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Geothermal Energy
Iceland Is Tapping Volcanoes for Power

This may sound like the beginning of a cheesy B science fiction movie, but it’s real: geologists on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula are drilling a borehole three miles into the Earth’s crust to access “supercritical steam” that can be used to generate electricity. The BBC reports:

A huge rig stands out against the black lava fields; inside a drill has been operating for 24 hours a day since August. It has now descended nearly 4,500m, and the team expects it to hit its target depth of 5km by the end of the year. […]

“We hope that this will open new doors for the geothermal industry globally to step into an era of more production,” said Asgeir Margeirsson, CEO of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), a collaboration between scientists, industry and the Icelandic government. “That’s the aim – that’s the hope. We have never been this deep before, we have never been into rock this hot before, but we are optimistic.”

The steam these drillers are accessing is neither liquid nor gas, and it’s hoped that it could generate as much as ten times the power of conventional steam. There are dangers involved with drilling in a volcanically active region, however (shocking!). If the borehole hits magma, lava “would come out rather like lancing a boil or popping a spot. It would cause huge problems for the drilling operation itself, but it is unlikely to cause anything more significant than that,” said Simon Redfern, a professor of mineral physics.

Iceland’s geology makes it uniquely suited to take advantage of this sort of energy opportunity, but that also limits the sort of global impact geothermal technological advances are going to be able to have. Still, this is an exciting example of researchers pushing the envelope of what’s possible when it comes to power generation. We’ll need more creativity and gumption like this in the coming decades.

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  • LarryD

    Iceland has been tapping geothermal power for years. Few countries have such abundant geothermal assets, so most of the research in other countries has had to involve deep drilling.

  • Disappeared4x

    What happens when Iceland gets to the ThreeMileCrust, and Damavand volcano in Iran blows so much crustschmutz that Gaia suddenly goes into four years of winter, as happened in 1883 after Krakatoa erupted? Argo, the Sequel…
    Iran has so much geothermal potential, one should wonder why they need nuclear-generated electricity :

    • LarryD

      The cynic’s response is: “to cover their nuclear weapons program, of course.” Arguably, the cynics are spot on on this one.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Even with best wishes for success, one wonders how much they pay people to work on this particular drill rig.

    • Jim__L

      Rig workers typically make good money. I’d be surprised if they didn’t have decent acoustic sensor equipment that was constantly on the lookout for the kind of geological anomalies that might lead to catastrophe.

      • Disappeared4x

        or maybe the rig workers in Iceland are drilling for diamonds? In today’s news: “Biggest and best diamonds formed in deep mantle metallic liquid”

      • FriendlyGoat

        Yes, probably. Drilling something like this the first time is still adventurous.

        • Jim__L

          Good thing they don’t charge these guys for the fun then, eh? 😉

  • Fat_Man

    Iceland is uniquely located to utilize geothermal energy. There are several geothermal plants in the US. A quick Google search revealed that most geothermal energy in the US is produced in four states–California, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii. Total installed capacity of geothermal power plants in the United State is 3,200 megawatts. Geothermal energy currently provides less than 1 percent of total U.S. electricity.

    Don’t expect geothermal energy to solve many energy problems in the US. The number of useful sites is limited, and are mostly in the west away from centers of population and industry. Further, it is conceptually simple but actually building and running the plants is difficult and expensive. The sites are geologically unstable and the steam that comes out is often laden with highly corrosive and toxic materials.

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