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.