How to Use the Well Feature in Subsurface Flow Models

Nancy Bannach August 21, 2017
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As of version 5.3 of the COMSOL Multiphysics® software, the Subsurface Flow Module includes useful new features that enable you to set up complex modeling tasks more efficiently. For example, when modeling wells, meshing is significantly easier and is more intuitive to set up with the Well feature. In this blog post, we look at the Well feature, discussing how to use it and ways it enhances the modeling process.

Modeling Wells in COMSOL Multiphysics®

Modeling subsurface flow problems often deals with large modeling domains that are exposed to sources or sinks of a comparatively small size.

Previously, wells were introduced in COMSOL Multiphysics as small 3D cylinders in a large layered subsurface domain, as shown in this blog post about coupling heat transfer and porous media flow in a geothermal doublet. This approach was necessary to apply suitable boundary conditions and involved meshing small objects.

With the Well boundary condition — new in COMSOL Multiphysics 5.3 — the cylinders can be replaced by edges, which is better for the meshing algorithm and requires less meshing. The highlight of this feature is that it provides accurate solutions compared to resolving details explicitly. Let’s discuss the Well boundary condition in more detail.

The Settings for the Well Boundary Condition

We first want to get familiar with the new boundary condition and its settings. The Well boundary condition is available as a Point feature in 2D and an Edge feature in 3D and can be used with the Darcy’s Law, Richards’ Equation and Two-Phase Darcy’s Law interfaces. With this boundary condition, you can choose whether the well is an injection or production well and specify either the pressure or mass flow. The images below show some of the different options that are available.

Screenshot of the settings for the Darcy's Law, Richards' Equation interface.
Screenshot of the Two-Phase Darcy's Law interface Settings window in COMSOL Multiphysics®.

The settings for the modeling of an injection well with the Darcy’s Law, Richards’ Equation interface (left) and the Two-Phase Darcy’s Law interface (right), where the saturation must also be specified.

Comparing Two Approaches for Modeling Wells

Let’s now see how the Well boundary condition compares with other options for modeling wells. For illustration purposes, we use a basic model, as shown in the image below.

A schematic of a well geometry.
Model geometry of a well with a radius of 0.5 m in a reservoir that has a radius of 20 m, height of 3 m, and is surrounded by an infinite elements domain.

Infinite elements are used so that we can apply a pressure at a large distance from the well without increasing the modeling domain. The geometry shown here resolves the well as a cylindrical surface. To be able to apply a boundary condition, the well cylinder must be cut out of the reservoir. Alternatively, a Mass Flux edge condition can be used — but only if we want to apply a mass flux, not a pressure. As of COMSOL Multiphysics 5.3, the Well boundary condition is available, which is suitable for pressure as well as mass flux conditions.

We compare the mesh in the two cases using exactly the same mesh settings. Here, we have 65,674 domain elements for the case where the well is fully resolved versus 28,728 domain elements when using the Well boundary condition. That is less than half the number of mesh elements.

Side-by-side images comparing the mesh of a well model.
Comparison of the mesh using the same settings between the case with a fully resolved well and when the Well boundary condition is used.

This advantage is only useful if we get an accurate solution. Continuing with this test case, we apply a mass flow rate, M0, of 1 kg/s at the well. This corresponds to a mass flux, N0, at the boundary with area, A, of N_0=\frac{M_0}{A}. The mass flux at the edge of length, l, is N_{0,\textrm{e}}=\frac{M_0}{l}. The pressure is fixed at the outer infinite element boundaries.

A 1D plot of the pressure along the centerline shows almost perfect agreement with the approaches outside of the well.

A plot of the pressure along a cut line of a well.
Comparison of the pressure along a cut line.

In contrast to specifying the mass flux on the edge, the Well feature accounts for the well radius, even if it is not resolved explicitly. To evaluate the pressure at the well, the Mass Flux edge feature is not suitable, since the expansion in the radial direction is not considered. The Well boundary condition provides a variable, dl.well1.p, which gives the well pressure.

Application of Coupled Heat Transfer and Porous Media Flow: Geothermal Doublet

The Well boundary condition can be used in the geothermal doublet example mentioned earlier. We use a slightly modified version of the model that is featured in the previous blog post. In this case, geothermal groundwater is produced through the production well at a rate of 150 l/s. The water is reinjected at the same rate after it has been used for heat generation with a temperature of 5°C. A horizontal hydraulic gradient of 2 mm/m is applied at the outer boundaries.

A side-by-side comparison of the geometry and mesh of a geothermal doublet.
Model setup (left) and mesh (right) of the geothermal doublet model.

Prior to COMSOL Multiphysics 5.3, the production and injection wells were drawn as cylinders embedded in the geological formations, and the mass and heat fluxes were defined on the cylinders’ surfaces by using Inlet and Outlet boundary conditions for Darcy’s law and Temperature and Outflow boundary conditions for heat transfer.

Now, the wells are defined by single edges, and the new Well and Line Heat Source features are used for defining the mass and heat fluxes. The settings for both features are shown below.

Side-by-side screenshots of the Well feature and Line Heat Source feature.
The settings for the Well (left) and Line Heat Source features (right).

In the Well feature, you specify the mass flow rate at the injection well by setting M0 = 150 l/s ρwater. The density of water is specified in the Materials node, which is accessed by the expression mat5.def.rho. For the line heat source, we define the source term per unit length according to Ql = MlCpΔT. Here, Ml is the mass flow rate per unit length and is automatically calculated by the Well feature (dl.well1.Ml); Cp is the specific heat capacity of water ( mat5.def.Cp); and ΔT = TinjT is the temperature difference between the injection temperature and the actual temperature.

With the Well feature, there are about 8% fewer mesh elements (118,000 versus 126,000) as compared to the model that uses cylinders as boreholes; and the simulation runs approximately 10% faster (31 minutes versus 26 minutes). The animation below shows the evolution of the temperature over 5 years.


The evolution of temperature in the geothermal reservoir over five years.

To prove that the Well feature gives the same results as the corresponding boundary condition on a cylindrical surface, we compare the results of the production temperature. We can see that there is very good agreement between the results.

A graph comparing the production temperature for both modeling options.
Comparison of the production temperature for both modeling options.

Concluding Thoughts on the Well Feature

In this blog post, we have seen that the new Well boundary condition can improve performance as well as make it easier to model wells. We have also learned about the background and how the coupling to heat transfer is set up. To see other new features in the Subsurface Flow Module as of COMSOL Multiphysics 5.3, head to the Release Highlights page.

Further Resources on Modeling Subsurface Flow Problems


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  1. Michael Rembe August 24, 2017   9:18 am

    Dear Mrs. Bannnach,

    thank you very much for your very interesting blog and your detailed explanations. I confirm, that the well boundary condition is a very powerful feature simulating injection and production wells.

    Where can I download the “well in reservoir”-file? I want to find out how can I set up the finite element domain using the Darcy’s law interface.

    Best regards
    Michael Rembe

  2. Nancy Bannach August 24, 2017   9:49 am

    Dear Mr. Rembe,
    the files are not yet available. I assume you refer to the Infinite Element Domain. This is a feature that is available for many physics interfaces and it introduces a coordinate scaling.
    You can add this by clicking on “Infinite Element Domain” on the “Definitions” Toolbar.
    Have a look at the underlying model of the Perforated Well App ( or the Pesticide Transport and Reaction in Soil model (
    I hope this helps.

    Best regards,
    Nancy Bannach

  3. Andrea Morgan November 1, 2017   2:35 pm

    Good Afternoon Mrs Bannach,
    Thank you for the blog post – it has been very helpful for me!
    I am wondering if there is the possibility of assigning a temperature to the fluid that is being injected through a well?
    Thank you,

  4. Nancy Bannach November 3, 2017   1:02 pm

    Hi Andrea,

    I’m happy to read that my blog post helps.
    It is not directly possible to apply a temperature, but you can apply a line heat source as described in this blog post, right below the screenshots for the Well and Line Heat Source settings. Then, T_inj is the temperature you would like to apply.
    If this doesn’t work for you, please contact our support team for further assistance.

    Best regards,

  5. Anonymous November 13, 2017   9:15 pm

    Dear Mrs. Bannnach,
    This is a good blog. I am wondering if I am able to build a similar model in 2D. In 2D model, I am able to use Well (point) for fluid flow, but how could I assume a temperature for a point?

    Thank you.

    Wannar LIN

  6. Nancy Bannach November 14, 2017   5:46 am

    Dear Wannar Lin,

    the same “Line Heat Source” is available in 2D as a point feature. Don’t be confused by its name. It indicates that a point in 2D represents a line in 3D. So, you can use the same procedure as above.

    As an alternative approach you can try using weak constraints at a point (or line in 3D) with an expression similar to “T-T_inj”. For more information, please have a look at the documentation. But I recommend to use the built-in functionality, because “Well” and “Line Heat Source” are coupled by the expression “dl.well1.Ml” and work together as expected.

    Best regards,

  7. Alexandros Daniilidis January 8, 2018   11:21 am

    Dear Nancy,

    when will the files for this application be made available for download?

    Kind regards

  8. Nancy Bannach January 9, 2018   2:34 am

    Dear Alexandros,

    they are now available with 5.3a.

    The older version is a little different, since the well feature was not available at that time.

    Have a nice day,

  9. Anonymous January 10, 2018   7:20 am

    Dear Nancy,

    I am using version 5.3 (non ‘a’) and even though the well feature is present i am not able to open the file. Is there an alternative here?

    Kind regards

  10. Nancy Bannach January 11, 2018   2:44 am

    Dear Alexandros,

    unfortunately we don’t have the 5.3 version of this model.
    You could try modifying the 5.2a version according to the instructions for the 5.3a version or export the geometry from 5.2a and build it from scratch. The current version uses some 5.3a functionality, so you have to modify it a little.
    But the best way is updating your COMSOL installation, of course.

    Best regards,

  11. Alexandros Daniilidis January 11, 2018   5:53 am

    Dear Nancy,

    unfortunately its not possible for me to to update to 5.3a, at least for the moment. I will try the workaround you suggested.
    Can you specify which functionality is exclusive to the ‘a’ version? The well boundary feature is already present in 5.3.

    Kind regards

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