New paper outlines potential to tap new generation of deep geothermal wells
Could we derive power from magma, the molten rock that comes from the centre of the earth?
Scientists at University of California Davies certainly think so, after discovering a rich seam of the molten rock relatively close to the earth’s surface while drilling in Iceland, which they now believe could represent a new source of harnessable energy.
The team, which published its findings in the journal Geology this month, were drilling a well as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), a project looking for superheated water under high pressure that could act as a potential source of energy.
The drilling project had intended to drill 11,000 feet into the earth, but had struck magma at around 6,900 feet.
The original discovery was made in 2009, but the team has since had a chance to test the magma and publish its findings. It found that the magma produced dry steam at 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius). The researchers believe that the steam could generate up to 25MW of energy, which could power up to 30,000 homes.
Magma is a valuable potential energy source because it maintains the ultra-hot temperatures found at the centre of the earth. It has been studied as a potential energy source before, most notably back in the 1970s when a research team working at Sandia laboratories concluded that there were no scientific reasons not to use magma as an energy source. In testifying before the 1979 US House of Representative Science Committee Hearing, however, it admitted that it would be a high-risk engineering project.
Magma has been found before at Krafla, Iceland, close to the IDDP well. It erupted from an existing geothermal plant in 1977. It has also been discovered relatively near the earth’s surface in Hawaii, which like Iceland, is a fruitful region for geothermal projects
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