Print 77 comment(s) - last by iNGEN.. on Aug 27 at 6:04 PM

EGS, an incredibly promising form of geothermal, involves drilling down to "basement rock", the hot outer layer of the crust, and pumping water down into it to produce steam. Just a tiny percentage of the underground heat capacity of the U.S. could power the nation thousands of times over.  (Source: AltaRock)
New energy source could offer 2,500 times nation's power needs, according to MIT

The world of alternative energy is a confusing one filled with choices.  There's nuclear, solar, wind, and biofuels (such as algae).  Each technology has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

One technology that's too often forgotten in the mix is geothermal energy.  With interest in alternative energy at an all-time high, the geothermal energy business is seeing a rebirth.  From harnessing volcanic steam deposits to prospecting America's many geothermal sites, many promising projects are currently underway.

Perhaps the most promising source of geothermal is a brand new method called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS).  Where traditional geothermal involves finding naturally occurring steam pockets in the hot layers of rock beneath the Earth's crust, EGS skips the troublesome prospect and makes its own steam, by drilling down the hot rock, cracking it, and then pumping water into the cracks to form steam.  The result -- instant power virtually anywhere in the country.

According to MIT, just 2 percent of the heat between 3 and 10 kilometers beneath the crust of the Earth in the continental U.S. contains enough energy to produce 2,500 the amount of power our country produces yearly.  Literally, just EGS power from the U.S. could power the world.  And these depths are all within the reach of current drilling equipment.

Google is very impressed by the promise of EGS.  Google has decided to invest $10.25M USD to help startups develop the technology as part of its philanthropic arm's initiatives, which aim to produce alternative energy power at rates cheaper than coal.  The Google investment will not only cover the continuing development and deployment of the technology itself, but also the development EGS information tools, advanced geothermal resource mapping, and promotion of geothermal public policy on a government level.

Dan Reicher, Director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for states, "EGS could be the 'killer app' of the energy world. It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar and wind."

The latest Google funding for EGS goes to two companies and a university.  AltaRock Energy, Inc. is one of the recipients and will receive $6.25M USD to help it actualize its EGS vision.  The second investment of $4M USD goes to Potter Drilling, Inc., which is exploring new methods of drilling cheaper and techniques for drilling into deep, hard rock, a technology critical to EGS.  Finally Google will deliver a grant of $489,521 to Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab to aid it in its projects of updating geothermal maps of America.

Dr. Larry Brilliant, executive director of also delivered praise for the new direction.  He states, "Innovation is the path to massive quantities of cleaner, cheaper energy. The people we're funding today have a real shot at lowering the cost of EGS, and bringing us closer to our goal of Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal."

Mr. Reicher quickly adds, "EGS is critical to the clean electricity revolution we need to solve the climate crisis, but EGS hasn't received the attention it merits. That's why we're pressing for expanded support from government and increased investment from the private sector.  EGS is critical to the clean electricity revolution we need to solve the climate crisis, but EGS hasn't received the attention it merits. That's why we're pressing for expanded support from government and increased investment from the private sector."

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RE: Hope
By KernD on 8/19/2008 6:56:27 PM , Rating: 2
You want an argument against it, here it is: If you tap the power of the earth's core too much you will reduce the life expectancy of the planet itself. Now your realy talking about killing the planet!

It would probably take a vast usage of this technology, but still doable. The earths core produces a bit of heat from radioactive material in it, but it's mostly emptying itself slowly and will one day be a cold dead rock, unless the sun destroys it first.

Seriously now, this sounds like a nice idea, a friend of mine has a geothermal system to warm and cool his house. It costs allot to build, but you save energy from less clean sources for the rest of your life.

RE: Hope
By Solandri on 8/19/2008 7:05:25 PM , Rating: 2
This and the geothermal heating/cooling systems are different. The heating/cooling system you're describing just uses the ground as a heat sink/source. In summer, you run your AC and it takes heat from the inside and dumps it in the air outside. The geothermal system dumps the heat into the ground rather than the air. Since the ground is cooler in summer than the air, it ends up being more efficient than dumping into the air.

In winter it's reversed. The ground is warmer than the air. So instead of the heat pump having to pull in heat from the cold air, it can just pull it in (more easily) from the warmer ground. The system only needs to be buried 15-50 feet underground to be isolated from the seasonal temperature changes in the air. It is not an energy source, it's just a more efficient system.

The system described in the article is tapping into the heat of the Earth itself several km underground. It's an energy source.

RE: Hope
By KernD on 8/19/2008 7:16:39 PM , Rating: 2
I know it's a bit different, but it's still the same principle than the winter use of the house version, they just have to go much deeper to get all the heat necessary to boil water to build up pressure to spin the dynamo.

RE: Hope
By Solandri on 8/19/2008 7:24:29 PM , Rating: 2
They are not a bit different, they are totally different. The shallow geothermal system requires energy to operate, even in winter. The deep geothermal system produces energy.

The shallow geothermal system is actually based on an ancient Roman air conditioner. They would bury several hundred feet of pipe underground with the inlet some distance away, and the outlet in their house. On their roof they would install a dark-colored vent. The sun would hit the vent, heating the air, causing it to rise, and thus removing the air from the house. The negative pressure inside would draw air from the pipe.

In summer, the air traveling through the pipe would be cooled by the surrounding ground. By the time it got into the house, it was substantially cooler than the ambient air temperature. (It would also work as a heater in winter, but I suspect tossing a few logs onto the fireplace produced more heat.)

RE: Hope
By KernD on 8/19/2008 7:40:42 PM , Rating: 2
That's funny I was under the impression that a pump consumed energy, I guess I must be wrong...

You use energy to run many power plants, it's just that the returned energy is much larger.

RE: Hope
By JoshuaBuss on 8/21/2008 9:32:50 PM , Rating: 2
now you're just grasping at straws.. a geothermal heat pump ( ) takes some electricity and the naturally constant temperature of the ground to greatly reduce the cost to heat and cool your home.

a geothermal power plant ( ) produces energy for external use.

They are completely different systems and although they both rely on the earth's heat, they use it in completely different ways and for completely different purposes.

I am a big proponent of both technologies though.. especially the former since it's already proven and in pretty widespread use.

RE: Hope
By Alexstarfire on 8/26/2008 10:07:57 AM , Rating: 2
Those are some damn smart Romans.

RE: Hope
By HrilL on 8/19/2008 7:12:59 PM , Rating: 2
While there is logic in your point it is not likely to have much impact at all. Think of how much heat is lost by natural volcanic eruptions that are happening all over the planet. Under the ocean there is probably thousands of times more heat being lost compared to if we were using this for our main power source. In any case this is still a great source of power that will give us time to get fusion power going. And if we switch to fusion then your fears of cooling the core and even more moot.

RE: Hope
By SeeManRun on 8/19/2008 7:20:27 PM , Rating: 3
Its just like the Ocean. Its so big how could we small humans possibly affect it!

RE: Hope
By KernD on 8/19/2008 7:29:18 PM , Rating: 2
I know and have already said that's it's unlikely to be drained so fast it will change anything. I also know and has already also said that the heat is already going out.

I just like to point out that there are no magic solution and no infinite source of energy. Solar power has it's limits in surface area you can use, also the sun will one day explode, and that is proof that Fusion is also limited, but at a much larger scale.

RE: Hope
By daftrok on 8/19/2008 7:13:56 PM , Rating: 2
I believe that for households, doing the following can save bundles in the long run.

1) Energy efficient bulbs
2) Insulating water heaters
3) An attic tent to make sure no hot/cold air escapes up the attic (
4) Flat panel screens instead of CRT monitors, LED TVs and more energy efficient computers such as the HP s3500t or the Dell Studio Hybrid.
5) Pool cover to avoid running the pool cleaning system all the time. A cover keeps the pool warm during cold seasons and clean.

More expensive investments can be made for energy efficiency:
1) Hybrid cars for $20k or electric cars such as the Tesla 4-door sedan that's coming out in 2 years for $60k.
2) More energy efficient AC units and filters
3) Solar panels on the roof to cut down energy costs

This is something that every household should try to do at some point in order to cut down the incredibly high energy usage in this country.

RE: Hope
By FITCamaro on 8/20/2008 3:37:58 PM , Rating: 2
Nah man. Now our flat screen TVs are killing the planet too. There was an article here about it a few weeks ago.

RE: Hope
By JoshuaBuss on 8/20/2008 6:40:21 PM , Rating: 2
don't forget a geothermal heating and cooling system. that and basic insulation are the biggest home improvements you can make savings-wise

RE: Hope
By LyCannon on 8/19/2008 8:03:54 PM , Rating: 1
The earths core produces a bit of heat from radioactive material in it, but it's mostly emptying itself slowly and will one day be a cold dead rock, unless the sun destroys it first.

This is entirely incorrect. Heat generated from the earth is due to the massive amount of pressure placed on it by the the rest of the earth.

This heat radiates from the inner core to the mantle. By drilling 3 miles down, you are still in the mantle and place NO HARM on the core, which starts at around 6000km.

Please do a little bit of research before you make yourself sound like an ass.

RE: Hope
By LyCannon on 8/19/2008 8:04:26 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Hope
By masher2 on 8/19/2008 8:15:13 PM , Rating: 2
> "Please do a little bit of research before you make yourself sound like an ass. "

You might want to read your own links before you embarrass yourself. Allow me to quote:

The immense amount of heat energy released from gravitational energy and from the decay of radioactive elements melted the entire planet
The OP was correct. Radioactive decay is the primary source of ongoing heat energy in the core. The heat from gravitational energy is almost entirely a static quantity, added when the planet first formed.

RE: Hope
By itzmec on 8/19/2008 9:43:34 PM , Rating: 2
actually his statement was not entirely incorrect. the earth will one day be a cold dead rock. you should take your own advice.

you said:

"Please do a little bit of research before you make yourself sound like an ass."

RE: Hope
By Solandri on 8/20/2008 3:15:49 AM , Rating: 2
The pressure does not "generate" heat in the sense that new heat is constantly being generated. It generated heat way back when the Earth was first formed, and that's it. The pressure is not generating any more heat. It's just that with something the size of the Earth, it takes a really, really, REALLY long time for that heat to radiate out into space. When they cast the 200-inch Hale telescope mirror out of solid glass, it took several years to cool. So you can imagine how long it would take something the size of the entire planet to cool.

So the primary sources of heat energy within the Earth are that latent heat of formation, radioactive materials (radioactive decay and in the past, natural nuclear fission reactors), and the tidal pull of the moon (which will also slow down the Earth's day until it matches the period of the moon's orbit). Of those sources, only the last two are still producing heat.

RE: Hope
By masher2 on 8/19/2008 8:11:43 PM , Rating: 3
> "If you tap the power of the earth's core too much you will reduce the life expectancy of the planet itself"

While I admit you have a bright future at Greenpeace, I have to point out that the heat in the Earth's core would be sufficient to power all civilization for many tens of millions of years. Tapping the crust as suggested above wouldn't even measureably increase the rate of cooling of the core, though admittedly we might eventually cool the crust somewhat.

RE: Hope
By Captain Orgazmo on 8/19/2008 8:58:45 PM , Rating: 4
I think he was making an ironic statement. No matter what humans use a source of energy, someone will have a complaint. The very idea that we could cool the core of the earth down appreciably by drilling tiny holes into the crust is as ludicrous as the idea that we can drastically change the course of the earth's sun induced climate cycles by releasing biologically stored CO2 back into the atmosphere by burning coal and hydrocarbons.

RE: Hope
By k20boy on 8/19/2008 11:36:45 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know if you guys have heard of entropy. Anyway I'm an undergrad engineering student so I'm by no means overly qualified to describe it. However, there is a theory that entropy in the universe is always increasing if we consider the universe as an isolated system and thus will eventually lead to a "heat death" where we have a homogeneous distribution of thermal energy and no more work can be extracted from anything because energy transfer and work is all about potential differences. We are all doomed eventually (life will cease to exist in this scenario) so that is a moot point about the Earth loosing its thermal energy: it will and so will everything else...there is eternal truth in the statement "nothing lasts forever".


RE: Hope
By oTAL on 8/20/2008 1:28:37 PM , Rating: 2
There's hope. ;)
If you have some spare time you'll enjoy this:

RE: Hope
By Spuke on 8/20/2008 2:22:18 PM , Rating: 2
Awesome!!! Thanks.

RE: Hope
By iNGEN on 8/27/2008 6:04:27 PM , Rating: 2
I think it more likely we worry about the impact on the water cycle from all the "closed loop" geothermal plants that may be dotting the globe 100 years from now.

RE: Hope
By mattclary on 8/20/2008 10:30:34 AM , Rating: 2
The Moon, as it orbits, produces stress on Earth. I'm no geologist, but pretty sure this will keep the interior of the Earth hot.

Our measly cooling with this technology won't have any noticeable effect on the temperature of the core.

RE: Hope
By FITCamaro on 8/20/2008 3:48:37 PM , Rating: 2
You want an argument against it, here it is: If you tap the power of the earth's core too much you will reduce the life expectancy of the planet itself. Now your realy talking about killing the planet!

I really hope someone hits you in the head with something hard. It will hopefully knock the stupid out of you.

The Earth's core isn't changing until the Sun expands as a red giant and incinerates our planet. Even then the planet itself might survive as a burned chunk of rock with a still hot core(I don't know. I'm not a geologist). Likely the only thing cooling down the core will be the Sun exploding and turning our planet into a trillion pieces.

We could not even begin to hope to extract enough heat from the Earth to cool the center of it. Geothermal energy doesn't even make it into the mantle much less the outer core. Did you pay attention at all in Geology class?

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