Results Could Indicate Geothermal Breakthrough

December 5, 2020

Geothermal energy is having a moment.
Historically, geothermal plants work in areas like Iceland, or California, where hot springs and hot rocks are close to the surface.
Newer techniques seek to make geothermal reservoirs available anywhere. Big implications if they can crack it.

Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — Imagine having an unlimited supply of clean, renewable energy at your feet that could revolutionize the nation’s — and even the world’s — approach to turning on the lights in billions of homes and powering up economies across the globe. 

A Utah project playing out near a little town of less than 1,500 residents could transform what is only imagination into a formidable reality by using the first-of-its-kind technology that reaches thousands upon thousands of feet underground to harness geothermal resources on a commercial scale.

The possibilities are endless if the technology is proven successful, and the project in Milford, Beaver County, spearheaded by the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute is being watched by a lot of counties — Germany, Japan, China, the United Kingdom. 

“There’s worldwide interest,” said Joseph Moore, principal investigator of the Utah Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy, or what they call FORGE, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy at a tune of some $200 million.

The project hit a milestone recently with the start of the drilling of one of two deep, deviated wells that ultimately reach depths of 10,800 feet underground and are seeking to capture geothermal energy bubbling at 437 degrees.

The enhanced geothermal technology works like a radiator, if you will. 

The well will go vertically to a depth of 6,000 feet and make a 65-degree turn. The total length of the well will be approximately 11,000 feet with the “toe” — or the end of the well — reaching a vertical depth of 8,500 feet.

This well will serve as the conduit of injected water, at 2,000 gallons per minute, to be circulated through the fractures it makes in the hard granite underground rock. The second deviated well will then bring that water up, only to be injected again, over and over.

This is the first project of its kind to tackle this challenge while drilling in hot, hard crystalline granite.

Ultimately the idea is to use this “radiator” process to generate steam to power a turbine to turn it into energy.

This is the first research attempt to harness geothermal energy using such a drastic angle of 65 degrees, Moore said.

“Most geothermal wells are pretty close to vertical and about 30 to 40 degrees.”

While geothermal resources across the United States are being used for energy — Utah ranks third in the country for its geothermal energy output — no one has been quite able to figure out how to make it economically viable on a commercial scale. 

That challenge is what is fueling the U.S. Department of Energy’s interest and funding. It picked Utah out of four other competitors across the country to test this technology and to take it to market. 

“What we are doing is engineering a geothermal reservoir,” Moore said. 

He added: “Our goal is not to generate electricity but to prove the technology so we can take that technology to Salt Lake City, to New York, Iowa or to Mumbai (India.)”

The project has the enthusiastic support of not only the federal government but state agencies such as the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, the little town of Beaver, Millard County and others.

Moore says this is why you, the average energy consumer, should care. 

“Let’s say we extract 2% of the geothermal energy that is between 2 and 6 miles down. We would have more than 2,000 times the amount of energy used in the United States per year. Just imagine how much energy that is stored below our feet that is virtually free. It is just up to us how to extract it. Conceptually that blows my mind,” Moore said.

26 Responses to “Results Could Indicate Geothermal Breakthrough”

  1. indy222 Says:

    Very interesting. It satisfies the two chief safety criteria I’ve identified for transforming energy systems and Geo-Climate-Engineering schemes… (1) take the Earth systems back alond the ~same trajectory as got us to this sad state of today, and (2) Leave the surface of the Earthin as natural a state as you engineer, as possible. The surface, where nearly all life must live. I’ve advocated molten salt thorium breeder reactors as the main always-on energy source to move to, but this may be a serious contender. Utility Scale Solar fails, and same with wind.

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Greendude, 437 which degrees?

  3. grindupbaker Says:

    With the ~425 degrees warming over 3,300 metres that’s a whopping 0.13 degrees / metre which is 6.5x the continental plates average of 0.020 degrees / metre so the viability of this is limited to hot spots such as that shown (well, I suppose it’s ~15% of the area but likely less because the hotter parts are probably heavily weighted to being on continental shelves in the ocean.

  4. ecoquant Says:

    It is true that nearly anywhere if you drill deep enough, you can exploit a geothermal gradient inherent in Earth. There’s a cost of drilling/maintaining the bore well known to oil and other explorations.

    Long term, for large scale energy extraction, one thing that concerns me — and I’d need help from a geologist or geophysicist on this point — is that thermal diffusion in solid rock, which is the character of things once deep enough, is limited in the number of kilojoules which diffuse across it in space. Some modeling work was done by Chen, Chu, Zhang, Han, Zhang (2019).

    The concern is that if the take-up of exported heat is sufficiently high, as one might want for an efficient extraction, that export rate would be faster than the diffusion rate of heat from surrounding rock and eventually the reservoir would be temporarily cooled and so less efficient. Eventually it will be rewarm, but the diffusion rate from surrounding rock limits the take-up.

    Countermeasures are assessing this limiting rate and devising systems for extracting which respect it. Deep geothermal energy could still be attractive, but would entail drilling such extractors at widely spaced intervals, each so limited. Obviously this would increase capital costs, but it still could be a serious win.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      The heat energy of rock is Huge. The rate of heat transference thru rock is very slow. What u say is correct, I have no numbers on the subject.

      • John Oneill Says:

        A geologist at Otago University open day told me that the rocks below the Southern Alps (South Is, New Zealand ) are anomalously hot. This is because they used to be much deeper in the earth, but there’s been a lot of uplift, glaciers shaved the tops off them during the last ice age, 10,000 plus years ago, and they haven’t noticed their thermal blanket’s been ripped off yet. Outside areas where there’s magma near the surface, or natural hot water, you’ll be mining heat. Once you’ve cooled down the area around the bore, which does take maybe most of a lifetime, you’ll have to drill elsewhere. Still better life expectancy than wind turbines or solar panels, and the power is 24/7. No good for load following , though, monkeying with the flow rate can damage the bore.

        • ecoquant Says:

          No doubt want to use geothermal if available, but need to critique this:

          Still better life expectancy than wind turbines or solar panels.

          In 2030 the construction cost for wind and solar, particularly land-based wind per kWh will be less thanone-half of the operating cost per kWh of the nearest, most efficient natural gas competitor. Moreover, and this has big implications, that construction cost per kWh will be one-sixth of the transmission cost per kWh of grid-provided electricity.

          Accordingly, it doesn’t matter if wind and solar only last 10 years or not (even if they last 15 years for wind, 20+ years for solar). Because they come in small units, you can undergo a proactive replacement program and still come out way ahead of other forms of energy production.

          Also, relating to this, what’s the LCoE of these geothermal ideas?

          Intermittency is only a problem for the imaginations of people who don’t know how to do wind and solar properly. First is situating them properly, understanding local daily meteorology on average, and being sure they, on average, generate when energy is needed. Second is exploiting how cheap it is to build them to construct them with 4X redundancy. That is, if you need one unit of construction for wind and solar or a combination to manage your projected biggest median day load, build four units of that. Third, provide 40-90 hours of storage, whether battery, uphill pumping, or whatever for all the generation. Fourth, use digital controls to shape and adapt generation to what’s really needed in applications, not provide high quality power to everyone everywhere. For example, most fans don’t have to run at peak most of the time … They can be throttled to be slower or faster, as long as they have variable speeds. Ditto timed use of chillers for big commercial buildings instead of A/C.

          The redundancy means that even if wind and solar are available for a small portion of a day, you’ll still generate a lot, and that can be used to replenish depleting batteries. Also, solar still generates on cloudy and especially partly cloudy days. Indeed, solar can generate more on partly cloudy days than it does in cloudless conditions.

          Finally, it’s good to site wind and solar so their generation is anti-correlated.

  5. This is boring.

    Geothermal energy will never solve our insatiable demand for ever more energy. It has limited locations where drilling can take place. Seismic activity threatens such operations and as for the costs, this is no wonder solution.

    “Ultimately the idea is to use this “radiator” process to generate steam to power a turbine to turn it into energy.”

    Okay, call me pedantic, but you cannot produce energy. Prove me wrong though. Now that would be a breakthrough!

  6. If you could heat a big volume of rocky earth with some kind of nuclear reaction or zap it with a beam from space, you wouldn’t have to drill so far.

  7. J4Zonian Says:

    Everybody here knows I’m all for clean safe renewable energy, and I’m thrilled that there’s another form to be added to the mix, but when I hear this I get suspicious, and think:
    1. “enhanced” geothermal, as opposed to…um, whatever isn’t enhanced: regular? dehanced? antihanced?
    2. Thus, I think “fracking”.

    3 things needed for geothermal: heat, water, and I forget the other. If there’s no heat it can’t work unless they heat it, which would be against the law (of thermodynamics). If there’s no water they need to inject it, or something like it.

    Do they really use just water for this new thing? To frack they don’t; they use proprietarily secret but obviously harmful fluids that are not water. That has all kinds of health effects, in addition to the earthquakes they cause by fracturing and injecting. Other effects, as in long-term ones? I hope this turns out to be benign, but lie I said, suspicious.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      oops. “like” I said.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      Yes, enhanced means fracked and expensive. The fracking medium is water and sand with about 3% other crap. At these depths there are no realistic environmental problems. Geothermal is a positive so go for it.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        “3% other crap”, being injected, especially if it then goes up and down and up and down (but even if it doesn’t) can certainly be a problem. Contaminating groundwater, for example. Is it reused forever?

        What other crap?

        3% equals 30,000 parts per million.

        Cyanide’s LD50, the dose that kills half those exposed to it, is 13 parts per million. Arsenic’s is 6. Some snake venoms, algal bloom toxin, & ricin, can kill at 1 part per million. The main source of methyl mercury in the world is coal burning. It can kill in quantities smaller than 1ppm; at even smaller doses it doesn’t kill, it just has profound lifelong physical and mental effects—Mad Hatter syndrome, for example, in which the victim speaks in the bizarre tangles called word salad. It takes even less than that in chronic doses.

        Dart poison frogs’ Batrachotoxin’s LD50 is 1/1000th of that (1mcg/kg or 1 part per billion), so if those 2 grains of salt in your hand were batrachotoxin, it’s a coin flip whether it would be enough to kill you. It would take 6 salt grains worth of VX, while Botulinum toxin kills at 1 thousandth that amount—1 nanogram, or 1 billionth of a gram/kg body weight. One part per trillion of it can kill.

        3% “other crap”?
        30 billion times more concentrated than the level at which some things can kill, and you and Dick Cheney talk about it like it’s nothing?

        • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

          Meh. Breathing is dangerous and bacon is a class A carcinogen. You will die young warring about trivialities. Non of your above is in the crap, wild guess, and whatever is in it, kilometres down in highly radioactive Plutonic rock is not a concern. It is not fracking that’s the problem, it’s burning hydrocarbons.
          PS. Arsenic is dangerous at prolonged intake at 50 ppm.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            As the article said and I repeated…
            [do I really have to do this? Can Brent not read?]
            …the stuff gets injected repeatedly, which means it’s not just down there and not anywhere else. It’s made and mixed somewhere, transported and transferred, and since the earth is fractured, in no doubt not entirely predictable ways, and pipes and other containers sometimes leak, there of course is danger in using it if it’s unhealthy stuff. You don’t know the composition, and we do know fracking fluid is harmful, yet you’re dismissing simple questions about the makeup and safety of an almost identical process. You’re completely cavalier about the health effects of substances and industrial processes, ignore the long history of industries lying about toxicity and danger, ignore the precautionary principle, and apparently have no interest in the well-being of humans or nature, or at least are willing to throw it on the wind for any nice-sounding technology that will relieve your anxiety. No wonder you’re pro-nuke.

            Gas has only been competitive with wind and solar because of fracking and the exemptions it’s been given from laws that would have made it safer (and unprofitable). It’s a failing pyramid scam, and will result in leaking wells all over the world. Taxpayers will get stuck with cleaning up many but many others will simply keep leaking indefinitely, worsening climate catastrophe even if we close down the industries and stop burning has, oil, coal and everything else.

            The Evidence Of Fracking’s Health Effects Keeps Mounting

            Water Use in Fracking Soars — Exceeding Rise in Fossil Fuels Produced, Study Says
            The amount of water used per well in fracking jumped by as much as 770 percent, or nearly 9-fold, between 2011 and 2016, the study says. Even more dramatically, wastewater production in each well’s first year increased up to 15-fold over the same years.

            Aliso Canyon Disaster Highlights Risks, Inadequate Safety Rules Governing Natural Gas Storage
            March 23, 2018
            A recent report spearheaded by researchers at the University of Southern California blames the largest greenhouse gas leak in U.S. history on dysfunctional management and poor regulatory oversight.

            Fracking causes earthquakes

            Fracking pollutes, causes quakes, new analysis says

            Texas Rhino Rancher Wins Landmark Pollution Case Against Natural Gas Co.
            May 16th, 2017 cleantechnica[DOT]com/2017/05/16/texas-rhino-rancher-wins-landmark-pollution-case-natural-gas-co/
            Texas RR Commission defeated—a rare occurrence

            How to resolve the planet’s ‘biggest health threat’
            November 3rd 2017

            The Halliburton Loophole

            Industrial Strength: How the U.S. Government Hid Fracking’s Risks to Drinking Water
            A pivotal EPA study provided the rationale for exemptions that helped unleash the fracking boom. The science was suppressed to protect industry interests.
            NOV 16, 2017

            For … those who believe their water has been tainted by fracking, there are few remedies. Congress took away the most powerful one in 2005, prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from safeguarding drinking water that might be harmed by fracking and even denying the regulator the authority to find out what chemicals companies use. That provision of the Energy Policy Act was justified by an EPA study about fracking into coalbed methane reservoirs, completed under the George W. Bush administration, that concluded that fracking posed no risk to drinking water.
            …a 2004 whistleblower complaint…called it “scientifically unsound.”
            …the scientists who wrote the report disagreed with the conclusion imposed by the Bush EPA, saying there was not enough evidence to support it. The authors, who worked for a government contractor, went so far as to have their company’s name and their own removed from the final document.

            17.6 million people in the United States live within a mile of an active oil or natural gas well.
            ”…study published today (August 23), in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The study, by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit research institute; the University of California, Berkeley; and Harvey Mudd College”

            “Our study was specifically designed to determine how many Americans have increased health risks from potential exposure to pollutants emitted from oil and gas development,”

            Many air pollutants, including benzene, formaldehyde and particulate matter, are emitted from both conventional and unconventional operations

            ‘The Harms of Fracking’: New Report Details Increased Risks of Asthma, Birth Defects and Cancer
            The most authoritative study of its kind reveals how fracking is contaminating the air and water – and imperiling the health of millions of Americans

            Fracking Study Finds Low Birth Weights Near Natural Gas Drilling Sites
            Babies born near hydraulic fracturing sites are 25 percent more likely to have a low birth weight than those born only a few kilometers away, a new study of more than 1 million births in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region concludes.
            Dec 13, 2017

            Lower birth weight associated with proximity of mother’s home to gas wells
            June 3, 2015, University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
            Mothers whose homes fell in the top group for proximity to a high density of such wells were 34 percent more likely to have babies who were “small for gestational age” than mothers whose homes fell in the bottom 25 percent.

            WV— Hypocrisy
            Corrupt, bloated, whining, rent-seeking, unable to compete in the Magical Market the bosses love, without even more subsidies than they have already, and not so hot on states’ rights small government, and not picking winners and losers as they’ve led you to believe.
            Today, West Virginia’s headlong race into the gas rush is taking the state down the same path that it’s been on for generations with coal.
            Elected officials have sided with natural gas companies on tax proposals and property rights legislation. Industry lobbyists have convinced regulators to soften new rules aimed at protecting residents and their communities from drilling damage.

            Fracking Boom? gas per well declining, a sign of a shrinking industry; in fact, growing slower than renewables

            Natural gas boom ends in Wyoming, state left with abandoned wells
            “The wells are being abandoned because gas prices are lower than production costs, and because shale gas production is inherently unprofitable, given the extremely rapid decline in production over time.” [And because fossil fuel operators are a pack of lying sacks of shit. Don’t forget that part.]
            (See SGBI No. 22 for a review of related articles)

            There are concerns in the financial world that the end of the shale boom may (already) be near.

            “The most common inorganic arsenical in air is arsenic trioxide (As2O3), while a variety of inorganic
            arsenates (AsO -3) or arsenites (AsO -) occur in water, soil, or food. A number of studies have noted 42
            differences in the relative toxicity of these compounds, with trivalent arsenites tending to be somewhat more toxic than pentavalent arsenates (Byron et al. 1967; Gaines 1960; Maitani et al. 1987a; Sardana et
            al. 1981; Willhite 1981).”

            Arsenic LD50 13mg/kg
            Symptoms range from headaches and sickness to blood clots, convulsions or severe pain. Those who ingest enough will eventually fall into a coma and die.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            How do you survive with that many knots in your panties? Go geothermal.

  8. SmarterThanYourAverageBear Says:

    That’s interesting but still involves fracking, which can lead to earthquakes and water table contamination. There is an even more interesting geothermal experiment going on in AB,Canada that solves this problem by using abandoned oil and gas wells –

    more info on the company ( site –

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