I woke up this morning with excitement in my veins. It's a chemical thing - I ate the right food yesterday or something - but I was wired to brainstorm. As I assessed my life and where I should go, I confirmed once again that for me, happiness will come from trying to make a difference while I'm here on this planet. And the holy grail, once again, is developing abundant clean sustainable renewable power. And the idea came next: tap into geothermal energy deep within the earth's crust, ideally generating steam from water. Drill deep enough, inject water, and receive steam. Tap the steam either below the crust or at the surface. The catch: is "deep enough" too deep?
I called my brother, the jack of all trades, to vet the idea. He knows something about everything. And true to form, he knew something about this idea already. He had seen a documentary on a similar concept that is nearing production in the Australian outback.
The Australian site is covered briefly here:
Alternatively called an Enhanced geothermal system (EGS) and Hot Dry Rock (HDR), it is a system where water is injected into hot rocks found a few kilometers below ground. The Wikipedia entry says "this technology has the potential to power the world at little or no cost to the population." Bullseye!
Geothermal energy has been around for a long time. In the US, it was investigated extensively back in the 1970's at Los Alamos. It has since been researched all over the world. Since the 1970's until recently, funding in the US has been minimal. EGS, the enhanced version of geothermal energy, where water is injected into hot rock to create and expand fissures, is now causing a lot of buzz. MIT led an interdisciplinary panel that produced this substantial report in 2006. MIT Energy Lab: (617)253-3401. The DOE has now targeted EGS with new funding.
List of resources:
- EGS and HDR entries at wikipedia
- MIT report that began the evangelizing of HDR
- EGS described by MIT professor
- information on HDR from the EERE office
- Started in 1970's
- California plant brought back after being abandoned
- 2007 funding status looked bleak with George Bush at the helm, until Senator Harry Reid objected
- Overview of a (non-HDR) geothermal plant
- Search mining research papers
- Well Logging (examining conditions as you drill)
- Dan and my google doc
- New US restrictions requiring seismic monitoring
We're excited to try to get some research funding. I want to keep the research totally open and cooperative. Ideally, the results of any research will be the ability of anyone with enough motivation to tap into this energy source. Opportunities:
- NSF funding
- Dan suggested Google Venture, but "overriding investment criteria will be ROI", which may not fit my philanthropic agenda. UPDATE: the more you dig, the more you find - google already funds it!
There is a currently a well-funded comprehensive grant opportunity available! Amazing, the stars are aligned.
Here's the application.
The MIT report provides an excellent assessment of the current state of research. Also, many oil and gas drilling technologies are applicable to EGS drilling.
The grant targets 17 specific areas of research:
- air cooling
- drilling systems
- high temperature downhole tools
- high-temperature high-volume lifting
- high-temperature high-volume pumping
- zonal isolation
- Integrated Chemical, Thermal, Mechanical and Hydrological Modeling
- image fluid flow
- induced seismicity
- geophysical exploration technologies
- stimulation prediction models
- geothermal analysis
- baseline systems cost
- installed capital cost
- impacts of technology improvements (employment, energy, environment)
- impacts for ground source heating/cooling and direct use applications
- smart tracers
- Supercritical Carbon Dioxide/Reservoir Rock Chemical Interactions
- Temporary Sealing of Fractures
- Tracers and Tracer Interpretation
- Working Fluids for Binary Power Plants
Topics worthy of further research include:
- study geothermal resources within 4km of the earth's surface - heat maps are already avaiable in google earth
- categorize local and regional soil and rock strata conditions by heat extraction potential
- earthquake risk assessment that considers proximity to fault lines, local site conditions, drilling methods, etc.
- compare benefits and costs of controlling the "closedness" of the fluid system (containment/more complete extraction of reservoir)
- determine the project size (including number of injection and production wells) that has the maximum benefit/cost ratio
- determine the smallest project size that has a positive benefit/cost ratio (likely one injection and one production well)
- create a working 2-well prototype
- design a 4km well with minimal installation and maintenance costs
- electrically self-sufficient (no reliance on external power)
- minimal environmental impacts