World's first magma-enhanced geothermal system created in Iceland

Jan 23, 2014
This image shows a flow test of the IDDP-1 well at Krafla. Note the transparent superheated steam at the top of the rock muffler. Credit: Kristján Einarsson.

In 2009, a borehole drilled at Krafla, northeast Iceland, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), unexpectedly penetrated into magma (molten rock) at only 2100 meters depth, with a temperature of 900-1000 C. The borehole, IDDP-1, was the first in a series of wells being drilled by the IDDP in Iceland in the search for high-temperature geothermal resources.

The January 2014 issue of the international journal Geothermics is dedicated to scientific and engineering results arising from that unusual occurrence. This issue is edited by Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, who also co-authored three of the in the special issue with Icelandic colleagues.

"Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence anywhere in the world and this is only the second known instance, the first one, in 2007, being in Hawaii," Elders said. "The IDDP, in cooperation with Iceland's National Power Company, the operator of the Krafla geothermal power plant, decided to investigate the hole further and bear part of the substantial costs involved."

Accordingly, a steel casing, perforated in the bottom section closest to the magma, was cemented into the well. The hole was then allowed to heat slowly and eventually allowed to flow superheated steam for the next two years, until July 2012, when it was closed down in order to replace some of the surface equipment.

"In the future, the success of this drilling and research project could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide," Elders said.

This image shows the drill site of the IDDP-1 well near the explosive volcanic crater Víti. Viti erupted in 1724 AD. Credit: Guðmundur Ó. Friðleifsson.

He added that several important milestones were achieved in this project: despite some difficulties, the project was able to drill down into the and control it; it was possible to set steel casing in the bottom of the hole; allowing the hole to blow superheated, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures exceeding 450 C, created a world record for geothermal heat (this well was the hottest in the world and one of the most powerful); steam from the IDDP-1 well could be fed directly into the existing power plant at Krafla; and the IDDP-1 demonstrated that a high-enthalpy geothermal system could be successfully utilized.

"Essentially, the IDDP-1 created the world's first magma-enhanced geothermal system," Elders said. "This unique engineered is the world's first to supply heat directly from a molten magma."

Elders explained that in various parts of the world so-called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems are being created by pumping cold water into hot dry rocks at 4-5 kilometers depths. The heated water is pumped up again as hot water or steam from production wells. In recent decades, considerable effort has been invested in Europe, Australia, the United States, and Japan, with uneven, and typically poor, results.

"Although the IDDP-1 hole had to be shut in, the aim now is to repair the well or to drill a new similar hole," Elders said. "The experiment at Krafla suffered various setbacks that tried personnel and equipment throughout. However, the process itself was very instructive, and, apart from scientific articles published in Geothermics, comprehensive reports on practical lessons learned are nearing completion."

The IDDP is a collaboration of three energy companies—HS Energy Ltd., National Power Company and Reykjavik Energy—and a government agency, the National Energy Authority of Iceland. It will drill the next borehole, IDDP-2, in southwest Iceland at Reykjanes in 2014-2015. From the onset, international collaboration has been important to the project, and in particular a consortium of U.S. scientists, coordinated by Elders, has been very active, authoring several research papers in the special issue of Geothermics.

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User comments : 15

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shavera
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
Would Magma solidify around boreholes? Or is flow and surrounding material sufficient to keep it molten?

Have we learned new data about how magma behaves physically/chemically?
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
Shav,
I'm wondering about the pressure release we might normally expect from heated magma.... Apparently there doesn't really appear to be any here...I mean, no magma coming out of the drill hole, just heat...
I'm thinking about it as how it might be related to Yellowstone...
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
So hey - maybe we could sink about 20 billion of these 10 miles deep into the yellowstone caldera... And still have absolutely NO EFFECT on the progress of the magma chamber or the timing of the next eruption.

Because after all the magma chamber is 1500 cubic kilometers of molten rock, continuously churned by convection and conduction and differentiation, and continuously fed by a vent from 400 miles further down.

But certainly let's consider it. Fantasies, like geothermal plants, can keep us warm at night no?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2014
Actually, Otto - I just really want see how we can make shit blow up...
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
Would Magma solidify around boreholes? Or is flow and surrounding material sufficient to keep it molten?
Consider a steel foundry blast furnace continuously heated enough to melt iron ore. Picture a pipe full of water lowered into it. What effect do you think this pipe full of water will have on the molten iron?

A magma chamber is like a boiling pot of water. You can't cool a portion of it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2014
Actually, Otto - I just really want see how we can make shit blow up...
No you just want to see how you can make otto blow up.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
[Picture a pipe full of water lowered into it. What effect do you think this pipe full of water will have on the molten iron?

I'm not talkin bout putting water on it. Enclosed in a pipe or not.

A magma chamber is like a boiling pot of water. You can't cool a portion of it.

You can, however, take the lid off so it won't boil over.

A pressure cooker with no release valve will definitely blow with enough pressure, prob'ly wrecking your entire kitchen, as well.
Putting a release hole in the lid of it (you don't even have to use that top knob/bobble-thingy) prevents your kitchen from being destroyed.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2014
Actually, Otto - I just really want see how we can make shit blow up...
No you just want to see how you can make otto blow up.


Is it working? :-)
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
A pressure cooker with no release valve will definitely blow with enough pressure, prob'ly wrecking your entire kitchen, as well.
The release valve for yellowstone is a 10 mile thick cap, 1500 sq mi in area. It releases with the force of 1000 mt St. Helens. There is no other way of releasing that pressure.
putting water on it
Thats what the setup in the article uses which flashes to superheated steam.
goracle
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
Has anybody asked the local elves what they think of all this? http://en.wikiped...%C3%B3lk
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
Has anybody asked the local elves what they think of all this? http://en.wikiped...%C3%B3lk

after reading that their clothing was often green, it makes me wonder - did leprechauns migrate?
Birger
not rated yet Jan 24, 2014
Safe cooling of Yellowstone magma chamber would require equipment made of "unobtanium". Actually, since yellowsone magma chamber becomes unstable when cooled, solidified magma move down to the bottom, this might actually trigger an eruption...
shavera
not rated yet Jan 24, 2014
Well Otto, my question is a bit more complex than boiling water. I mean magma surely has a greater viscosity... if the flow was sufficiently slow near by the pipe, it could be that the local cooling may be sufficient to freeze out some. Not saying it is or isn't the case, just a question I had as a non-geologist.
Moebius
not rated yet Jan 24, 2014
It's about time we have sense enough to tap into an unlimited source of clean power that lies below the feet of every person on the planet. Yes it won't be easy to get at but when it comes to things like this we usually find a way.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2014
Well Otto, my question is a bit more complex than boiling water. I mean magma surely has a greater viscosity... if the flow was sufficiently slow near by the pipe, it could be that the local cooling may be sufficient to freeze out some. Not saying it is or isn't the case, just a question I had as a non-geologist.
Stick a tiny little sliver of ice into a great roiling cauldron of boiling water. What happens? Does the water stop boiling around the ice? Slow flow around the ice? Is heat being removed faster than it is being supplied? Of course not.