Geothermal Ready for Its Moment?

April 6, 2021

More and more, the experts I have been speaking to are bringing up the progress in Geothermal, which has been quietly innovating on the back of the incredible advances in drilling practices that have been pioneered in the oil/gas sector.

For example, it came up, unbidden, in my recent conversation with Daniel Cohan at Rice University, who notes the potential for Geothermal to be a player in the wake of the Texas blackout debacle. (starts about 1:50 if you’re rushed)
Micheal Webber at U of Texas brought it up, unbidden, as well.

It may be that geothermal is ready for its moment.

Global News (Canada):

A piece of technology created in Alberta is pushing the boundaries of geothermal energy and drawing international attention.

The Calgary-based company Eavor Technologies has created a closed-loopgeothermal system that touts itself as the world’s first scalable clean energy derived from the natural heat of the earth.“It’s a new type of geothermal, this closed-loop. It’s on-demand,” explained the company’s chief technology officer Matt Toews. “That’s been a challenge with [other clean energy like] wind and solar.”

The system is described as similar to a massive subsurface radiator, much like how a vehicle radiator circulates fluid in a closed-loop to remove heat from a gasoline engine. It does not use fracking or water and has no earthquake risk. The “loop” is a closed network of pipes that are installed below ground and cycle through a facility above it.

Eavor deploys the technology around the world but the technical team is based in Calgary. There is an operational project near Sylvan Lake, west of Red Deer.

“Those are all the inputs into what we do. Instead of putting that into oil and gas, we are putting it into a clean energy source.”

In its fledgling stage, Eavor quickly caught the eye of Alberta Innovates, which looks to partner with researchers, small companies and large industry to develop within the province.

“Alberta Innovates is the research and innovation arm within Alberta,” explained Maureen Kolla, acting executive director for clean technology at AI.

“We want to help develop solutions that can help meet the challenges we face in Alberta, like diversifying the economy or meeting an environmental target.”

Alberta Innovates provided $1 million in funding to the $13-million project near Sylvan Lake, Toews said. He described the company as a “critical piece of funding” when the Eavor was first getting off the ground.

“It’s a bit of a snowball effect. You need someone to take the first step. It’s great to have a company like Alberta Innovates that is ready to be there,” Toews said.

In February, the energy firm closed on a financing round where it raised US$40 million with lead investors that included major oil companies BP and Chevron.

“That felt like a big validating moment from what we’ve been up to the last several years,” Toews said.

Think GeoEnergy:

In a release, Hungarian MS Energy Solutions announces having put in place Hungary’s first closed-cycle geothermal heat plant from an abandoned oil well.

The first closed-cycle geothermal heat recovery system has been put in place by the engineers of MS Energy Solutions Ltd. from Hungary in a dry hole (oil and gas prospecting, but dry hole) well. The implementation of the 0.5 MW heat producing system of the “WeHEAT (Wells for Heat Exchanging. Advanced Technology)” type technology developed by the company is an outstanding achievement because it enables the utilisation of out-of-use deep drilling projects without the extraction of the formation water.

The geothermal heating system now put in place in a deep wellbore at Kiskunhalas, Hungary in the 1960s is a 100% green renewable energy producing system. The system generates zero carbon energy sustainably, without any emission whatsoever, achieving a 96% efficiency ratio when used directly for heating. Its operation needs no energy generated from fossil fuels and its life cycle spans over generations of human life. This small facility, snugly fitting in with its landscape environment, generates energy without any waste output at all.

The innovation project implemented with support from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary is regarded as a technological breakthrough because there are nearly 9,000 out-of-use deep well-bores in Hungary at present, most of which being technically suitable for the implementation of this technology.

The mini heat plant technology developed through four years of engineering efforts may come as a great opportunity for local governments, agricultural businesses and other private companies because this solution enables cutting the heating bills of public institutions, factories and homes to nearly zero. This is particularly advantageous for agricultural businesses because the energy profile of the heating plant is very closely in line with the energy demand of agriculture, particularly horticultural entities.

The utilisation of abandoned deep wellbores or dry holes for geothermal energy generation purposes has so far been accomplished by transforming them into water wells. This technology has expanded the range of possibilities, while other statutory and environmental tasks entailed by extracting water, or the costs and risks of boring new deep wells, do not have to be faced in implementing heating systems. The installation of the “WeHEAT” type heat generating system on an existing well provides the well with a 300-900 kW thermal energy generating capacity. Such an amount of energy is enough to heat a structure of a floor area of about 15 thousand square metres with a poor energy insulation system (e.g. greenhouse) or a building complex with an efficient heat insulation system, of a floor area of up to 50-60 000 square metres, such as a condominium consisting of 600 apartments.

Nearly all of the widely used geothermal technologies – technologies utilising the thermal energy of the earth – are based on water extraction where formation water is used as working fluid. Although this involves a very significant degree of enthalpy, the lack of due care in the water treatment processes, production systems without reinjection, the discharge of inadequately treated water into surface recipient water bodies as well as occasional auxiliary gas (methane, carbon dioxide) release, often cause major damage to the ecosystems concerned, while proper water treatment is a major expenditure item in the economic calculations of such projects.

The WeHEAT technology developed by MS Energy Solutions Ltd. however, does not require water extraction. It is a completely closed loop system: although it can extract less energy than the conventional geothermal system, it is by far more predictable, it does not entail water treatment obligations and costs, or environmental pollution, and it does not jeopardise valuable water resources, it is carbon-neutral and generates no waste. The system entails no environmental impact and its life cycle ratio is highly advantageous. The cost of the implementation of this type of technology is about 10 percent of that of other types of geothermal systems, with practically negligible risks.

The development of the new technology will greatly benefit both the geothermal sector and the hydrocarbon industry. There are numerous sites where good strata holding hot formation water are not accessible; in such places programmes for the reuse of wells already bored and paid for, that is, expensive but dry hole projects, might constitute meaningful investment projects for any average domestic agricultural or industrial enterprise.

The working plant in Hungary produces 0.5 MW of heat, and is suitable for heating a building complex of a floor area of about 20-30,000 m2 or a greenhouse plant of 1-1.5 hectares, in the town of Kiskunhalas.

6 Responses to “Geothermal Ready for Its Moment?”

  1. Keith McClary Says:

    “Alberta Innovates” is the new name for the Alberta govt owned company that developed and promoted tar sands technology.

  2. John Oneill Says:

    It sounds like this system provides low grade heat, suitable for heating houses or greenhouses, but not for electricity. Traditional geothermal also provides rather low grade heat. Nuclear plants, which mostly provide steam at 320C, can make electricity with a Carnot efficiency of about 37%. Most geothermal generators only manage about 10% – nine tenths of the energy becomes waste heat. ( It’s not waste if you can reuse it for district heating or domestic hot water, though that might impinge further on the generation efficiency, if the cold sink is closer to the input in temperature.) Gas or coal can provide heat at 1000C or more, which not only gives electricity generation at up to 50% efficiency, it also allows process heat for chemicals manufacture, including for fuels such as hydrogen, or better, hydrogen-binding compounds like dimethyl ether. Concentrating solar could in theory do the same, but it’s limited geographically, has a poor capacity factor, and doesn’t work if there’s any cloud cover – diffused light won’t focus. That’s why outfits like Bill Gates’ Terrapower have been pushing third generation nuclear – if they can use an alternative coolant to water, they can run much hotter than light water reactors, and in theory free up the whole spectrum of energy use from the need for fossil burners.
    Here in New Zealand, geothermal gives perhaps a higher percentage of power ( in the North Island ), than even in Iceland – about a third. We’re sitting on a plate boundary, though, so the crust is thin and temperature gradient below ground much steeper than most places. Also, geothermal likes steady output. It’s ill suited to filling the gaps of stop-start wind and solar, or load following demand peaks and troughs – hydro is much better for that.

    • Mark Mev Says:

      Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. So what if the carnot efficiency of electrical generation is 10% compared to 37%? Isn’t it the cost per KWhr that should matter? If the cost of the technology achieving the 37% efficiency is 10 times more than the cost of the technology with the 10% efficiency, then the lower efficiency technology is cheaper. Those costs I used are pulled from the air. I have no idea what the real cost comparisons are.

      • Cost per KWhr is almost meaningless when a source is not always available and there’s no way to store electricity at scale … and there’s NOT!

        • Ops, this is a geothermal post. All that geothermal heat is sort of stored in the ground, near the geothermal generation setup. Of course, once a lot of it gets extracted, it takes a long time for more to get conducted in. Richard Muller writes about it in his book, Physics for Future Presidents.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            What a dumb and wrong generalization about geothermal.

            And a typically moronic citation for canman, aka Dombroski, who unerringly chooses the most uncredible right wing nonsense to believe. For decades after it was nearly universally accepted among scientists that Earth was warming, Muller denied it. That is, Muller, an alleged scientist, refused to accept OVERWHELMING evidence of climate catastrophe for nearly 40 years. What pathological arrogance for him to be writing a book purporting to teach people—especially policy-makers—about physics. And what nonsensical ideological cherry picking dishonesty for canman to sift through and reject mountains of more accurate information to find such a disparaging lie about clean safe renewable energy.

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