Geothermal Takes A Technological Step Forward


The project is at Newberry Crater, the remains of an ancient volcano in central Oregon’s Cascade Range. The site has plenty of heat in rocks deep below the surface to boil water into steam, but none of the cracks and fissures in the rock needed to serve as a steam reservoir for a geothermal power plant.

Last fall, engineers pumped cold water into the ground, cracking open fissures in the deep rock, a process known as hydroshearing. They then sealed one reservoir from the other using a new technology. They injected ground-up recycled plastic bottles, which plugged up the cracks in one reservoir while millions of gallons of cold water were being pumped in to create another. Then the plastic diffused, leaving behind three reservoirs.

Company president Susan Petty said in an email that more analysis and testing are needed to show if the reservoirs are good enough for commercial power production in the future – which would be achieved by using steam from the reservoirs to spin turbines to generate electricity.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which is covering half the $43.8 million cost of the Newberry project, says if the initial indications hold up, the Newberry project would mark the first time in the world that multiple geothermal reservoirs have been created on purpose from a single well in a new area.

“So far, things are looking really exciting,” said Lauren Boyd, acting team leader for enhanced geothermal systems at Energy.

Heat in the Earth’s crust has been used to generate power for more than a century. Hot water or steam that bubbles near the surface is tapped to spin turbines that create electricity. Most of the obvious areas where the three key elements come together – hot rocks, cracks in the rocks, and water – have been exploited. The new frontier is places with hot rocks, but no cracks in the rocks to deliver the steam. That’s where EGS comes in. It creates the cracks in the rocks.

Creating multiple reservoirs from a single well is key to making EGS economical, because drilling each well is so expensive, said Nicholas C. Davatzes, assistant professor of earth and environmental science at Temple University, who helped develop a computer model describing the structure of the rock before it was fractured.

“The big impact Newberry has right now is that they appear to have stimulated multiple distinct zones,” he said.

Hydroshearing is similar to the process known as hydraulic fracturing, used to free natural gas from shale formations. But fracking uses chemical-laden fluids, and creates huge fractures, too big for geothermal power.

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Posted by on Feb 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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