Magma power for geothermal energy?

Feb 17, 2011

When a team of scientists drilling near an Icelandic volcano hit magma in 2009, they had to abandon their planned experiments on geothermal energy. But the mishap could point the way to an alternative source of geothermal power.

"Because we drilled into , this borehole could now be a really high-quality geothermal well," said Peter Schiffmann, professor of geology at UC Davis and a member of the research team along with fellow UC Davis geology professor Robert Zierenberg and UC Davis graduate student Naomi Marks. The project was led by Wilfred Elders, a geology professor at UC Riverside.

A paper describing geological results from the well was published this month in the journal Geology.

When tested, the magma well produced dry steam at 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius). The team estimated that this steam could generate up to 25 of electricity -- enough to power 25,000 to 30,000 homes.

That compares to 5 to 8 megawatts produced by a typical geothermal well, Elders said. Iceland already gets about one-third of its electricity and almost all of its home heating from geothermal sources.

The team was drilling into the Krafla caldera as part of the Iceland Deep , an industry-government consortium, to test whether "supercritical" water -- very hot water under very high pressure -- could be exploited as a source of power.

They planned to drill to 15,000 feet -- more than two miles deep-- but at 6,900 feet, magma (molten rock from the Earth's core) flowed into the well, forcing them to stop.

The composition of magma from the borehole is also providing insight into how magmas form beneath Iceland, Schiffmann said.

Explore further: Scientists monitoring Hawaii lava undertake risks

Provided by University of California - Davis

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5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2011

Being no geologist or engineer of any sort, I have this notion that geothermal power is EVERYWHERE, separated from harvesting only by depth. Is this not so?
Also, if one could drill to critical depths leaving, say a coaxial pipe as the heat exchanger, wouldn't that solve the issue of mineral fouling and issues with fracking?
If deep enough, the material around the pipe would never be cooled enough to solidify. Thermal energy in perpetuity (?).
Is this possible? Of course, the rules of "Return on Investment" come into play. Question:" If a fuel source is free and endless, does that equate to infinite economic efficiency?" That question does belay the cost of maintainance. Please comment, as to me, its a matter of 'national will'.
not rated yet Feb 17, 2011
yeah great idea, massivly taking away heat from the source that gives our radiative shielding...

not rated yet Feb 18, 2011
@Burnerjack - good idea. A coax (double) pipe with a heat exchanger at the end would be a great solution. The heat could be transported out with much less of a loss than the current crude water-injection technology...
not rated yet Feb 18, 2011
The downward flow of water would be pre-heated and it would be naturally under pressure, making sure it can enter the heat exchanger at the end of the pipe without trouble. The upward flow of steam instead would come up screaming, steam being much lighter than water, and rather hot.