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Geoenvironmental Research Centre

Looking to the Earth to provide new energy sources and solutions to waste.

Around the world, the legacy of past industrial activity such as the presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) worldwide and the current disposal of waste have had damaging effects on world populations. Today, as climate change becomes more apparent and developing countries experience mushrooming economic growth, the need to find new solutions to waste and energy sources is even more pressing.

We at the Geoenvironmental Research Centre (GRC) are shaping the future by tackling the problems caused by the environmental effects of waste, regionally and around the world, and are providing new solutions to energy generation. Problems associated with contaminated land, landfill engineering, land reclamation, slope stability, waste disposal, including high level nuclear waste, and heat losses from buried objects, are aspects of the centre’s research, together with the influence of environmental conditions on the performance of underground distribution systems. The growing demand for energy, climate change and a carbon constrained future mean that the geo-environmental agenda is of increasing strategic importance globally. With its wide remit of work and interdisciplinary expertise, we are well positioned to play a major part in developing pragmatic solutions to such challenges.

Led by Professor Hywel Thomas, the Centre was established in 1996 and has been a leader in the field of geo-environmental engineering. The Centre has brought together practitioners, experts, universities, industry, international organisations and governments to tackle geo-environmental issues both at home and abroad.

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Our mission is to undertake research and development; to provide leadership and education; and to engage with industry at the leading edge of the geoenvironmental arena.


Researching sources of energy

We are currently leading a major research project in the geo-energy area, the Seren project, which is focussing on ground source heat, geothermal energy from old coal mines, GIS based decision support systems (geo-informatics), and advanced computational modelling of ground source heat processes. New models of soil behaviour are being developed by us to help understand the thermo/physico/chemical processes that are important in these applications. As part of this project, we are helping businesses to develop new products, services and technologies for the emerging geo-energy sector, creating new jobs and businesses in the process and contributing to Wales’s drive for improved energy security. The research is part of a £10 million project funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) under the Convergence programme.

Managing contamination

Further afield, our ground-breaking research has helped shape the design of some of the world’s first nuclear repositories and manage land contaminated by persistent organic pollutants. We are working with the governments of Nigeria and Ghana to establish two new satellite Geoenvironmental Research Centres aimed at dealing with persistent organic pollutants. The Centre and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation are overseeing the establishment of these new facilities, both of which will be directly linked to the Centre and will continue to develop and apply its work.

Leaders in our field

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) renewed our Chair in the Development of a Sustainable Geoenvironment to March 2016. It has invited us to consider developing collaborations with organisations such as the International Hydrology Programme, the World Water Assessment Programme, the Regional Centre for Capacity Building and Research in Water Harvesting in Sudan and the Avicenna Global Campus to focus on issues related to sustainable groundwater management, geothermal energy, distance learning and rainwater harvesting.



We are proud to announce their involvement in the recently launched FLEXIS project.

The five-year, £24m EU-backed project was announced today by Welsh Government Finance Minister Jane Hutt AM during a visit to the University.

FLEXIS is a pan-Wales energy research project. Led by Cardiff University, FLEXIS includes the leading energy academics from Cardiff University, Swansea University and the University of South Wales, FLEXIS will focus on the development of an energy systems research capability in Wales, building on the world-class capability that already exists in these Universities in the energy area.

The project will tackle some of the most pressing issues currently facing society, such as climate change, rising energy prices and fuel poverty.

The main objectives of the project will be to develop collaborations with companies that will result in an increase in research funding coming into Wales, which in turn will result in a substantial increase in the number of good quality researchers working in this area.

SAFE Barriers - A Systems Approach to Engineered Barriers

This is a multidisciplinary project, funded by EPSRC and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), looking into the THMC evolution of Engineered Barrier Systems (EBS) under a range of environmental conditions. The programme takes a whole systems approach to the EBS, underpinned by the development of novel advanced monitoring techniques. The total cost of the project is £1.3M and will be running until September 2016.

SAFE Barriers is a joint project between the Universities of Strathclyde, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford and the British Geological Survey. A series of laboratory experiments will be carried out in which advanced monitoring technologies will be deployed and refined for simultaneous imaging of THMC variables. The information obtained will be used to gain a predictive understanding of the THMC evolution of clay-based engineered barriers, and their interfaces. A team of researchers at the GRC is investigating the aspects of compacted clay behaviour under elevated temperatures up to 150°C through an extensive experimental and theoretical programme.


We conduct research at the cutting edge of the geoenvironmental and geotechnical fields, with a commitment to serve the local and national research needs of industry.

Equipped with a wide range of traditional and state-of-the-art super-computing systems, our centrepiece is a newly installed data visualisation suite for stereoscopic projection and for the 3D VR exploration of geoenvironmental problems.

We are also equipped with extensive geotechnical and geoenvironmental experimental laboratory facilities. This includes a 100G large 3m-diameter geotechnical centrifuge for the simulation and modelling of geotechnical structures and processes.

The Geoenvironmental Research Park, or GRP, is a £5M consortium project led by us. The GRP performs large scale R&D, in situ field testing and demonstration projects for Objective 1 environmental SMEs. Its base site is in Port Talbot and it has further satellite sites across Wales.

We are the lead partner in a pan-European infrastructure co-operation network, benefiting from access to a wide variety of European-based facilities and expertise via the GeoEnvNet project. The class of infrastructure covered by the network includes large-scale testing facilities, large-scale computing facilities and centres of competence.

As the founding member of the highly successful all-Wales Land Regeneration Network (LRN), we held workshops, seminars and networking sessions for the delivery and dissemination of valuable industry information. The LRN co-hosted and supported numerous launches and public consultations for environmental stakeholders in Wales.

In addition to high specification PCs the Centre uses the newly procured cluster managed by Advanced Research Computing @ Cardiff (ARCCA), boasting 2048 3.0GHz processing cores and a high-performance interconnect. Facilities also include a distributed computing system that utilises the large quantity of spare CPU time available on desktop PCs around the university.

Experimental equipment includes leaching columns and triaxial permeameters; computer-controlled triaxial testing equipment; graviometric and volumetric pressure plate extractor equipment; and a large scale shear box.

Analytical facilities are also available for solids, liquids and gases, such as X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence, electron microscopy, gas chromatography, ion chromatography, and atomic absorption spectrometry.

Next steps


Research that matters

Our research makes a difference to people’s lives as we work across disciplines to tackle major challenges facing society, the economy and our environment.


Postgraduate research

Our research degrees give the opportunity to investigate a specific topic in depth among field-leading researchers.


Our research impact

Our research case studies highlight some of the areas where we deliver positive research impact.