Research provides model for improving alternative energy source

March 13, 2007
Geothermal Plant
Geothermal power plants harness energy created by heat at the Earth's core. Credit: Dina Lopez/Ohio University

In the debate over alternative energy resources, geothermal technology has received scant media attention. Advocates call it one of the cleanest, sustainable energy resources available. However, steep construction, equipment and drilling costs have prevented more widespread development of geothermal technology. An Ohio University hydrothermal systems expert is working to change that.

Geothermal technology harnesses energy created by heat at the Earth’s core. Internationally, geothermal power plants supply electricity to about 60 million people, mostly in developing countries. In the United States, geothermal power plants supply four million residents with electricity. Power plants are built where there is access to a geothermal reservoir, which typically occurs along continental plate margins. The Pacific "Ring of Fire" provides some of the hottest spots on the planet for geothermal power. Because of this, Central America is a prime building area for geothermal power plants and draws researchers such as Ohio University hydrogeochemist Dina Lopez.

Lopez recently completed a study in El Salvador of one of the biggest problems plaguing the geothermal industry. That study earned Lopez and her co-authors a best paper award from the Geothermal Resources Council.

The researchers integrated findings from several studies examining the process of silica scaling. Power plants are built at geothermal reservoirs, where wells release steam, heat or hot water to spin turbine generators and produce electricity. Silica, which is released from dissolving rock, is a common element found in water. After extraction from the reservoirs, hot water cools down and silica precipitates, forming hard, glassy deposits that clog pipelines and injection drill holes at geothermal plants. Removing the silica buildup is costly and difficult due to the high volumes of water involved.

Lopez, an associate professor of geological sciences at Ohio University, and her co-authors created a model to better understand the impact of silica scaling and the rate at which it occurs. Their research shows that a combination of experimental field work and geochemical modeling programs can provide accurate indicators of the impact of silica scaling in geothermal wells.

"We used simple experiments to show the big picture," said Lopez, who believes the group’s findings will help guide efforts to control silica scaling at geothermal power plants. Better control of silica scaling will help reduce the cost of maintaining geothermal plants. That’s good news for Lopez, who hopes her research will encourage the use of geothermal energy, which she says has been overshadowed by the debate over nuclear energy and the public’s reliance on fossil fuels.

"Geothermal energy has enormous potential," she said. "There are hundreds of geothermal fields in the world, but they haven’t been exploited because of our ability to easily get energy from oil and other sources."

Source: Ohio University

Explore further: Mafia and multinationals milk Italy's green energy boom

Related Stories

Mafia and multinationals milk Italy's green energy boom

July 26, 2015

Thousands of solar panels glint in the sun, but the prized farmland beneath lies barren. While the Italian island of Sardinia revels in a renewable energy boom, the long arm of organised crime risks sullying its clean power ...

To save water, cool power plants with wax, say engineers

June 23, 2015

The towering plumes of steam emanating from power plant calderas that have come to symbolize the massive and, at times, menacing nature of the energy industry might soon have their natural dissipation into thin air preempted ...

ADB: Asia must boost investment in clean energy

June 17, 2015

Asia has made huge strides in developing clean energy over the last decade but must boost investment and its use of energy efficiency technology to meet rising demand and cope with climate change, Asian Development Bank officials ...

The race for better batteries

June 15, 2015

"The worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way…" according to the Earth Policy Institute's new book, The Great Transition.

What are the different types of renewable energy?

June 12, 2015

Renewable energy is becoming an increasingly important issue in today's world. In addition to the rising cost of fossil fuels and the threat of Climate Change, there has also been positive developments in this field which ...

Recommended for you

Study calculates the speed of ice formation

August 3, 2015

Researchers at Princeton University have for the first time directly calculated the rate at which water crystallizes into ice in a realistic computer model of water molecules. The simulations, which were carried out on supercomputers, ...

'Snowball earth' might be slushy

August 3, 2015

Imagine a world without liquid water—just solid ice in all directions. It would certainly not be a place that most life forms would like to live.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.