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Revolutionizing Geothermal Well Drilling By Shooting Projectiles Into The Earth?

While geothermal energy is probably one of the most promising but still relatively untapped sources of energy in the world today, drilling costs remain something of a barrier. Depending on the depth of the well in question, the drilling process can involve costs as high as $5–$20 million.

The company Hypersciences is now reportedly aiming to overcome this barrier via the use of projectiles. The idea is that, by repeatedly firing projectiles into the Earth’s crust, wells can be created more rapidly (and cheaply) than by conventional drilling methods. The company received a patent for the new projectile-based system last year — and also received $1 million via Shell’s GameChanger program.

Hypersciences drill

Popular Science provides details on the process:

The process works by loading a projectile with a special abrasive core into a ram accelerator, which serves as both the chamber and barrel of this ‘earth gun.’ Russell’s design pumps gases into the ram accelerator, which then ignite, pressurizing the chamber as the projectile passes through. This sends the projectile into the ground at almost 4,500 miles per hour (2 km/s). At that speed, the projectile obliterates whatever unfortunate rock or sediment it hits, and the refuse is sucked back out of the hole.

The ram accelerator is fired over and over again, with multiple projectiles, until the desired depth is achieved; multiple ram accelerators can fire simultaneously for wider drilling or in tandem with traditional drills as well, according to the patent. Russell claims his technique saves money on tool wear and breakage, as well as the extended time traditional drilling takes. However, there are still questions surrounding how the technology will work in practice, and also what affect repeated concussive blasts could have on the sub-terrainian environment, groundwater, and geology.

These are serious questions, especially when considering the effect that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has had on seismic activity in many regions, and on groundwater.

Worth noting here is that the projectile is left rather un-described in the patent — leaving the option there for variations, including tips fitted with plastic explosives, amongst other options, according to Hypersciences CEO Mark Russell.

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Written By

James Ayre'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.


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