When last we checked in on Iceland, researchers were nearing a major milestone for a project that could have some very big implications for the energy security of the island nation. Back in December, a drill bore reached depths of almost 4,500 meters (just shy of three miles) into the earth’s crust in order to access a special kind of water vapor called “supercritical steam.” Now, as the BBC reports, the project has broken a new milestone: at 4,659 meters deep, it’s the deepest volcanic bore hole ever drilled:
The aim had been to reach a depth 5,000m, where the temperatures were expected to reach about 500C…[but as] the geologists neared their 5,000m target, the drilling got more difficult, and the team decided to halt the operation once it reached 4,659m-down. However at this depth, the scientists did find the pressure was high enough to see the supercritical steam they were expecting.
Scientists have long known that Iceland sits atop a lot of geothermal energy—it sits atop what’s known as a geologic “hotspot”—and now they’re keen to find a way to convert all of that heat into some sort of usable energy above ground. It’s a big deal, then, that this project has gotten as far as it has. This is a step towards unlocking yet another source of power, and suggests that our energy future might not be as dismal as environmentalists fear.
We should note that figuring out how to reliably “bottle” this supercritical steam won’t be any sort of energy panacea. Just as is the case with virtually every energy source, geothermal requires the right local conditions for these projects to start providing power to local communities. Still, thinking of this Iceland borehole as a proof of concept, there’s plenty to be excited about here.