Energy From Hot Rocks

Nov 08, 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: NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Deep fault drilling project

22 minutes ago

It rains a lot in the tiny south Westland town of Whataroa. Every year, this region gets some of the highest rainfall totals recorded anywhere in the World and Whataroa is one of the wetter parts. The town is nestled beneath ...

Can we turn unwanted carbon dioxide into electricity?

Dec 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 existin ...

Borehole hits the jackpot

Jun 28, 2011

Hot water from Newcastle’s geothermal borehole finally gushed to the surface this morning.

Hot rocks fire up energy from the depths

Jun 23, 2010

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

Mines could provide geothermal energy

Jul 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 ...

Recommended for you

Scientists make strides in tsunami warning since 2004

13 hours ago

The 2004 tsunami led to greater global cooperation and improved techniques for detecting waves that could reach faraway shores, even though scientists still cannot predict when an earthquake will strike.

Trade winds ventilate the tropical oceans

13 hours ago

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research ...

User comments : 0

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.