Why Secret Fusion is the Key to the Future of Geothermal Energy. Geothermal Energy has the potential to power the world and there are endless possibilities
Table Of Content
- A Revolutionary Technology
- Bringing Geothermal Energy to The Lower Level
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Geothermal energy has the potential to become a power source that is continuously available for use in nations all over the globe. However, due to the difficulty and expense involved in drilling sufficiently deep into the soil to attain temperatures appropriate for geothermal power, this kind of renewable energy has not been the most popular choice. However, a new company has just discovered a potential remedy for this issue, and it is as follows: A heat ray that may liquefy rocks (sort of). I am aware that it sounds like a reimagining of Star Wars, but the Death Star is not the subject of this discussion. The application of this well-established technology from the field of nuclear fusion research to the field of geothermal energy is now in progress. Would this allow geothermal energy to reach its full potential and compete with or perhaps surpass that of solar and wind power? Let’s see if we can reach a conclusion on this, shall we? It turns out to be very awesome, or should I say sizzling?
The construction of a new net-zero energy house is now underway, and I am investigating the possibility of incorporating a geothermal heating and cooling system. The thought of dipping into the soil as a reliable heat source for a heat pump system is very appealing for our houses, but we can also dig deeper into the earth to find a steady supply of very high heat that can power turbines and create energy for our cities and towns.
Geothermal energy, in contrast to solar and wind power, has the potential to offer a more consistent amount of clean electricity while using almost no land at all. On the other hand, the drilling methods that are now in use cannot reach the hottest locations on earth at an affordable price to release that potential. In point of fact, piercing deep into hard rock is a procedure that is fraught with difficulty and may be quite costly. Well drilling and exploration account for 40% of the total upfront costs associated with constructing a geothermal plant.Because of this, scientists are looking into creating a death ray… well, not really… In just a moment, I’ll discuss this game-changing innovation, but before I do, let’s quickly review the basics of geothermal power.
This particular source of electricity has always been present on our planet. To be more specific, inside of it. Because the temperature in the deep core of the Earth is comparable to that of the sun, it is often referred to as “the sun under our feet.” The planet won’t reach its current temperature for billions of years, which is some welcome news. This subsurface sun was responsible for the formation of natural hydrothermal reservoirs. It was fueled by heat left over from our planet’s formation and the decay of radioactive elements. To put it simply, the heat from the center of the Earth forces water upward through permeable rocks until it reaches a barrier, also known as impermeable caprock. When anything is confined, the water pressure builds up and occasionally forces its way past the barrier. Consider the ancient Roman baths that were fed by natural hot springs. Or it may be Icelanders putting bread on geysers to toast it. This resource can be used to make hot baths and barbecues outside possible without using any carbon. It can also be used to drive a turbine and make electricity by using hot steam from the ground.
It is possible to accomplish the transformation of this thermal energy into electrical energy by using one of many different plant layouts. Binary cycle power plants are the most recent kind of power plant, as well as the most environmentally friendly and the one that shows the greatest potential for geothermal energy. In contrast to previous designs, binary power plants do not create steam by tapping into the subterranean hot water supply. To provide further clarity, after it has been extracted and brought to an additional temperature of around 204 degrees Celsius (a maximum of 400 degrees Fahrenheit), it is passed via a heat exchanger. In this instance, the heat from the geothermal water is transferred to a secondary liquid that has a boiling point that is much lower. The result of this is the generation of steam, which is used to turn the turbine. The facility is equipped with a condenser, which turns steam back into a liquid so that it may be recycled. By using this closed-loop binary system, you won’t be forced to boil off the geothermal fluids, which, in addition to water vapor, include carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other potentially hazardous substances. It should be clear why this is better for the environment and a better choice than dry and flash steam facilities.
The geothermal industry has a tremendous amount of untapped potential. According to AltaRock Energy, if just 0.1% of the heat from the earth were harvested, it would be enough to supply the need for energy on the planet for the next 2 million years. As of 2018, geothermal energy accounted for just 0.55% of the world’s total electrical output. Considering how cool (or hot) that is, why is that the case? The primary reason for this is that a portion of the heat gets dispersed throughout the surface of the Earth’s crust. In fact, the vast majority of hydrothermal reservoirs, including geysers, springs, and fumaroles in volcanoes, can only be found around the edges of tectonic plates. In addition to this, the water that fills shallow geothermal pockets is not sufficiently hot to make energy harvesting a financially viable endeavor. Not to mention the technical and financial challenges of accessing hotter places with the drilling technology that is now available. In spite of this, the actual potential of geothermal power may be closer than it has ever been because of recent advancements in drilling technology. This new technology may make it possible for us to travel less than 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) in a manner that is more efficient financially. The temperatures of the geothermal sources down there are much greater, and there are more of them.
A Revolutionary Technology
Intermittency is a problem for renewable energy sources like solar and wind farms, despite being cost-effective. Instead, a renewable source of energy that operates around the clock, such as geothermal, might provide us with a more potent tool in the fight against global warming. In connection with weaponry, let’s investigate further how death rays (which are not, to be clear, actual death rays) may take geothermal energy to the next level.
The work of Paul Woskov, a senior research engineer at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at MIT, was the impetus for all that followed (PSFC). He gave a presentation in 2012 in which he demonstrated how a gyrotron could be used to vaporize rock rather than grind it.For the last half-century, this high-powered vacuum tube has been used in fusion reactors to create a beam of millimeter-long radio-frequency (RF) waves that are then guided via a waveguide in order to heat up a plasma and regulate the temperature at which it operates. Woskov had the idea of digging very deep geothermal boreholes using this fusion technology that he had stolen. So, how exactly does it function? For the purpose of fusing the rock below the earth, you would use a metallic tube that contained a gyrotron and blasted it with high-frequency electromagnetic waves. A gas is injected into the system in order to clean up the mess left behind after the vaporization process. To be more precise, the gas lowers the temperature of the heated vapors, which then causes the vapors to condense into nanoparticles. After that, they are removed from the well by the high-pressure stream that is running through it. It’s possible that this method will help you drill deeper holes, but you probably wouldn’t employ this level of complex drilling throughout the whole operation. I contacted Quaise’s CEO, Carlos Araque, who provided me with further information on that. Carlos is this geothermal revolution’s on-the-ground (or possibly subterranean) arm.
In geology, sedimentary rock comes first, followed by the basement, which is the rock layer directly below it. Because sedimentary rock is not cemented, it is simple and straightforward to drill through. And since this is something that mechanical drilling systems are very proficient at, you drill the first piece using the traditional method; there is no difference there. However, the second part of the task is quite challenging. Therefore, at that subsequent stage, we make use of a millimeter wave drill. Carlos Araque
On the basis of the findings of his experiments, Woskov deduced that the use of millimetric waves would reduce the operational expenses associated with drilling. To begin with, you wouldn’t be constrained by the temperature or the rock’s degree of hardness. In addition, there is no need to have any mechanical equipment downhole susceptible to damage. Millimetric waves are able to pass through the incoming rock nanoparticles without experiencing a substantial amount of scattering since their wavelength is about 1,000 times longer than that of a standard infrared laser. This indicates that the beam doesn’t lose a significant amount of energy before it reaches the surface of the target. When exposed to irradiation from a gyrotron, the hot molten rock absorbs a greater quantity of energy than when a conventional laser strikes it. In general, gyrotrons may be up to five times more efficient in their use of energy than the best lower-wavelength laser that money can buy. However, what about the prices? Paul Woskov has some ideas to share in regard to it.
“I did check into how much it would cost to melt a volume of rock using electricity. In the process of drilling for direct energy, this is the primary consumable. Based on my calculations, the amount of power required to evaporate a comparable volume of granite in a hole with a diameter of eight inches and a depth of around ten kilometers would amount to something in the neighborhood of half a million dollars’ worth of expenditures. When you consider such depths, the whole cost of a well drilled by a mechanical drill is on the order of $30 million. —Paul Woskov
That’s really insane, isn’t it? If what they say is true, then the amount of money we may save is in the tens of millions. However, the use of heat rays also has a significant additional economic advantage. You need a high-density fluid, also known as drilling mud, to offset the pressure exerted on the well by the environment to avoid the well from collapsing while using mechanical methods such as rotary technology. Millimetric waves, on the other hand, do not need the use of drilling mud. Nonetheless, it is unclear how a hole bored by a gyrotron could withstand the pressure of hundreds of atmospheres without collapsing. It is inevitable that some of the waves will collide with the walls of the bore, and when they do, the surface will vitrify, which means that it will take on the appearance of a glassy covering. The process of heating will, in addition to repairing any fractures in the wall, raise the internal pressure, which will bring it into equilibrium with the force from the outside. As a consequence, it will be feasible to excavate deeper boreholes while also being more stable without the need for any drilling mud, which is another factor that can make the whole process more economical.
You are creating a hole lined with glass, which is a very sturdy material. Because of this, we can save a significant amount of money while constructing a hole because we can casing at the same time that we are drilling the hole. —Paul Woskov
When all of these additional expenditures are taken into consideration, Woskow’s idea turns out to be far more cost-effective than its competitors.
According to my estimations, it might be up to ten times less expensive than constructing a very deep mechanical drill wall. —Paul Woskov
Drilling mud, in addition to being expensive, is ineffective at temperatures such as 500 °C (932 °F), which is the temperature range in which geothermal energy generation is at its most efficient. Paul had some extremely insightful comments to make about it.
When exposed to temperatures like those, drilling muds do not perform very well. Because the density of the mud never comes close enough to the density of the rock, the weight of the column starts to decrease as you walk further into the cave. Therefore, you won’t have enough drilling mud columns at some point to keep the pressure from being too uneven. However, since we are drilling for direct energy at high temperatures, we are constantly operating at excessive pressure, regardless of the depth. —Paul Woskov
To be more precise, this mud-free drilling technology is able to sustain pressure-related strains below 10 kilometers, which is the depth at which geothermal access becomes universal. It can do so economically. According to the GeoVision study published by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), making use of these untapped underground heat sources may raise the amount of geothermal power produced by 26 times by the year 2050. When you get below 10 kilometers, which is around 6 miles, you’ll encounter geothermal resources known as Super Hot Rock (SHR), which have temperatures higher than 375 degrees Celsius (707 degrees Fahrenheit). In addition, the availability of these resources increases. When circumstances are like this in a geothermal plant, it is possible to access supercritical water, which has a higher energy density than water at non-supercritical temperatures. When compared to a standard enhanced geothermal system, a well that delves into SHR has the potential to produce up to ten times the amount of energy (EGS). According to the findings of a technical and economic feasibility assessment carried out by AltaRock Energy at the Newberry Volcano location, SHR has the potential to cut the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) associated with geothermal power by half. The company also came to the conclusion that SHR-based geothermal might have a lower levelized cost of electricity than onshore wind or even solar.
Bringing Geothermal Energy to The Lower Level
It is abundantly clear that Woskov’s concept has the potential to elevate our geothermal power supply to a higher level (or lower depth, I presume), which would result in our energy system being much less dependent on fossil fuels. His drilling technology, which is based on fusion, is not limited to the confines of the laboratory. In February of this year, an MIT spin-off company called Quaise successfully raised $40 million to further the development of this innovative technology. They progressed from using a gyrotron with 10 kilowatts to drill a hole 10 centimeters deep in a stone the size of a palm to utilizing a gyrotron with 1 megawatt at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The business drilled holes that were three feet deep into the considerably bigger rocks. The Newberry Volcano was selected as an appropriate testing location, so Quaise has partnered with AltaRock to develop their first pilot project. This project aims to drill a hole that is 3,300 feet deep, which will take place near the Newberry Volcano. In point of fact, AltaRock is of the opinion that this crater may represent one of the most significant untapped geothermal resources in North America. The existence of a shallow magma body makes the rock underneath considerably hotter than it is in other areas. This is why AltaRock achieved very high temperatures (over 400 °C or 752 °F) at a depth that is just a fourth of what it would be required to reach in other locations. 24 It’s a terrific place to put things to the test.
Looking even further ahead, Quaise plans to build its first full-scale hybrid drilling rig in 2024.
25 According to this configuration, Quaise would first use conventional rotary drilling to go down to the basement rock. Once there, they would activate their gyrotron-powered rock-vaporizing system to reach distances of up to 20 kilometers (approximately 12 miles) and temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit). The business brags that it can use a gyrotron with a power output of one megawatt to go to that depth in one hundred days. 26 To give you an idea of the magnitude of things, the Kola Superdeep Borehole, which holds the record for the deepest hole ever built on Earth, was completed after 20 years and reached a depth of 40,230 feet (12.2 kilometers). I can already make out your voice. Is 100 days even possible? Carlos provided some enlightenment on this topic.
“When you’re five kilometers down in a ten-day timeframe, you may spend 30 hours drilling; that’s the life of the drill bit before it has to be replaced,” said the drill operator. Carlos Araque
If you divide 10 days by 240 hours, you’ll find that you spend seven-eighths of the time replacing the drill bit by running the pipe in and out of the hole. Ten days of vacation time is worth a million dollars. When we speak about drilling, we don’t mean at a rate of one hundred meters per hour; rather, we talk about drilling at a rate of five meters per hour that is highly constant. It just disappears because there is nothing else to take its place. Carlos Araque
“Now, if we can hit a drilling cost of a thousand dollars per meter regardless of depth, your LCOs are in the range of 1 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour, so cost parity with wind and solar, but firm and always on,” he said. “Now, if we can hit a drilling cost of a thousand dollars per meter regardless of depth,” Carlos Araque
Therefore, in the abstract, it seems as if Quaise has some opportunities to realize their objective. In actuality, we need to hold off until real-world experiments have been conducted in the field. Despite this, the organization has a crystal clear and well-thought-out plan for the long run. They want to adapt already-existing fossil fuel facilities so that they may continue operating throughout the transition to low-carbon energy sources. To get the most out of this infrastructure already in place, they could easily replace the steam created by coal or natural gas with the hot vapor produced by the earth around the clock to drive the turbines.
“Steam can come from the ground, so that idea gets a lot of traction with power project developers, because they have these power plants that are losing their social license to operate and they’re getting increasingly less in the money, so there are very few alternatives for these power plants to continue to operate.” So that idea gets a lot of traction with power project developers, because they have these power plants that they’re losing their social license to operate and they’re increasingly less interested in those. Those are the individuals that have shown the greatest interest in the plan that we are attempting to pitch to them and in conducting a pilot with them. Carlos Araque
A pilot plant is an intriguing prospect, but it seems that there is still some way to go before it can
“We still need to complete the technological demonstration before we even get to that. “This will take us more than three or four years,” said the researcher. Carlos Araque
It’s possible that Quaise may run into some further problems when they dig deeper into the earth’s crust for geothermal energy. When drilling at a greater depth, a greater amount of energy is needed for both the drilling and the activities. Because of the way things are set up, the only way to make up for this power loss is to steal energy from the grid or operate diesel generators. On the other hand, the chief executive officer of Quaise asserts that the amount of fossil fuels used by their drilling technology would constitute less than one percent of the amount of renewable energy created by their well during the course of its existence. However, their method also has to consider any gas pressure reductions. Because of the friction that occurs between the gas and the pipe walls, this is the result. The deeper the gas goes, the greater the pressure drop and the more powerful the pump that is required to move it back and forth between the well and the surface. One of the reasons why Quaise thought that 20 kilometers could be the deepest point they might reach is because of this factor. Earthquakes are yet another potential risk associated with really deep digging. Drilling wells may cause geological strata to become unstable, which can cause seismic activity. In various nations, after power facilities were forced to shut down, some people interested in geothermal energy lost their enthusiasm. The way Carlos saw it was completely different.
When you drill for geothermal energy in today’s world, you do most of your drilling around tectonic boundaries since that is where the heat is the closest to the surface. As a result, you are very deliberately digging into hazardous zones with extremely young and unstable geology. You are able to get further away from those unstable states when you have the luxury of going deeper without the costs increasing at an exponential rate. Indeed, I would estimate that 95 percent or more of the financial justification for our drilling occurs outside of tectonic boundaries.We are actively working toward the goal of making geothermal energy accessible in all locations. Furthermore, the majority of the Earth’s surface is not located on a tectonic plate boundary.Carlos Araque
Quaise will need to monitor their finances closely regardless of the earthquakes. According to information provided by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2030, the cost of constructing a geothermal plant would be close to $4,000/kW. This amount is about four times more than what is required for the installation of a solar farm. However, as Carlos and Paul pointed out before, gyrotron-powered drilling may result in cost savings when compared to a procedure that relies on mechanical labor.
I’m not sure whether Quaise’s geothermal technique is the silver bullet for our energy transition, but it’s certainly something that needs to be considered alongside the other options. The most environmentally friendly path ahead is one that makes use of a variety of different clean sources of power. It seems like Carlos sees things the same way as I do on this.
“When I think about renewable resources, they’re trying to accomplish more with much, much more, and I don’t believe that’s a sustainable approach. And I believe that each and every one of you forgets that, right? I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue renewable energy sources; I believe we should. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that other topics, such as this and fusion, require research and development because they are the topics most likely to bring our species to where it needs to be. Carlos Araque
The possibilities that may arise from this greatly fascinate me. It’s also incredibly amazing to see a technology that was originally developed for fusion research being used in such a novel manner. The development of drilling techniques inspired by fusion would allow us to circumvent geographical and geological barriers, giving us access to an abundant supply of very hot fluids. It has the potential to release a never-ending supply of geothermal energy, which would allow for a world free of carbon emissions and energy independence. However, despite the fact that heat rays are based on proven technology, there are still a number of financial hurdles to overcome and tests to be done before they can be used on an industrial scale.
Geothermal energy has the potential to become a power source that is continuously available for use in nations all over the globe. The construction of a new net-zero energy house is now underway, and I am investigating the possibility of incorporating a geothermal heating and cooling system. The thought of dipping into the soil as a reliable heat source for a heat pump system is very appealing for our houses, but we can also dig deeper into the earth to find a steady supply of very high heat that can power turbines and create energy for our cities and towns.
Which technological advancements will make geothermal energy more effective?
In binary-cycle power plants, the heat from geothermal hot water is transferred to another liquid, where it is converted into steam to power the generator turbine. Because of this technology makes it possible to get power from things that work at much lower temperatures than in the past.
Is there a connection between nuclear fusion and geothermal energy?
Nuclear reactions are the source of almost all of the basic sources of energy. Sunlight is the source of the energy that is contained in fossil fuels and biofuels. The radioactive decay or thermal energy left over from when the Earth was first created, which occurred from a catastrophic nuclear explosion known as a supernova, is the source of geothermal energy.
Is it possible to harness the power of geothermal energy?
Geothermal energy is generated when the heat from the Earth’s internal molten core is used. When water is injected far down, it eventually returns as steam (or hot water, which is subsequently transformed to steam), which is then used to spin a turbine that is attached to an electric power generator. This process allows the energy to be captured and used to create electricity.
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