Energy From Hot Rocks

November 8, 2007
Energy From Hot Rocks
Two UC Davis geologists are studying the underground chemistry that creates this geyser found on an Icelandic farm. (Robert Zierenberg/UC Davis photo)

Two UC Davis geologists are taking part in the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, an international effort to learn more about the potential of geothermal energy, or extracting heat from rocks.

Professors Peter Schiffman and Robert Zierenberg are working with Wilfred Elders, professor emeritus at UC Riverside, Dennis Bird at Stanford University and Mark Reed at the University of Oregon to study the chemistry that occurs at high pressures and temperatures two miles below Iceland.

"We hope to understand the process of heat transfer when water reacts with hot volcanic rocks and how that changes the chemistry of fluids circulating at depth," Zierenberg said. "We know very little about materials under these conditions."

The university team, funded by the National Science Foundation, will drill up to 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, into the rock. It will be one of three boreholes sunk as part of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, which is supported largely by Icelandic power companies.

The island nation generates more than half of its electrical power from geothermal energy. Hot water and steam from boreholes can be used to run turbines for electricity or directly to heat homes and businesses. Iceland meets the rest of its electricity needs from hydroelectric power, and imports fossil fuels only for transportation.

The U.S. has lots of potential for geothermal energy generation, Zierenberg said. There are several plants in California, including the Geysers region in the north and at Mammoth Lakes. Although its share of energy generation in the state is small, the Geysers is the largest geothermal field in the world, Zierenberg said. There are also numerous abandoned oil and gas boreholes around the country -- including in the Central Valley -- that could potentially access hot water that could be used for space heating.

That would, however, require something of a cultural change. In Iceland, geothermal heating is used at a community level: hot water is pumped up and circulated around a town or neighborhood. Americans are more accustomed to individual power delivery, Zierenberg said.

The team expects to begin drilling in the summer of 2008.

Source: UC Davis

Explore further: NMSU researcher helps explore cost-effective, non-polluting enhanced geothermal systems

Related Stories

Researcher discusses where to land Mars 2020

September 8, 2015

In August 2015, more than 150 scientists interested in the exploration of Mars attended a conference at a hotel in Arcadia, California, to evaluate 21 potential landing sites for NASA's next Mars rover, a mission called Mars ...

Hot rocks fire up energy from the depths

June 23, 2010

( -- Scientists at Newcastle University have completed the first phase of a giant central heating system that will harness heat from deep underground.

Can we turn unwanted carbon dioxide into electricity?

December 12, 2013

Researchers are developing a new kind of geothermal power plant that will lock away unwanted carbon dioxide (CO2) underground—and use it as a tool to boost electric power generation by at least 10 times compared to existing ...

Mines could provide geothermal energy

July 27, 2009

Mine shafts on the point of being closed down could be used to provide geothermal energy to local towns. This is the conclusion of two engineers from the University of Oviedo, whose research is being published this month ...

Recommended for you

Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images

November 26, 2015

Frank Paul, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, has created animations from satellite images of the Karakoram mountain range in Asia to show how its glaciers flow and change. The images of four different ...


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.