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Earth Power Hardware

Pouring Water Into a Volcano To Generate Power 321

Posted by samzenpus
from the pele-approved dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Until recently, geothermal power systems have exploited only resources where naturally occurring heat, water, and rock permeability are sufficient to allow energy extraction. Now, geothermal energy developers plan use a new technology called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) to pump 24 million gallons of water into the side of the dormant Newberrry Volcano, located about 20 miles south of Bend, Oregon, in an effort to use the earth's heat to generate power. 'We know the heat is there,' says Susan Petty, president of AltaRock Energy, Inc. of Seattle. 'The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic.' Since natural cracks and pores do not allow economic flow rates, the permeability of the volcanic rock can be enhanced with EGS by pumping high-pressure cold water down an injection well into the rock, creating tiny fractures in the rock, a process known as hydroshearing. Then cold water is pumped down production wells into the reservoir, and the steam is drawn out. Natural geothermal resources only account for about 0.3 percent of U.S. electricity production, but a 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology report projected EGS could bump that to 10 percent within 50 years, at prices competitive with fossil-fuels. 'The important question we need to answer now,' says USGS geophysicist Colin Williams, 'is how geothermal fits into the renewable energy picture, and how EGS fits. How much it is going to cost, and how much is available.'"
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Pouring Water Into a Volcano To Generate Power

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  • Not just that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aglider (2435074) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:40AM (#38705464) Homepage

    Why not throwing the waste there instead of the landfill?

    • Re:Not just that (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:46AM (#38705494)

      I think this would be a great idea if it could work. The problem would most likely be polution. There is also the political issues of the fact that burning trash would emit CO2. I personaly think AGW is a load of crap, but I do recognize that some people would feel it important enough to bring the government down on this practice.

      The other problem is that wouldn't want everything that goes into a landfill being burned and put into the atmosphere, quite a lot would be toxic. I think that if you started seperating what's OK from what's bad, you'd end up with a pile of landfill waste, a pile of recyclable items, and a very small if not nonexistant pile of volcano fuel.

      Plus there shouldn't be any need. If what I've read is correct, the energy created by the (inactive)volcano would far surpass our ability to extract energy.

      • Re:Not just that (Score:5, Insightful)

        by oiron (697563) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @01:04PM (#38706336) Homepage

        Forget AGW - though I don't agree with you on that (that's another discussion)

        The real problem is that when you indiscriminately burn junk like plastics and other long-chain polymers, you end up with dioxins and furans. Those are some seriously toxic chemicals coming out of that mix. It's essentially burning an unholy mess of everything known to man that we ever throw out. Any of those toxins get into the water supply somewhere, you've got SERIOUS problems!

        And why burn the compostable solids, anyway? We've got a better use for them; really composting, and then using the compost as manure for our gardens and farmlands...

    • Re:Not just that (Score:4, Informative)

      by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:15AM (#38705678)

      The same reason you don't burn them: air pollution.

    • Re:Not just that (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuantumRiff (120817) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @06:32PM (#38708586)

      Newberry crater isn't like a volcano in the movies.. the caldera at the top has two lakes, a resort, campgrounds, etc. There is also a very large obsidian lava flow (100 feet of glass rocks, its pretty cool).. It also has awesome views from the top. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newberry_Volcano [wikipedia.org]

  • by aoeu (532208) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:42AM (#38705476)
    What could possibly go wrong . . .
    • by lightknight (213164) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:48AM (#38705500) Homepage

      Part of me agrees with you; however, another part of me thinks that until we try, we'll never know whether our fears are just that, fears.

      So I, for one, think we should consider it.

      • by fafaforza (248976) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:56AM (#38705558)

        I wouldn't want a profit driven corporation in charge of something like this. They'll have an interest in making it work no matter if there are warning signs or risks.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          At least you can sue the corporation when they fuck up. good luck with the government

          • yea (Score:5, Insightful)

            by unity100 (970058) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:07AM (#38705616) Homepage Journal
            sue, and do what, exactly ? gain a $5 bn award in damages ? after a volcano erupts, kills a few thousand, poisons a few more million mildly through what it releases ?

            what happened when bp fucked up the entire mexico gulf ecosystem ?
            • Re:yea (Score:5, Interesting)

              by postbigbang (761081) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:45AM (#38705830)

              And no one's gone to the trouble of modeling what happens when you chill down part of a lava dome. Does it harden, then blow sky high? Does it pressure masses underneath the caldera to cause nice earthquakes? Do you get a nice fissure opening up somewhere else to flow the lava into new and vulnerable areas? How long before the solidification means you have drill new spots? How are you going to stabilize the old spots? I don't think there are any lava-eating bacteria to help save the day here. There is nothing we have that's going to repair a newly active caldera. Look at what St Helens did, just a few miles up the road. Talk about playing with matches....

              • Re:yea (Score:5, Interesting)

                by luis_a_espinal (1810296) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @01:27PM (#38706462) Homepage

                And no one's gone to the trouble of modeling what happens when you chill down part of a lava dome. Does it harden, then blow sky high? Does it pressure masses underneath the caldera to cause nice earthquakes? Do you get a nice fissure opening up somewhere else to flow the lava into new and vulnerable areas? How long before the solidification means you have drill new spots? How are you going to stabilize the old spots? I don't think there are any lava-eating bacteria to help save the day here. There is nothing we have that's going to repair a newly active caldera. Look at what St Helens did, just a few miles up the road. Talk about playing with matches....

                Are you making the question in the rhetorical sense because you know for a fact that no one is doing just that, or are you asking the question because that is what you are assuming?

                • There's a lot of speculation, but I haven't seen any hard research. Geology and geothermal isn't my discipline. I have an active interest in geothermal energy and other alternative (e.g. non-petrochemical) energy forms as an engineer and consumer. Few attempts have been made to harness steam in this method (Icelanders lead the research, but the volume is very small).

              • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @03:18PM (#38707166) Homepage Journal

                During the Westmann Islands eruption, they froze the leading edge of the lava flow to divert it from blocking a harbor. The lava just goes somewhere else.

                They estimate that geothermal fields are good for 50-100 years.

                • Freezing the edge of a lava flow to divert it is one thing. It is relatively simple conceptually - cool the leading edge and hope the rock wall formed will divert the flow. The general worse case scenario is that it doesn't work and whatever you were trying to divert it away from gets destroyed.

                  Injecting high pressure water into rocks around a dormant volcano is different. First there is no initial danger - the volcano is dormant and not erupting - so the consequences of a mistake are bad. Second you are
            • by GNious (953874)

              what happened when bp fucked up the entire mexico gulf ecosystem ?

              They did the only thing logical, and sued another company (Halliburton)
              http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/03/bp-sues-halliburton-over-deepwater [guardian.co.uk]

          • by Hadlock (143607)

            Last time I checked, even $5 billion can't resurrect the dead after being buried alive in a boiling mud flow.

          • by Jawnn (445279) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:29PM (#38706122)

            At least you can sue the corporation when they fuck up. good luck with the government

            You mean... there's a difference?

        • by khallow (566160)
          Same go with that politically driven government agency. They too have an interest in making it work no matter if there are warning signs or risks. The difference is that the ability to sue a private company is a stronger control mechanism for precisely this situation that the ballot box.
          • by fafaforza (248976)

            But I would trust the government to be a lot more cautious, to perform more studies, and take less risks overall, because they don't have the same strict economical pressures that public companies have from shareholders. Would it retard "progress?" Likely. But at least we won't be drinking flammable water.

      • by semi-extrinsic (1997002) <<asmunder> <at> <stud.ntnu.no>> on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:03AM (#38705598)
        This reminds me of one of the stories about the Manhattan Project. Before the first (Trinity) test, Enrico Fermi began offering anyone listening a wager on "whether or not the bomb would ignite the atmosphere, and if so, whether it would merely destroy New Mexico or destroy the world." They still went through with it.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:23AM (#38705720)

          There were apparently theories that the upper atmosphere was uncombined hydrogen
          and oxygen, and that there was a chance a V2 going high enough would set it off.
          Lotta nerve there.

          • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:35AM (#38705778)

            There were apparently theories that the upper atmosphere was uncombined hydrogen and oxygen, and that there was a chance a V2 going high enough would set it off. Lotta nerve there.

            They also must have thought that all those countless meteors must be really polite to respect the "no smoking" warnings every time they are flying throught that layer.

            • There is, just not enough to support combustion, how it happens is water vapor, being lighter than air rises and the ultravoilet light from the sun breaks it apart, then the hydrogen goes up even faster and the oxygen as O2 and O3 move downward. They think this is the mechanism that caused most of the Martian water to disappear.

        • by Rennt (582550) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @08:09PM (#38709300)

          He was joking. The possibility was first raised by Edward Teller, but it was ruled out long before the test by showing radiative losses exceeded energy production. The story goes that Oppenheimer mentioned it passing to Arthur Compton, who had the bad judgment to mention it to the Whitehouse. After that the scientists never heard the end of it

          It's akin to a scientist at the LHC taking bets about ending the world through creation of a black hole.

        • This reminds me of one of the stories about the Manhattan Project. Before the first (Trinity) test, Enrico Fermi began offering anyone listening a wager on "whether or not the bomb would ignite the atmosphere, and if so, whether it would merely destroy New Mexico or destroy the world." They still went through with it.

          That's not quite correct.

          Yes, there were concerns raised about the effects of the tests on the atmosphere. So, they studied the problem and ran the numbers and found the concerns to be

      • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by denzacar (181829) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:21PM (#38706078) Journal

        When the person representing the corporation in charge says something like this:

        "We know the heat is there," said Susan Petty, president of AltaRock.
        "The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic."

        And the expert seismologist [scientificamerican.com] says something like this:

        We've been monitoring [The Geysers] since 1975.
        All the earthquakes we see there are [human] induced.
        When they move production into a new area, earthquakes start there, and when they stop production, the earthquakes stop.

        Well... You kinda have a reason to fear. [wikipedia.org]

    • by JWW (79176) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:05AM (#38705604)

      Look at it this way. It's a low emissions way to generate power which will help combat global warming.

      OR

      It will set off the volcano and release particles into the atmosphere which will combat global warming.

      It's all good!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sycodon (149926)

      by pumping high-pressure cold water down an injection well into the rock, creating tiny fractures in the rock, a process known as hydroshearing.

      They can't call it Fraking because all the folks in Oregon would come at them with torches scythes, and pitchforks.

    • What could possibly go wrong . . .

      For example, mixing minerals with water tends to decrease their melting point, and the resulting hydrated magma tends to have lower viscosity, so there you have one possible Mount-Doom-like scenario in real life.

      • What could possibly go wrong . . .

        For example, mixing minerals with water tends to decrease their melting point, and the resulting hydrated magma tends to have lower viscosity, so there you have one possible Mount-Doom-like scenario in real life.

        It's only Portland. Calm down.

    • by tgd (2822) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:01PM (#38705922)

      What could possibly go wrong . . .

      Michael Bay is inspired for a new movie?

    • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @01:01PM (#38706310)
      Well, if the sea cannot cool down and underwater volcano, what makes you think that pumping a little pissant stream into one will do anything?
    • by poity (465672) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @01:10PM (#38706368)

      I don't understand why many on slashdot are against this. We mock anti-nuclear power alarmists for blowing fears out of proportion, yet here we are saying "Oh no we shouldn't do this because there might be a catastrophe"

      • Uh... because nuclear reactors can be designed, modeled, and tested top to bottom and that's a rather hard thing to do with a volcano to ensure safety?

    • Pussies. Yellowstone is just sitting there doin nothing useful. If you're going to build a volcanic power station. build a fucking DOOMSDAY volcanic power station.

      One way or the other, the US would be able to stop worrying about dependency on foreign oil.

    • What could possibly go wrong . . .

      One word: Krakatoa [wikipedia.org].

      Three more: Mount Saint Hellens [wikipedia.org]

      As I understand it, the explosion of the Krakatoa volcano was a steam explosion, caused by high-pressure ocean water coming into contact with lava deep underground, with the only way to release the pressure being to push the mountain into the air. The result was the loudest sound ever recorded: It was detectable on barographs world-wide.

      The details of mountain explosions were something of a mystery until an "AHA!" moment

  • Water shortages? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acoustix (123925) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:48AM (#38705508) Homepage

    I didn't RTFA, but with our projected water shortages coming in the future do we really want to be pumping millions of gallons for energy? Surely there's a better way to get usable energy.

    • by fafaforza (248976) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:57AM (#38705564)

      They could use salt water. Desalinating water is still fairly expensive, as far as I know, so that might not take away from the availability of drinkable water. Though what effect the salt would have on the process would have to be studied.

      • Hmm. Still, salt water has salt in it. Corrosive salts. I wonder if the plumbing would be able to withstand it.

        • by FooAtWFU (699187)
          From what I've heard, if you're doing geothermal power where you squirt water down into layers of rock, you're already going to have to deal with tons of obnoxious dissolved minerals all over the place. I'm not sure whether salt would make it much worse.
      • They're putting water in and taking steam out. The salt is going to be left in the ground. And given there's a shortage of cracks and fissures down there already, that doesn't sound like a good thing.

      • The article describes a closed loop system, not one where they'd be simply dumping water down the pipe continuously from an infinate supply. Some volume of water is being pumped down, the water heated by the rock, the energy extracted, and then that same water being sent back down through the loop.

      • Water isn't a problem in Oregon, drainage is a more likely problem. The Pacific Northwest is rain forest, Pacific temperate rain forest [wikipedia.org] to be precise and they get about 2.5m of rain a year.

    • by gmuslera (3436) *
      Not sure about that volcano in particular, but if one close to the ocean could be used, you pump salt water, and get that water back eventually. In any case, you won't get a shortage of that water.
    • Surely we can inject Red Bull instead of water, and get all our daily energy needs met!
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      We are not living in the future, but in the present. It's not like the freshwater we don't use will stay in reserve, they will flow in the sea eventually even if we don't use it so why not?

    • by tomhath (637240) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:22AM (#38705710)
      The volcano is right between two decent sized lakes so there's plenty of water available.

      As far as water "shortages", it's really a water distribution problem. There's plenty of fresh water flowing down rivers into the ocean. But people like to live in desert climates like Phoenix and Las Vegas where they don't have to worry about rainy days messing up the golf they play on irrigated fairways.

    • And if you had RTFA you would know that the plan involves recovering the steam, condensing it back to water to send back down. It is a mostly closed system. Their chief issue is whether or not they can get the steam back fast enough to keep the system going. Just throwing water in a volcano and letting the steam dissipate wouldn't actually generate any energy.

    • by Alomex (148003)

      our projected water shortages

      These shortages assume no improvements over desalination technology. In fact full scale desalination is already feasible today though the price of water would go up by a factor of 10x. Given how much we waste today (we literally flush it down the toilet) this is not as bad as it sounds.

      Add in efforts in water conservation such as deploying drip irrigation everywhere and better recycling (see Las Vegas and Singapore for leading efforts in that regard) and frankly the whole water

    • pick a volcano near the coast, capture the steam, and you have electricity AND pure water. another benefit

    • If it works we can use water we would have used for coal power stations in any case. Plus it's nearly a closed loop system right?

    • by dapyx (665882)
      There's no global shortage of fresh water. There are huge untapped lakes and rivers. There are water shortages in some places where we need it for agriculture or human consumption. Oregon has a low population density, so I doubt they have any water shortages.
  • Head to Hawaii... (Score:5, Informative)

    by TrailerTrash (91309) * on Sunday January 15, 2012 @10:58AM (#38705572)

    They've been there, done that:

    http://www.punageothermalventure.com/

    A 30 MW plant producing heat and energy from the world's most active volcano. An 8 MW addition was just approved, and the utility (HELCO) is looking to expand even further:

    http://www.hawaii247.com/2012/01/06/helco-announces-plans-to-expand-geothermal-energy-on-the-big-island/

    If there is an area that has a shot at 100% of their electricity from non-petroleum sources, it's the Big Island, with abundant wind, solar and geothermal options.

    • Unlike the continental US, Hawai'i doesn't benefit from a geographically diverse grid. When it's cloudy, it's cloudy over all of Hawai'i. When it's not windy, it's not windy anywhere. An oversimplification to be sure, but fundamentally the continental US has much more diverse weather at any given time [plus many more total hours of sunlight], which means that it's not subject to the wild swings of non-dispatchable weather-impacted renewables that Hawai'i is.

      Hawai'i can and should get lots of it's energy

      • by biodata (1981610)
        You don' really need storage for geothermal energy - it isn't particularly weather-dependent - it is dependent on the heat of the earth's core.
  • In the long run the universe will achieve heat death.

    • by lightknight (213164) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:09AM (#38705628) Homepage

      From what we have observed of the universe, yes, that does appear to be the long term diagnosis.

      In the short-term, though, I'm more worried about the Sun undergoing its projected expansion phase (in a few billion years), or human beings accidentally finding a way to stop the Earth's dynamo (that one actually keeps me up at night).

    • Can I be the first to say: I don't care.

    • In the long run the universe will achieve heat death.

      The only guarantee is that in the long run we are all going to be dead. In the short run (say, millions of years) the earth has such a collosal amount of heat that humanity is not going to run it out.

      Besides the Earth's heat is going leak out by erupting volcanoes anyhow. A big one going off is like a million megatons of TNT going off. If we can extract that heat energy slowly we could power the entire world for it for hundreds of years... from the energy that is released in a single eruption.

      I think you un

  • by nxcho (754392) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:14AM (#38705666)
    ...is also useful to generate cobblestone, especially on some pvp maps.
  • Has anyone stopped to wonder what the long term effects of the cooling of this active volcano by pouring hundreds of millions of water in it might be?
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Well unless the laws of thermodynamics changed overnight, I'm not too overly concerned. Then again...did the laws of thermodynamics change overnight? Did someone create a perpetual motion machine? Did entropy really go away...

      • by PPH (736903)

        Did entropy really go away...

        Nope. Its alive and well here on Slashdot.

    • by russotto (537200)

      Has anyone stopped to wonder what the long term effects of the cooling of this active volcano by pouring hundreds of millions of water in it might be?

      Long term effects? I'd be more worried about shooting high pressure water down there and getting a faceful of hot lava coming right back up.

  • Not again? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:29AM (#38705748) Homepage Journal

    The results of that review have not yet been announced, but the type of geothermal energy explored in Basel and at the Geysers requires fracturing the bedrock then circulating water through the cracks to produce steam. By its nature, fracturing creates earthquakes [nytimes.com], though most of them are small.

    I live near The Geysers, where "treated" sewage water is pumped into the ground in order to keep geothermal production up at the powerplant, which is perpetually over budget and under production, and which has produced a superfund site where they formerly buried the spray-off from the turbine wheels in drums. The turbines are produced by Halliburton — I've seen the red Halliburton truck dragging one up Bottle Rock Rd. on a massive flatbed. Failure all around... the one bright spot is that there is a process for making claims for damage due to the euphemistically-named "microseismicity" [andersonsprings.org] as it is generally accepted that the pumping causes quakes.

    • Re:Not again? (Score:5, Informative)

      by dj245 (732906) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @12:15PM (#38706026) Homepage
      The turbines are produced by Halliburton — I've seen the red Halliburton truck dragging one up Bottle Rock Rd. on a massive flatbed.

      Sorry but no. Most of the Geysers turbines were manufactured by Toshiba Corp (sorry, PDF) [google.com], with the exception of 2 turbines which were manufactured by GE (these may be retired now). New or replacement turbines are definitely competitively bid, since my company bids on them. Halliburton doesn't make steam turbines. If indeed you have seen Halliburton at the geysers, they must have been a transportation contractor or something like that.

      As for the "superfund site", I can't find anything on this that is less than 15 years old. And this report [epa.gov] from 1983 says there is nothing hazardous at the Geysers. I'll agree it is a very old report and standards have changed since then, but the only other EPA document available is in 1995- they seem to have capped some wells that had the potential of a hydrogen sulfide explosion. Hardly the "drums full of toxic chemicals" that you are implying.
    • by hedronist (233240)

      I also live in the general area (in Sebastopol) and I have watched with disgust the politics around this boondogle. This is waste water that Santa Rosa had to get rid of someplace other than the Russian River because of a federal court ruling,even though it is tertiary treated water (better than 90%+ of the crap dumped into the Mississippi). The Alexander Valley grape growers first sued to keep the pipeline from going through their valley, but then after they found out they were going to get a cut in their

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:44AM (#38705822)

    ... virgins! Not cold shower.

    Volcano God plenty angry now. Flatten peasants' puny city.

  • Forget everything you've heard about carbon. Water vapor will be the poster child for environmental disaster in 2025.

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