New Geothermal Research Bodes Well for US

More than three million megawatts of green power are waiting underground if the United States are willing to go looking for it, says a new study.

The new research was funded by and conducted by scientists from the Southern Methodist University and showed there is 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today waiting in geothermal resources across the country.

The mapping produced from the research is available to view via Google Earth, and according authors David Blackwell of the SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics, and Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, is available and accessible using technology currently available.

Based on 35,000 data sites from across the country, the study has shown that there are possible geothermal sites in the east of the country. Western America has always known to be home to large stores of geothermal energy, due to its proximity to the edge of the North American tectonic plate. For example, The Geysers Field north of San Francisco is home to more than a dozen geothermal plants, tapping naturally occurring steam reservoirs to produce electricity for more than 40 years.

“Once again, SMU continues its pioneering work in demonstrating the tremendous potential of geothermal resources,” said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association. “Both Google and the SMU researchers are fundamentally changing the way we look at how we can use the heat of the Earth to meet our energy needs, and by doing so are making significant contributions to enhancing our national security and environmental quality.”

“This assessment of geothermal potential will only improve with time,” said Blackwell. “Our study assumes that we tap only a small fraction of the available stored heat in the Earth’s crust, and our capabilities to capture that heat are expected to grow substantially as we improve upon the energy conversion and exploitation factors through technological advances and improved techniques.”

The study revealed that there are certain locations in the eastern two-thirds of the country that are actually hotter than some areas in the western third.

According to the study, there are three recent technology developments which have allowed development of geothermal tapping in regions without tectonic activity or volcanism:

Low Temperature Hydrothermal – Energy is produced from areas with naturally occurring high fluid volumes at temperatures ranging from less than boiling to 150°C (300°F). This application is currently producing energy in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Utah.

Geopressure and Coproduced Fluids Geothermal – Oil and/or natural gas are produced together with electricity generated from hot geothermal fluids drawn from the same well. Systems are installed or being installed in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) – Areas with low fluid content, but high temperatures of more than 150°C (300°F), are “enhanced” with injection of fluid and other reservoir engineering techniques. EGS resources are typically deeper than hydrothermal and represent the largest share of total geothermal resources capable of supporting larger capacity power plants.

Particularly interesting geothermal regions include the Appalachian trend (Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, to northern Louisiana), the aquifer heated area of South Dakota, and the areas of radioactive basement granites beneath sediments such as those found in northern Illinois and northern Louisiana.

Additionally, the Gulf Coast continues to be spotlighted as a possible massive resource area, while the Raton Basin in southeastern Colorado is currently being evaluated by the State of Colorado along with an are energy company due to its extremely high temperatures.

Source: Southern Methodist University
Image Source: Google

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