There are few places on earth as geothermal-friendly as the island nation of Iceland, with 25 percent of its total electricity production coming from geothermal facilities. So it makes sense that Iceland is now the stage for a joint attempt by Statoil and The Iceland Deep Drilling Project to drill the world’s deepest geothermal borehole.
The drilling, which began in August, has already reached depths of 4,500 meters, with a stated aim of hitting 5 kilometers before the end of the year. At that depth, the extreme pressure and heat of over 500 degrees Celsius (932 Farenheit) is expected to create ‘supercritical steam’, a substance that is neither liquid nor gas and holds the potential to create 10 times the energy of a conventional geothermal well.
But drilling what is being dubbed “the world’s hottest hole” does not come without risks. A similar attempt in 2009 ended in disaster, with the drilling team hitting magma at a depth of 2.1 kilometers, destroying the drill string and sending thick clouds of smoke and steam rushing back to the surface. This time around, the geologists are once again ‘drilling blind’, unable to examine exactly what type of rock they are passing through. But so far it has gone smoothly, and with only a few hundred meters left to go, the team appears confident that they will reach their goal.
While Iceland and its world record breaking borehole may be at the forefront of geothermal progress, the rest of the world appears intent on catching up. Kenya has been rapidly expanding the use of geothermal energy recently, with around half of its national grid now geothermally powered and a new major power plant set to be operational by 2018. In Indonesia, a Japanese funded team is developing a plant that, once completed, is set to be the world’s largest single geothermal power station.
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With a geothermal renaissance clearly underway, the global impact of Iceland’s latest foray into the unknown could be enormous. Wilfred Elders, a geologist at the University of California, claims that “Potential sites for supercritical geothermal resources occur worldwide” and energy companies across the globe will be eager to capitalize on these sites should ‘the world’s hottest hole’ produce the expected results. It’s certainly a space for energy enthusiasts to watch closely.
By Josh Owens of Oilprice.com
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