ambitions for its teaching quality and study success rates. This also applies to its clear research profiles which are centred around four themes: Dynamics of Youth, Institutions, Life Sciences and Sustainability. Utrecht University plays a prominent role in our society and contributes to finding the answers to topical and future societal issues. UU wishes to be a home for everyone. We value staff with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and identities, including cultural, religious or ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. We strive to create a safe and inclusive environment in which everyone can flourish and contribute.

PhD position on Caprock integrity during temporary hydrogen storage in porous reservoirs (4 years)

Are you interested in the energy transition and keen to apply experimental rock mechanics to explore cutting-edge hydrogen storage solutions? The Department of Earth Sciences currently seeks a highly-motivated and ambitious candidate for a PhD position at its High Pressure and Temperature Laboratory (HPT), run by the Experimental Rock Deformation group.

As society is trying to move towards a clean, low-carbon energy system, hydrogen is expected to play an important role, as it is a versatile energy carrier. Green hydrogen, produced from renewable electricity like wind and solar power, can be used as a fuel to (re-)generate electricity and/or heat, or serve as feedstock for the chemical industry. However, wind and solar power are of an intermittent nature, meaning that large-scale storage of hydrogen fuel is required to balance seasonal variations in energy supply and demand, as well as to provide strategic energy reserves. Large quantities of hydrogen can be stored in the subsurface, for example in salt caverns or depleted oil/gas reservoirs. While temporary (days-weeks) salt cavern storage is considered to be mature enough to be applied, seasonal storage of pure hydrogen in porous sedimentary reservoirs is not yet sufficiently proven. This PhD study is part of the HyTROS programme (WP2) funded by GroenvermogenNL, a Dutch programme aimed at accelerating the green hydrogen market. The HyTROS consortium is a public-private collaboration between 11 universities, 2 research institutes, 2 academia of applied sciences and 19 industrial partners.

Safe and efficient underground hydrogen storage in porous reservoirs is partly determined by maintaining integrity of the sealing caprock formation. Thermo-hydro-chemo-mechanical changes in the caprock may lead to the creation of leakage pathways and/or movement along (pre-existing) fractures and faults. Many potential Dutch and European storage reservoirs are overlain by clay-rich formations. One of the key mechanisms that may occur within clay-rich caprock is the sorption of hydrogen to the clay-matrix. This sorption may lead to the development of swelling stresses and strains, which could impact potential leakage pathways in intact caprock or along pre-existing faults. In addition, direct pressure changes or thermal stresses could cause fault reactivation.

In this PhD study, you will be performing rock mechanical experiments to assess and quantify the stress-strain-sorption behaviour of clay-rich caprock in the presence of hydrogen. This will form the basis to identify grain-scale mechanisms that may impact the transport properties and frictional behaviour of clay-rich caprock during cyclic hydrogen pressure changes. Building on existing microphysical theory, you will cast your results in the form of constitutive relations, which can be used in numerical simulations performed by other partners in the HyTROS consortium. Throughout the study, you will regularly interact with the other consortium partners and present your results to a broader audience.

A personalised training programme will be set up, reflecting your training needs and career objectives. About 20% of your time will be dedicated to this training component, which includes training on the job in assisting in the Bachelor's and Master's programmes of the department at Utrecht University.

If you are thrilled to dive deep into the potential of sustainable energy storage solutions and work closely with industry leaders, this is a great opportunity for you! This position offers you the chance to explore your passion for renewable energy solutions, and boost your career with high-impact research in a field that is rapidly growing.


The successful applicant will hold a Master's degree in geosciences, physics, or material science, with good quantitative and programming skills, ultimately obtained before the start of the position. Ideally, you will have experience in Earth Materials research, such as in rock mechanics or rock physics.

Given the highly interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the study, excellent communication skills (written and spoken English at least at C1 level) and interpersonal skills are essential. In return, you will be part of a diverse, international team in an inspiring environment.

If you already have a PhD degree, unfortunately, we cannot consider you for this position.

Terms of employment:

You will be offered a full-time PhD position, initially for one year with extension to four years in total upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross monthly salary starts with € 2,770 in the first year and increases to € 3,539 in the fourth year of employment with a full-time appointment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8,3% per year. A pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities.

In addition to the collective employment conditions, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. These include agreements on professional development, leave arrangements, sports and cultural schemes, and you get discounts on software and other IT products. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment through the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we encourage you to grow. For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.

About the organisations:

Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With a population of 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Physical Geography, Sustainable Development, and Human Geography & Spatial Planning.

The Department of Earth Sciences conducts teaching and research across the full range of the solid Earth and environmental Earth sciences, with activities in almost all areas of geology, geochemistry, geophysics, biogeology and hydrogeology. The department hosts a highly international tenured staff of over 50 scientists and more than 110 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. Our research programme spans four intertwined themes: Climate & Life, Earth interior, Earth materials, and Environmental Earth Sciences. We house or have access to a wide variety of world-class laboratories, including our HPT-laboratory.

About Utrecht:

Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands with a population of nearly 360,000 and forms a hub in the middle of the country. Its historical city centre and its modern central station can easily be reached from our campus in Utrecht Science Park by public transport or by a 15-minute bicycle ride. Utrecht boasts beautiful canals with extraordinary wharf cellars housing cafés and terraces by the water, as well as a broad variety of shops and boutiques.

Additional information:

For informal questions, please contact Dr Suzanne Hangx at s.j.t.hangx@uu.nl or Dr André Niemeijer at a.r.niemeijer@uu.nl.

How to apply:

To apply, please use this link to go to the advertisement on UU's own website and follow the guidelines mentioned there. We aim for a quick selection procedure after the application deadline of May 15th, 2024. Selected candidates will be invited for an interview in week 26 or 27. The preferable starting date is no later than October 1st, 2024.

Note that international candidates that need a visa/work permit for the Netherlands require at least four months processing time after selection and acceptance. This will be arranged with help of the International Service Desk (ISD) of our university. Finding appropriate housing in or near Utrecht is your own responsibility and, unfortunately, we must warn that it is a tight market at the moment. In case of general questions about working and living in The Netherlands, please consult the Dutch Mobility Portal.

Online screening may be part of the selection. Commercial response to this ad is not appreciated.

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posted: 30 April 2024     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.