According to a group of scientists in Norway, there is a CO2-free solution for the world’s insatiable energy needs. And this solution has been right under our feet this whole time. The idea of bringing up heat from the center of the planet has been around for centuries, but researchers are just now beginning to explore it as a real option.
The reality is that 99 percent of the planet as an unfathomably high temperature—a leftover of sorts from when the Earth first formed. There is more than enough of this heat for us to transform it into energy and live on it for a long time, the question is how.
“This is one of the few sources of energy that we really have enough of,” research Odd-Geir Lademo of SINTEF Materials and Chemistry commented. “The only thing that we need is the technology to harvest it.”
“If we can drill and recover just a fraction of the geothermal heat that exists, there will be enough to supply the entire planet with energy-energy that is clean and safe,” Are Lund, senior researcher at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry added.
Geothermal heat holds incredible possibilities as an inexhaustible energy search, and can be found naturally in the different rock types that make up Earth’s surface. The deeper you get, the hotter and more powerful this energy is. At just 150-200 meters below the surface of Earth, temperatures sit at between 6 and 8 degrees Celsius. This low-temperature geothermal energy can be extracted with heat pumps, combined with an energy well. But it is only just the beginning.
The Norwegian company Rock Energy is determined to become an international leader in geothermal heat and energy, and has already introduced a pilot plant that will collect heat from 5500 meters deep, where temperatures can heat water to 95 degrees Celsius and can be used in district heating plants. The project is being built in cooperation with NTNU.
At the moment, the plan is to drill two wells—an injection well and a production well. Between these two there will be radiator leads the connect them. The Water will then be exchanged with water in Hafslund’s district heating plant. The proposed lifespan for a well like this is about three decades—after which the rock will no longer produce enough heat. But just 20 to 30 years after that, the well can be used once more. Needless to say—this is a major step forward.
The truth is, the further we go down into the Earth itself, the bigger the impact we can have on reducing CO2 emissions and providing clean energy. Researchers in Norway believe this is a real possibility—and have goals to reach depths of 10,000 meters or more to exploit deep geothermal heat, where water can be heated to 374 degrees. The amount of geothermal energy that could be produced from a well like this can match that created in a nuclear power plant. Of course, Geothermal energy is much better for our planet.
To put things in perspective—today’s oil companies are already extracting oil as deep as 5000 meters, where temperatures reach 170 degrees, but drilling deeper results in engineering problems. Materials are difficult to determine—steel will become brittle at that heat and electronics stop functioning. These problems will need to be solved for the geothermal industry to be profitable.
“Knowledge from the oil and drilling industry may be used in the future to capture geothermal energy,” Lund and Lademo argue, noting that common interests could be leverage to yield results. “We have to have a common commitment. Multidisciplinary expertise is required…If research and industry succeed in developing the materials and technology needed to bring up the most difficult-to-reach oil, in the long run we will be able to replace oil with geothermal energy.”
Lund and Lademo are optimistic about a potential partnership and the possibility of researchers and the government working together to find the solutions needed to harness geothermal heat. Lund believes it could take 25 years or more of research and development to reach 500 degrees Celcius.
“We are convinced that this is possible. But it requires us to further develop existing technology,” Lund and Lademo concluded. “To do that requires money, a lot of money. Public funding is the key that’s needed to get the industry overall to invest.”
There are many benefits to geothermal energy—but the idea of using it to power our world is not without fault. True, Geothermal fields produce only about one-sixth of the carbon dioxide that a clean natural-gas-fueled power plant produces, and unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy is always available. If we were able to find bear the cost to access it, it would be relatively inexpensive to maintain. But the release of hydrogen sulfide as a result is a real concern, as is the disposal of some geothermal fluids that could contain toxic materials.
What do you think? Could geothermal energy be the answer for our planet or would it just cause more problems?