Geothermal Energy

Published on April 28th, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer


Harnessing Volcanoes Themselves for Energy?

April 28th, 2011 by  

A derailed 2009 project in search of improved geothermal resources has been found to have uncovered a new way to harness energy from volcanic magma itself, according to a paper just published at Geology: Origin of a rhyolite that intruded a geothermal well while drilling at the Krafla volcano, Iceland by Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside.

An unexpected intrusion of volcanic magma destroyed the original geothermal test, conducted by a consortium of US universities including UCDavis and Stanford, the US and Icelandic governments, including the USGS, and Iceland’s GeoSurvey and Landsvirkjun Power.

Before they could complete the drilling of what was to be 15,000 foot borehole, volcanic magma breached the wall, filling 30 feet at the bottom of the 6,900-foot-deep open borehole, forcing the researchers to terminate the drilling. Instead they turned it into a production well.

However, in the meantime, the turn of events gave them a chance to study the magma and test the volcanic system as an energy source. The magma poured in at temperatures of 1,652 F, which is far hotter than normal geothermal fluids. What they found is promising for other regions with very hot young volcanic rock formation.

Elders believes it should be possible to find reasonably shallow bodies of magma, elsewhere in Iceland and the world, wherever young volcanic rocks occur, and that the economics of generating electric power from such geothermal steam improves the higher its temperature and pressure.

“As you drill deeper into a hot zone the temperature and pressure rise, so it should be possible to reach an environment where a denser fluid with very high heat content, but also with unusually low viscosity occurs, so-called ‘supercritical water’” says Elders. “Although such supercritical water is used in large coal-fired electric power plants, no one had tried to use supercritical water that should occur naturally in the deeper zones of geothermal areas.”

The high-pressure dry steam flowing to the surface from a depth shallower than the magma was heated to 400 C (750 F), the researchers found.

That steam could have a generating capacity of five times that of typical geothermal fluid.

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • Les54tom

    Yes! Good news! Thank you for this article.

  • Anonymous

    Magma was drilled into in 2005 in Hawaii at a depth of 2488 meters. And in 1999 magma flowed out of a geothermal well in Iceland. The Iceland well was less than 1,000 meters deep.

    The Hawaii strike and an estimated rock temperature of approximately 1050° (1922°F). There’s some serious hot rock potential there.

    When drillers struck magma in 2005 they installed a permanent seismic and ground monitoring network to provide early warning of any impending volcanic activity. I’ve found no info about observed seismic activity in the vicinity of the bore.

    Seems that with that sort of heat you could have single-hole dry rock geothermal.

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