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Power Earth Hardware

Geothermal Power Advances 168

An anonymous reader writes "A group of geothermal power engineers have created three reservoirs from a single well in a place where none existed previously. This is a breakthrough for Enhanced Geothermal System technology — people who need power often can't choose a spot where there happens to be a geothermal reservoir, and EGS could allow us to create them where needed. 'Last fall, engineers pumped cold water into the ground, cracking open fissures in the deep rock, a process known as hydroshearing. They then sealed one reservoir from the other using a new technology. They injected ground-up recycled plastic bottles, which plugged up the cracks in one reservoir while millions of gallons of cold water were being pumped in to create another. Then the plastic diffused, leaving behind three reservoirs. ... The U.S. Department of Energy, which is covering half the $43.8 million cost of the Newberry project, says if the initial indications hold up, the Newberry project would mark the first time in the world that multiple geothermal reservoirs have been created on purpose from a single well in a new area.'"
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Geothermal Power Advances

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  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @12:34AM (#42572305) Journal

    The biggest objection to fracking is the unknown chemicals pumped into the ground, potentially contaminating the groundwater. These people pumped water down, not chemicals. There is no danger of contamination.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Sunday January 13, 2013 @12:35AM (#42572311)

    No Sir, anything but. Not fracking at all. Fracking is only done by the evil gas companies...

    Fracking is considered "evil" for two reasons:
      1) The chemical brew mixed with the water.
      2) Gas leaking into groundwater.

    Neither of these apply to geothermal fracturing. Most of the chemical additives are to help free the gas from the rock. There is no reason to add them to water used for geothermal fracturing. There is no gas leaking into groundwater either, because there is no gas.

    Geothermal fracturing can also cause minor earthquakes, but I think that concern is overblown. I live on a faultline in California, and we get tremors every few months. They are not dangerous to someone in a normal wood frame house, and you just learn to live with them.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Sunday January 13, 2013 @12:50AM (#42572363)

    What about the earthquakes? Cracking the earth isn't a good idea.

    Spewing billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere isn't a good idea either. Geothermal energy has an enourmous potential to reduce those emissions. If the price is a some minor tremors in remote locations, it is worth it.

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @01:09AM (#42572445)
    Everyone seems to be calling it fracking without reading the article. Technically it's fracking but they aren't using millions of gallons of highly toxic chemicals and they aren't fracturing rock to release gas and oil which migrates up into ground water. My guess is they are drilling a lot deeper as well. I wish they gave a depth, the article is thin on details. At around 10,000 feet the ground temperature is well over 100 degrees so I'm guessing at least twice that far. Okay I'll paste an excerpt from Wikepedia on Kola borehole below. They hit 356F before the heat made them stop. I'm curious how they got the plastic out? They glaze over details like that. The great thing with geothermal is potentially if you can drill deep enough you can do it anywhere.

    Wikipedia excerpt

    "The main target depth was set at 15,000 m (49,000 ft). On 6 June 1979, the world depth record held by the Bertha Rogers hole in Washita County, Oklahoma, at 9,583 m (31,440 ft)[3] was broken. In 1983, the drill passed 12,000 m (39,000 ft), and drilling was stopped for about a year to celebrate the event.[4] This idle period may have contributed to a break-down on 27 September 1984: after drilling to 12,066 m (39,587 ft), a 5,000 m (16,000 ft) section of the drill string twisted off and was left in the hole. Drilling was later restarted from 7,000 m (23,000 ft).[4] The hole reached 12,262 m (40,230 ft) in 1989. In that year the hole depth was expected to reach 13,500 m (44,300 ft) by the end of 1990 and 15,000 m (49,000 ft) by 1993.[5][6] However, due to higher than expected temperatures at this depth and location, 180 C (356 F) instead of expected 100 C (212 F), drilling deeper was deemed unfeasible and the drilling was stopped in 1992.[4] With the expected further increase in temperature with increasing depth, drilling to 15,000 m (49,000 ft) would have meant working at a projected 300 C (570 F), at which the drill bit would no longer work.[citation needed]"

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @01:23AM (#42572521)

    The idea that the chemicals are unknown is horse poop.

    Here's a list: http://fracfocus.org/chemical-use/what-chemicals-are-used [fracfocus.org]

    The companies involved just don't tell Greenpeace etc. what the chemicals are, and apparently Greenpeace etc. would prefer to make a big political stink out of it rather than fund a GC-MS lab to run the analysis and find out that it's actually stuff like polysaccharides sand and which will destroy their talking points, which of course opens the question why are they making such a stupid lot of fuss about the whole thing?

    But you can bet they know.

    The regulatory agencies for sure know what the chemicals are - sometimes they aren't allowed to tell others because the states protect the trade secrets involved. But not always.

    A lot of the stuff is disclosed on sites like this: http://fracfocus.org/ [fracfocus.org] - several states now require drillers upload the chemical compositions to this site as part of their permitting process. Texas for example.

    http://03646f4.netsolhost.com/?p=218 [netsolhost.com]

    Also of course if you patent something you have to disclose or the patent isn't valid. So that's always an interesting source of info as well.

    These fluids are pretty boring actually. Viscosifier, proppant, and corrosion inhibitor. In fact if you do a Google search you'll come up with articles on which ones to use.

    Last time I posted this info on slashdot I was modded down to Troll in less than 30 seconds. I wonder how long it will take today?

  • by Seraphim1982 ( 813899 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @02:27AM (#42572703)

    Well, time to sacrifice some karma on the truth once again. The poster child for geothermal power in the USA is Calpine at The Geysers, near Calistoga CA. Near, in fact, old faithful, which is old but not particularly faithful. It is neither as regular nor as potent as it used to be.

    Old Faithful is in Wyoming, which is two states (Utah and Nevada) away from California.

  • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @03:29AM (#42572861)

    That is a dry area not near anyone's drinking water aquifer. They drilled into solid basalt and used cold water to crack it. I'm not even sure there's any avenue for the plastic to escape. The water they use will come from the Deschutes River (which is miles away from the drill site) and will be recycled in a closed cycle. Nobody lives close to the drill site and not many people live within 30 miles of it. The nearest city of any size is Bend, OR, 40 or 50 miles northwest on the other side of Mt. Newberry. As an Oregonian whose spent time in that area I'm not that concerned about it and it's worth the experiment to see how it works.

  • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @03:45AM (#42572913)

    The Geysers is an entirely different kind of geothermal development. It uses water already in the ground. This new development on Mount Newberry is into dry basalt and all the water they use will be from surface sources and it will be run in a closed loop cycle so none is released.

  • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @04:09AM (#42572997)

    Where they're drilling here in on the slopes of Newberry Volcano which has erupted at least 6 times in the last 12,000 years, the last eruption being about 1,400 years ago. There's a magma chamber beneath it so they don't have to go so deep. Wikipedia says [wikipedia.org] they're drilling down 2-3 km (6,500-10,000 feet).

  • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @01:30PM (#42575401)

    You might have been modded as a troll last time due to your completely ignoring all of the health effects that the chemicals on that list have just as the website you linked to does.

    From the page you linked, "Although there are dozens to hundreds of chemicals which could be used as additives, there are a limited number which are routinely used in hydraulic fracturing." It's not a comprehensive list of what goes into frakking fluid. It's a list of the most common chemicals and it admits that there are many others which are not listed.

    Elsewhere on the site, you'll find that it admits that "EPA has not included oil and gas extraction as an industry that must report under TRI." Some states have put rules in place to require disclosure of the chemicals used, but most have not and the government doesn't require it, so no... the regulatory agencies generally do not know what is being released into the environment.

    And that page doesn't actually list any of the harmful effects those chemicals can have, does it. In fact, the only problem it mentions is possible confusion due to chemicals being referred to with multiple names.

    Let's do a few minutes of research, shall we?

    Glutaraldehyde - Eye, skin and lung irritant. Long term exposure can cause sensitivity and more severe reactions. Implicated as a possible cause of occupational asthma

    Quaternary Ammonium Chloride - Eye, skin and lung irritant. Ingestion can be fatal.

    Tetrakis Hydroxymethyl-Phosphonium Sulfate - Mild skin and respiratory irritation. Long term exposure can cause sensitivity and more severe reactions.

    Ammonium Persulfate - Irritant. Ingestion can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

    Magnesium Peroxide - Eye, skin and lung irritant. Ingestion can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Long term exposure may lead to lung damage.

    Tetramethyl ammonium chloride - Produces chemical burns to the eye. Skin and lung irritant. Extremely toxic to aquatic life. Long term exposure can cause permanent lung damage.

    Isopropyl Alcohol - CNS depressant. Can cause nausea, vomiting, anesthesia, coma and death.

    Methanol - Highly toxic to humans, CNS depressant. Causes metabolic acidosis. Can cause blindness, death. Metabolized into formic acid (see below) and formaldehyde which can be lethal, is a known carcinogen, eye irritant, asthma trigger, permanent lung damage, reproductive problems, miscarriages, allergic reactions... there's lots more but let's just say this one is arguably the nastiest one on the list and leave it at that.

    Formic acid - Much of the same as methanol since methanol is metabolized into formic acid. No need to repeat the entire paragraph.

    Acetaldehyde - Eye, skin and lung irritant. Probable carcinogen. Prolong exposure can cause permanent damage to lungs, kidney, liver. Can trigger Alzheimer's disease in people with a genetic deficiency in ALDH2 gene.

    And that's just the first quarter or so of the list.

    Much of that list is quite toxic to humans and other animals. Much of it can cause permanent damage to the liver, kidneys and/or lungs with long term exposure, some even at very low doses (the sort of exposure you'd get if you, oh I don't know, contaminated the groundwater).

    Your definition of "pretty boring" is ... interesting, to say the least.

  • by njvack ( 646524 ) <njvack@wisc.edu> on Sunday January 13, 2013 @09:46PM (#42578329)

    I thought of that too. Does anyone have any numbers on how many million years we can suck heat out of the ground before it becomes a problem?

    Actually, a physics prof at UCSD did a pretty thorough analysis of geothermal energy [ucsd.edu]. The verdict: there are places in the country where it's great, but in the majority of the USA, it just isn't a particularly dense resource, so the energy return on investment (you need to dig a whole lot of really deep holes and stick a whole lot of pipe in the ground) is pretty meh.

    It probably will (and should) be developed more, but will remain a niche source of energy county and world-wide.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley