DOE geothermal project aims to expand technology's reach
- The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will partner with seven other labs and six universities on a $9 million project aimed at more efficiently developing enhanced geothermal energy systems (EGS).
- Experiments will focus on understanding and modeling rock fractures, an essential element of geothermal systems, and will utilize the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota to create small-scale fracture networks below ground.
- Researchers believe enhanced geothermal could increase the resource's generating capacity from less than 4 GW to more than 100 GW in the continental United States.
There is growing interest in the carbon-free aspects of geothermal energy, but wider adoption will require finding ways to cut costs and make the systems more widely useful.
“Although geothermal energy production is already used effectively, there is a lot we need to learn about how to create and develop an [enhanced geothermal systems] reservoir,” Berkeley Lab’s Tim Kneafsey, who leads the project, said in a press release.
The project will examine the relationship between "permeability creation and heat extraction in crystalline rocks under certain stress and temperature conditions," Kneafsey said. “The goal is to work towards increasing our understanding of fracturing and fluid flow in EGS, which could provide a significant amount of electricity as a large quantity of accessible hot rock lies untapped across the U.S.”
Typically, geothermal is possible only in locations with particular geological characteristics, like an active volcanic center or in places with a very high temperature gradient, including Nevada and parts of the western United States.
Researchers say those locations have the three necessary factors: heat, fluid, and permeability. And they believe enhanced geothermal could eventually provide more than 100 GW of electric generating capacity in the continental United States. Current capacity is less than 4 GW.
The project is being funded by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
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