First Google.org-funded geothermal mapping report confirms vast coast-to-coast clean energy source

Oct 25, 2011
New research from SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from Google.org, documents significant geothermal resources across the United States capable of producing more than three million megawatts of green power - 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today. Sophisticated mapping produced from the research is viewable via Google Earth at www.google.org/egs. Credit: Google Earth, SMU Geothermal Laboratory

New research from SMU's Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from Google.org, documents significant geothermal resources across the United States capable of producing more than three million megawatts of green power – 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today.

Sophisticated mapping produced from the research, viewable via Earth at http://www.google.org/egs/, demonstrates that vast reserves of this green, renewable source of power generated from the Earth's heat are realistically accessible using current technology.

The results of the new research, from SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics David Blackwell and Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, confirm and refine locations for resources capable of supporting large-scale commercial geothermal energy production under a wide range of geologic conditions, including significant areas in the eastern two-thirds of the United States. The estimated amounts and locations of heat stored in the Earth's crust included in this study are based on nearly 35,000 data sites – approximately twice the number used for Blackwell and Richards' 2004 Geothermal Map of North America, leading to improved detail and contouring at a regional level.

Based on the additional data, primarily drawn from oil and gas drilling, larger local variations can be seen in temperatures at depth, highlighting more detail for potential power sites than was previously evident in the eastern portion of the U.S. For example, eastern West Virginia has been identified as part of a larger Appalachian trend of higher heat flow and temperature.

Conventional U.S. geothermal production has been restricted largely to the western third of the country in geographically unique and tectonically active locations. For instance, The Geysers Field north of San Francisco is home to more than a dozen large power plants that have been tapping naturally occurring steam reservoirs to produce electricity for more than 40 years.

However, newer technologies and drilling methods can now be used to develop resources in a wider range of geologic conditions, allowing reliable production of clean energy at temperatures as low as 100˚C (212˚F) – and in regions not previously considered suitable for geothermal energy production. Preliminary data released from the SMU study in October 2010 revealed the existence of a geothermal resource under the state of West Virginia equivalent to the state's existing (primarily coal-based) power supply.

"Once again, SMU continues its pioneering work in demonstrating the tremendous potential of geothermal resources," said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association. "Both Google and the SMU researchers are fundamentally changing the way we look at how we can use the heat of the Earth to meet our energy needs, and by doing so are making significant contributions to enhancing our national security and environmental quality."

"This assessment of geothermal potential will only improve with time," said Blackwell. "Our study assumes that we tap only a small fraction of the available stored heat in the Earth's crust, and our capabilities to capture that heat are expected to grow substantially as we improve upon the energy conversion and exploitation factors through technological advances and improved techniques."

Blackwell is scheduled to release a paper with details of the results of the research to the Geothermal Resources Council in October 2011.

Blackwell and Richards first produced the 2004 Geothermal Map of North America using oil and gas industry data from the central U.S. Blackwell and the 2004 map played a significant role in a 2006 Future of Geothermal Energy study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy that concluded geothermal energy had the potential to supply a substantial portion of the future U.S. electricity needs, likely at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact. SMU's 2004 map has been the national standard for evaluating heat flow, temperature and thermal conductivity for potential geothermal energy projects.

In this newest SMU estimate of resource potential, researchers used additional temperature data and in-depth geological analysis for the resulting heat flow maps to create the updated temperature-at-depth maps from 3.5 kilometers to 9.5 kilometers (11,500 to 31,000 feet). This update revealed that some conditions in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. are actually hotter than some areas in the western portion of the country, an area long-recognized for heat-producing tectonic activity. In determining the potential for geothermal production, the new SMU study considers the practical considerations of drilling, and limits the analysis to the heat available in the top 6.5 km (21,500 ft.) of crust for predicting of available power. This approach incorporates a newly proposed international standard for estimating geothermal resource potential that considers added practical limitations of development, such as the inaccessibility of large urban areas and national parks. Known as the 'technical potential' value, it assumes producers tap only 14 percent of the 'theoretical potential' of stored geothermal heat in the U.S., using currently available technology.

Three recent technological developments already have sparked geothermal development in areas with little or no tectonic activity or volcanism:

1) Low Temperature Hydrothermal – Energy is produced from areas with naturally occurring high fluid volumes at temperatures ranging from less than boiling to 150°C (300°F). This application is currently producing energy in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Utah.

2) Geopressure and Coproduced Fluids Geothermal – Oil and/or natural gas are produced together with electricity generated from hot geothermal fluids drawn from the same well. Systems are installed or being installed in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

3) Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) – Areas with low fluid content, but high temperatures of more than 150°C (300°F), are "enhanced" with injection of fluid and other reservoir engineering techniques. EGS resources are typically deeper than hydrothermal and represent the largest share of total geothermal resources capable of supporting larger capacity power plants.

A key goal in the SMU resource assessment was to aid in evaluating these nonconventional geothermal resources on a regional to sub-regional basis.

Areas of particular geothermal interest include the Appalachian trend (Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, to northern Louisiana), the aquifer heated area of South Dakota, and the areas of radioactive basement granites beneath sediments such as those found in northern Illinois and northern Louisiana. The Gulf Coast continues to be outlined as a huge resource area and a promising sedimentary basin for development. The Raton Basin in southeastern Colorado possesses extremely high temperatures and is being evaluated by the State of Colorado along with an area energy company.

Explore further: Twenty-first Eastern Pacific tropical depression born on Oct. 30

More information: To explore the new Enhanced Geothermal Systems maps built on SMU's research via Google Earth, download the latest version of Google Earth at www.google.com/earth/ and then download and open the file at www.google.org/egs/downloads/EGSPotential.kmz.

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User comments : 23

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Cynical1
1 / 5 (2) Oct 25, 2011
Some will ask - what's the payoff (in adopting to this sort of energy production)...
Planetary survival's not a good enough reason?
And then there's that other thing - because we can have SO much fun doing it...
Scottingham
2 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2011
This sounds promising. The only thing that concerns me and I would like to see more research for would be the potentially destabilizing effects it would have on plate tectonics. Would earthquakes become more common?
CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (6) Oct 25, 2011
Planetary survival's not a good enough reason?

Stretching it a bit aren't you? Sounds like more hype.

Wouldn't drilling into the ground for GeoThermal energy release more sulphur into the air, which is suppose to be a bad greenhouse gas?

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Oct 25, 2011
Wouldn't drilling into the ground for GeoThermal energy release more sulphur into the air

No. Why would it? You're not releasing the steam into the air.
Or do you mean in comparison to burning coal which contains a lot of sulfur?

Would earthquakes become more common?

This is what caused the Basel geothermal powerplant to be shut down. It seems that pumping down lots of water mixes with the rock and dirt and (surprise, surprise) creates a slippery mud mixture that allows masses of rock to more easily slide along each other.

The alternative is to lay down pipes (i.e. keep the water contained all the way in the cycle). But that is, unfortunately, less effective and more expensive.
Cynical1
3.9 / 5 (8) Oct 25, 2011
You are right Cap.,
Planet will always survive, and history shows it can/will do so - without humans.
Burnerjack
3.6 / 5 (5) Oct 25, 2011
The US Imports about $700 billion worth of oil/year by some estimates. Translate that into EXPORTING $700 billion worth of national value/year.
This is all the reason we need. As far as "Saving the planet" goes, get over yourselves. The planet will be here long after we're gone. That being said, poisoning the air you breathe and the land you grow your food in is just stupid. To do it so a select few (comparatively speaking) is dumber still. An electric infrastructure is the cleanest but that whole NIMBY thing with power distribution remains to be resolved.
Back to the economics of it: what would the effect be if we had an "extra" $7 TRILLION piling up every ten years? Sure, doesn't sound like much, but, a couple trillion here and a couple trillion there, sooner or later it's gonna add up to real money.
trekgeek1
1.3 / 5 (6) Oct 25, 2011
You are right Cap.,
Planet will always survive, and history shows it can/will do so - without humans.


Wow, nice way to avoid your responsibilities as a human. That's exactly how problems get compounded, waiting for someone or something else to do it. "Sure, the Earth will take care of it, and if it doesn't, Jesus will". The Earth probably will self correct, let's just hope you're okay with it's solution and it doesn't self correct our asses into extinction. I think it's better to help out and ensure we can still live here during the repairs.

(In regard to the Jesus comment,I realize you didn't bring up religion in your post, it's just another example I felt like spouting off)
Cynical1
3.9 / 5 (7) Oct 25, 2011
Sheesh, Trek...
Was just a way of saying that Earth DOES self correct, with or without human intervention. The planet doesn't care what creature considers itself the top of the food chain. Only that creature does (and history shows they aren't, anyway).
Not saying we should just give up on humanity's survival - but I AM saying that we are in a place to modify the variables that would guarantee that survival, lest we encounter the unintended consequence of extinction.
trekgeek1
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 25, 2011
Sheesh, Trek...
Was just a way of saying that Earth DOES self correct, with or without human intervention. The planet doesn't care what creature considers itself the top of the food chain. Only that creature does (and history shows they aren't, anyway).
Not saying we should just give up on humanity's survival - but I AM saying that we are in a place to modify the variables that would guarantee that survival, lest we encounter the unintended consequence of extinction.


I think the text of my post implied a much more aggressive tone than I had intended. The words were harsh, but the tone and intent was not. Apologies.
Cynical1
3 / 5 (4) Oct 25, 2011
Accepted. Now lets all move on to the positive possibilities, as well as potential pitfalls this new data source can provide!
astro_optics
1.2 / 5 (6) Oct 25, 2011
Over-utilising Geothermal energy will ultimately lead to more tremors... see New Zealand as an example!
Pirouette
1.5 / 5 (11) Oct 26, 2011
Capturing the HEAT from GeoThermal vents shouldn't create conditions that would cause tremors and an earthquake if great care is taken. Although, by nature a geothermal vent IS somewhat connected to the heat source which is far below the ground surface, the heat ordinarily dissipates anyway into the atmosphere from the vent. The danger of drilling INTO the vent may cause a blockage that would possibly prevent the escape of the heat, and surrounding ground material may melt a bit if the heat is too great. The funnel should be placed into the vent vertically from a crane. A funnel type of tube may be best if the funnel side is placed OVER the opening, as it is less likely to allow the heat to escape into the outside air. Iceland has harnessed their heat energy successfully, but they are cautious as to its power.
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2011
Iceland has shown how good Geo energy can be and its definatly better than oil or gas, just wish there were more viable sites for this tech to be utalised in a meaningfull way woldwide.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2011
Capturing the HEAT from GeoThermal vents shouldn't create conditions that would cause tremors and an earthquake if great care is taken.

Geothermal vents aren't the problem. Anywhere where water naturally comes superheated to the surface (e.g. in iceland) you can build a powerplant without additional risks.

The midatlantic ridge would be an exceptionally well suited site for such powerplants. Unfortunately that is very far away from anywhere where the power would be needed. So a conversion to some storage medium (hydrogen?) would be necessary. Which could then be shipped to where the power is needed.
Cave_Man
5 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2011
Capturing the HEAT from GeoThermal vents shouldn't create conditions that would cause tremors and an earthquake if great care is taken.

Geothermal vents aren't the problem. Anywhere where water naturally comes superheated to the surface (e.g. in iceland) you can build a powerplant without additional risks.

The midatlantic ridge would be an exceptionally well suited site for such powerplants. Unfortunately that is very far away from anywhere where the power would be needed. So a conversion to some storage medium (hydrogen?) would be necessary. Which could then be shipped to where the power is needed.


Lol it's only under like a million billion tons of raw hydrogen and oxygen.
Cynical1
3 / 5 (2) Oct 30, 2011
Cave Man's comment raises a question for me that I'm sure there's an answer for(I'm just too lazy to look it up myself and I like to hear other opinions on it.

Why are hydrogen and oxygen highly flammable and the combination of the two is a flame killer?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Oct 30, 2011
Look up the terms endothermic and exothermic.

Then look up the energy it takes to make steam out of liquid water.

these pointers should get you started on your quest.
Cave_Man
not rated yet Nov 05, 2011
Cave Man's comment raises a question for me that I'm sure there's an answer for(I'm just too lazy to look it up myself and I like to hear other opinions on it.

Why are hydrogen and oxygen highly flammable and the combination of the two is a flame killer?


The energy in a molecule of water is less than two free hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom.

But my point was that water has the potential to be the biggest energy storage medium on earth, you put in the energy to separate the h from the o and then combine it when you need that energy back.
Cynical1
1 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2011
"But my point was that water has the potential to be the biggest energy storage medium on earth, you put in the energy to separate the h from the o and then combine it when you need that energy back."

Isn't the energy already there? And since I've read the byproduct of the hydrogen reaction in a fuel cell is water - why do we have to recombine it?
And still doesn't answer my question - why do 2 high energy elements have an OPPOSITE effect when they are combined. And they don't just reduce their own energy, but of anything else that it comes in contact with. Other wise, we wouldn't need to burn gas for fuel, we could just burn water...
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 05, 2011
Isn't the energy already there?

No.

Fuel cell basics:
http://orgs.kette...back.htm
Cave_Man
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Isn't the energy already there? And since I've read the byproduct of the hydrogen reaction in a fuel cell is water - why do we have to recombine it?
And still doesn't answer my question - why do 2 high energy elements have an OPPOSITE effect when they are combined. And they don't just reduce their own energy, but of anything else that it comes in contact with. Other wise, we wouldn't need to burn gas for fuel, we could just burn water...

Sure you can burn water:
http://www.youtub...=related

The problem is that the chemical bonds of the atoms are stronger when bound up in water and the energy it takes to separate those atoms is roughly what you get back when you recombine them.

It's like lifting a weight, you lift it then drop and and sure it can break some shit when it hits the floor but you had to put that energy into it by lifting it. It's all simple conservation of energy.

Whats really interesting is trying 2 extract ZPE or gravitational nrg
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Gravitational energy would also not be free. By using tidal power we are effectivly moving the Moon closer to the Earth by a tiiiiiny bit.

Not that that matters since the Moon is moving away from Earth at 3.8cm per year, anyhow. We could extract a LOT of tidal power before the Moon would stop moving away - so no danger of making it crash into the Earth.

Whether ZPE is indeed 'free' I have my doubts.
Cynical1
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Not that that matters since the Moon is moving away from Earth at 3.8cm per year, anyhow. We could extract a LOT of tidal power before the Moon would stop moving away - so no danger of making it crash into the Earth.

Whether ZPE is indeed 'free' I have my doubts.


That is an EXCELLENT point, Anti. So let's get crackin on that...:-)
And ZPE is a pipe dream - at least under our currently observed physics paradigm.

But then I remember - Infinite possibility..."

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