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Iceland Taps Magma for 24/7 Geothermal Energy Source

Renewable energy has always faced a significant bottleneck for broader acceptance – the wind doesn’t blow 24 hours a day, the sun doesn’t always shine, and 24/7 renewable power sources such as hydroelectric dams require massive investment before coming operational. Given that consumers are solely concerned with bottom line, the cost of a kilowatt-hour, renewables have faced an uphill struggle to gain acceptance.

One 24/7 potential source of renewable energy is geothermal, and now Iceland has apparently surmounted one of the industry’s bottlenecks.

..and it was inadvertent.

Iceland’s first “magma-enhanced” geothermal Icelandic Deep Drilling Project IDDP-1 well at Krafla has been proclaimed successful, according to the first scientific reports emanating on the project.

The Krafla IDDP-1 well unexpectedly drilled into magma during boring an exploratory well.

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Significance? The Krafla IDDP-1 borehole has demonstrated that it’s possible to drill down to molten magma and retain technical control, and inserting a steel-casing at the bottom of the hole was proven to be viable, allowing for the utilization of hot, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures exceeding 450° Centigrade, a global record for geothermal heat capture.

While 450° Centigrade is not hot enough at atmospheric pressure to be supercritical, it nevertheless still contains an enormous amount of usable energy, with Icelandic engineers estimating that they could use the well to create a 36 megawatt power plant, 2,000 percent what a thermal coal-fired power plant could produce.

The IDDP and Iceland’s National Power Company reinforced the IDDP-1 borehole with steel casing, allowing temperatures of up to 1000° Centigrade generating heated steam vents sustaining working temperatures as high as 450°C, vastly exceeding the standard heat geothermal power plants utilize, with the borehole’s estimated 36 megawatt power generation being more than half of the nearby 60 megawatt power Krafla geothermal plant.

Iceland is not hoarding its discovery, having published the results of their research in the “Geothermic” journal. The importance of the discovery could introduce a new method for producing geothermal energy. Iceland currently produces 65 percent of its energy from geothermal power, with more than 90 percent of homes there now being heated by geothermal energy.

The IDDP project is largely funded by a consortium of Icelandic energy companies investigating the possibility of greatly increasing the country’s energy resources by producing deep, high-enthalpy, supercritical geothermal fluids.

Related article: London Plans to Use Heat from the Underground to Keep Homes Warm

Whether Iceland’s accomplishments can be reproduced worldwide is at this stage problematical - even with current advanced drilling technology it is still almost impossible to strike magma directly, with only earlier incident having occurred once before, in Hawaii.

While geothermal energy because of cost remains overshadowed by other sources of clean energy such as wind and solar, it is slowly attracting more investment resources to develop the technology and Iceland’s accomplishment should be evaluated in this context.

The IDDP is a collaborative project between Icelandic HS Energy Ltd., National Power Company and Reykjavik Energy and the government’s National Energy Authority of Iceland. It will drill the next borehole, IDDP-2, in southwest Iceland at Reykjanes in 2014-2015.

University of California Riverside Emeritus professor of geology Wilfred Elders commented, “Essentially, the IDDP-1 created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system. This unique engineered geothermal system is the world’s first to supply heat directly from a molten magma. In the future, the success of this drilling and research project could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide.”

And Iceland is not the only country pressing on geothermal development. On 16 September 2013 the Icelandic International Development Agency signed a Partnership Agreement with the Ethiopian Government to cooperate in geothermal development.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com




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