Clean Power

Published on January 31st, 2014 | by James Ayre


First Magma-Enhanced Geothermal System In The World Developed In Iceland

January 31st, 2014 by  

The first “magma-enhanced” geothermal system in the world — the IDDP-1 well at Krafla — has proven to be a great success, based on the first scientific reports on the project, which are now starting to be released.

The well, which penetrated into magma quite unexpectedly during the drilling of an exploratory borehole, has allowed for the achievement of a number of important milestones in the pursuit of a commercially viable magma-enhanced system. It’s been shown to be possible to drill down into molten magma and retain control; the insertion of a steel-casing at the bottom of the hole was shown to be a viable set-up; the set-up allowed for the harness of extremely hot, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures exceeding 450 C (a world-record for geothermal heat capture); the superheated steam from the IDDP-1 well could be routed directly into existing power plant infrastructure; and it was demonstrated that a high-enthalpy geothermal system could be effectively utilized.

Flow test of the IDDP-1 well at Krafla. Note the transparent superheated steam at the top of the rock muffler. Image Credit: Kristján Einarsson

Flow test of the IDDP-1 well at Krafla. Note the transparent superheated steam at the top of the rock muffler.
Image Credit: Kristján Einarsson

The University of California — Riverside provides more info:

In 2009, a borehole drilled at Krafla, northeast Iceland, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), unexpectedly penetrated into magma (molten rock) at only 2100 meters depth, with a temperature of 900-1000 C. The borehole, IDDP-1, was the first in a series of wells being drilled by the IDDP in Iceland in the search for high-temperature geothermal resources.

Accordingly, a steel casing, perforated in the bottom section closest to the magma, was cemented into the well. The hole was then allowed to heat slowly and eventually allowed to flow superheated steam for the next two years, until July 2012, when it was closed down in order to replace some of the surface equipment.

“Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence anywhere in the world and this is only the second known instance, the first one, in 2007, being in Hawaii,” explained Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, and also a co-author on three of the new research papers, along with Icelandic colleagues. “The IDDP, in cooperation with Iceland’s National Power Company, the operator of the Krafla geothermal power plant, decided to investigate the hole further and bear part of the substantial costs involved.”

“In the future, the success of this drilling and research project could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide,” Elders continued. “Essentially, the IDDP-1 created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system. This unique engineered geothermal system is the world’s first to supply heat directly from a molten magma.”

“Although the IDDP-1 hole had to be shut in, the aim now is to repair the well or to drill a new similar hole,” Elders stated. “The experiment at Krafla suffered various setbacks that tried personnel and equipment throughout. However, the process itself was very instructive, and, apart from scientific articles published in Geothermics, comprehensive reports on practical lessons learned are nearing completion.”

The successor borehole, IDDP-2, is currently expected to be drilled sometime in 2014-2015, at Reykjanes in southwest Iceland.

The new findings are detailed in a number of papers just published in a special issue of the journal Geothermics.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • sanderdog

    Of all the so called green energy sources, geothermal is the best. Passive solar is good but not practical for existing structures. If you have and air conditioner, you can replace it with a geo-thermal enhanced unit to take heat from the earth and efficiently remove heat from your home or business in the summer. With directional boring, your yard does not have to be destroyed. Not so good in big cities with tiny yards.

  • Vranak

    This seems like a big deal. Well done, Iceland!

  • Kevin McKinney

    Fascinating. I don’t know, though, if I’d have called this experimental rig a ‘system’–using that term made me think of a permanent installation devoted to energy production, not an investigatory project pioneering an exciting but risky technique. So glad it worked, though, despite all the ‘trials’ the team faced.

    • JamesWimberley

      It is certainly quite risky for the operators – magma is hairy stuff. The rest of us are more concerned with the volcanic risks. Could injecting water provoke an eruption? Or does cooling the magma reduce the chance of one?

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