A Game-Changing Vision for Geothermal Energy

June 24, 2021

A new possibility: Drilling miles down for geothermal energy by using a focused beam of microwave energy  rather than a mechanical drill bit 

According to a report released in 2019 by the U.S. Department of Energy, geothermal electricity generation could increase more than 26-fold by 2050—reaching 60 GW of installed capacity. That may seem like a pipe dream to some power observers, but if new well-drilling techniques allow enhanced geothermal systems to become economical, the reality could be much greater. In fact, Quaise Energy, a company working to develop enabling technologies needed to expand geothermal on a global scale, claims as much as 30 TW of geothermal energy could be added around the world by 2050.

“That’s where the drilling technology that we’re proposing comes into play. We’re basically trying to do directed-energy drilling with millimeter waves,” Araque said. “Imagine a microwave source on the surface, it’s called a gyrotron. We beam this energy through a pipe into the hole. Together with this energy, we push a gas—could be nitrogen, could be air, could be argon, if necessary—and at the bottom of that pipe, this energy comes out, evaporates the rock, and the gas picks up the vapor of that rock and pulls it back out. What comes out of the hole looks like volcanic ash, and the hole actually burns its way down, you know, five, six, 10, 15, 20 kilometers, as needed, to get to the temperatures we’re looking at.”

The fundamental physics behind the technology has been proven, now Quaise Energy is moving from the lab to installing a prototype in the field. “Over the next three years, we’re going to be working with key people in the oil and gas industry—one of them is one of the largest drilling contractors in the oil and gas industry—and hand in hand working with them to actually show that this is not only a good idea, but it’s actually a viable idea. We’re going to be doing this in the western United States,” said Araque.

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