From compact fusion to solar energy generation, the world has been desperately searching to find a way to generate energy which is not only abundant but cleaner and cheaper than conventional fossil fuels.
Geothermal energy is one energy source which is more than capable of satisfying the world’s entire energy needs (at least in theory). Apart from being the cheapest renewable source, geothermal energy scores over wind and solar power when the issue of intermittent power generation arises. In spite of its benefits, its global installed capacity when compared to solar and wind power is miniscule.
However, geothermal energy is now set to move to the next level as a U.S. based technology company called Hypersciences has been granted a patent to develop a ‘ram accelerator’ that would fire deep holes into the ground and access geothermal energy located at a depth of around 2 miles below ground.
Hypersciences is now being backed by Shell
What makes this development more exciting is the fact that Hypersciences has received a $1 million grant from the oil major Shell who is backing the project. According to the patent, the ‘bullets’ that would be fired from a large gun at an extremely high velocity (around 2 Km/s) would vaporize anything that they strike. Related: US Shale: How Smoke And Mirrors Could Cost Investors Millions
According to Mark Russel, CEO of Hypersciences, this method of firing projectiles would enable his company to access the geothermal energy at extreme depths. The biggest limitation of geothermal energy is its high drilling costs which are anywhere between $5 and $20 million per well. But, with this new development, the cost of drilling for geothermal energy could go down as the ram accelerator would fire multiple shots into the ground in order to create much deeper holes as compared to conventional drilling.
Mark Russel’s new drilling system Image source: PopularScience Related: Could WTI Trade At A Premium To Brent By Next Year?
Geothermal Energy – Great potential but little usage
Geothermal energy has vast potential but so far it has been neglected by most countries due to its high drilling costs. Only in places like Iceland does geothermal account for a major share of consumption. Iceland, being a volcanic island, has abundant geothermal potential, and it represents around 70 percent of the country’s energy consumption. “In Iceland, geothermal generation facilities are found even in small villages and support the residents’ everyday lives,” says Halldor Elis Olafsson a trade representative of the Icelandic Embassy in Japan.
The United States, despite being the world leader in the geothermal energy production, only sources a fraction of its energy consumption from geothermal. However, that could change. The U.S. is now planning to expand its geothermal energy generation capacity. The U.S. Department of Energy is backing its national laboratories to collaborate with the Geothermal Technology Office and help small scale businesses in developing technologies for exploring geothermal energy. In another development, the DOE is planning to use a high power laser with a new patented technology, which could increase and maximize the heat recovery from geothermic wells.
A recent study, although inconclusive, highlighted the risks associated with geothermal energy that included exposure to hydrogen sulfide and its effects on respiratory health. However, it needs to be noted that the carbon emissions from geothermal power plants are almost four times less than solar PV. This is in addition to being far more efficient when compared with wind, coal and solar PV in terms of usage of resources such as water and land.
There is little doubt as to why Shell chose to invest in Hypersciences. The new technology of firing a ram accelerator, if proven to be successful commercially, could usher in a new wave of alternative energy sources.
By Gaurav Agnihotri for Oilprice.com
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