Iceland drills 4.7 km down into volcano to tap clean energy

May 5, 2017 by Jeremie Richard, Gaël Branchereau
Iceland says its geothermal power station at Reykjanes can produce clean energy independent from fossil fuels by generating electricity from the heat stored inside the earth

It's named after a Nordic god and drills deep into the heart of a volcano: "Thor" is a rig that symbolises Iceland's leading-edge efforts to produce powerful clean energy.

If successful, the experimental project could produce up to 10 times more energy than an existing conventional gas or oil well, by generating electricity from the heat stored inside the earth: in this case, volcanic areas.

Launched in August last year, the drilling was completed on January 25, reaching a record-breaking depth of 4,659 metres (nearly 3 miles).

At this depth, engineers hope to access hot liquids under extreme pressure and at temperatures of 427 degrees C (800 F), creating steam that turns a turbine to generate clean electricity.

Iceland's decision to harness the heat inside the earth in a process known as geothermal energy dates back to the 1970s and the oil crisis.

But the new geothermal well is expected to generate far more energy, as the extreme heat and pressure at that depth makes the water take the form of a "supercritical" fluid, which is neither gas nor liquid.

"We expect to get five to 10 times more power from the well than a conventional well today," said Albert Albertsson, an engineer at the Icelandic energy company HS Orka, involved in the .

To supply electricity and hot water to a city like Reykjavik with 212,000 inhabitants, "we would need 30-35 conventional high temperature wells" compared to only three or five supercritical wells, says Albertsson. The cost would be much less.

Scientists and the team working on the "Thor" drill project have two years to determine its success and the economic feasibility of the experiment, which is called the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP).

Situated not far from the Blue Lagoon, whose steaming blue waters attracted more than one million tourists last year, the IDDP overlooks craters formed by the last volcanic eruption 700 years ago that covered this part of the Reykjanes peninsula with a sea of lava.

The peninsula's moon-like landscape also attracted NASA training missions in 1965 and 1967, aiming to prepare astronauts for unknown landscapes they might encounter on the moon.

Engineer Albert Albertsson says Iceland's geothermal well could generate five to 10 times more power than a conventional well

CO2 emissions rising

A Nordic island nation, rich in geysers with fountainlike jets of water and steam, hot springs and breathtaking volcanoes, Iceland is currently the only country in the world with 100 percent renewable electricity. Geothermal accounts for 25 percent, while the rest comes from hydroelectric dams.

But is Iceland a model for clean energy?

The answer is complex, according to Martin Norman, a Norwegian sustainable finance specialist at Greenpeace.

Although geothermal energy is still preferable to gas, coal and oil, it's not "completely renewable and without problems," he said.

"As soon as you start drilling you have issues to it, such as sulphur pollution and CO2 emission and they need to find solutions to deal with it," he added.

Albertsson agreed but said geothermal emissions were only "a fraction" compared to those produced by oil and natural gas. He added that recycling methods are progressing rapidly.

Iceland prides itself on being at the forefront of renewable energy, yet "it is far from meeting the international objectives in terms of reducing ," Norman said.

The Institute of Economic Studies at the University of Iceland said in a February report that the country will not be able to abide by the COP21 climate change agreement signed in Paris in 2015.

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising in all sectors of the economy, except in fisheries and agriculture, it said.

And they are predicted to rise by between 53 and 99 percent by 2030 from 1999 levels, a far cry from the island nation's COP21 summit pledge to slash carbon pollution by 40 percent compared to the same benchmark.

Geothermal energy already accounts for a quarter of Iceland's 100 percent renewable electricity generation—but Greenpeace is not yet convinced the country's plans make it a model for clean energy

'Costa del Reykjavik'

Iceland's heavy and energy-intensive—aluminium, silicon—industries and booming tourism are some of the causes.

The land of ice and fire, with a population of 338,000, expects to welcome more than two million foreign visitors this year.

With the frequent landing of charter planes, coaches weaving through the interior of the country, quads and powerful 4x4 driving over the black lava landscape and hotels sprouting up in the capital, the growing volume of holidaymakers is taking a toll on Iceland's environment.

Norman, of Greenpeace, fears the capital will turn into "a Costa del Reykjavik" due to the lure of the profits to be made and result in Icelanders giving up the country's unique nature.

In an interview with AFP, Icelandic Environment Minister Bjort Olafsdottir said she hopes her nation will find the political will to reach its COP21 goals.

"If we do nothing, if we don't take strong actions, we won't reach the Paris agreement goals. But that's not the plan," she said.

The current government has doubled taxes on CO2 emissions and financial incentives for polluting industries have been removed, she argued.

"It is the first step, probably it is not enough. We have to do it with the help of the industry," she said.

Iceland's long-term goal is to reduce the country's dependence on hydrocarbons by having all cars run on electric power.

Explore further: Geothermal power potential seen in Iceland drilling project

Related Stories

Geothermal power potential seen in Iceland drilling project

October 23, 2016

(Tech Xplore)—Reykjanes Peninsula. For visitors to Iceland it is a place known for its diverse landscape. For scientists working on green energy alternatives, it has special significance as a "geopark" known not only for ...

By nixing coal, Iceland grabs green with geothermal heat

October 21, 2016

As Cornell considers geothermal heat to warm its campus, Icelandic engineer Thorleikur Johannesson told the story of how his country abandoned coal and set standards to achieve blue-ribbon blue skies in an Oct. 16 visit to ...

Energy From Hot Rocks

November 8, 2007

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.

Magma power for geothermal energy?

February 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 ...

Recommended for you

Startup Pi out to slice the charging cord

September 19, 2017

Silicon Valley youngster Pi on Monday claimed it had developed the world's first wireless charger that does away with cords or mats to charge devices.

A solar cell you can put in the wash

September 18, 2017

Scientists from RIKEN and the University of Tokyo have developed a new type of ultra-thin photovoltaic device, coated on both sides with stretchable and waterproof films, which can continue to provide electricity from sunlight ...

34 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) May 05, 2017
You know, maybe Im quibbling but a hotlink of the word geothermal might be better than wasting space in a news article trying to explain it?

Its like skipping over the explanation of nuclear fusion in every reactor article. This is the internet you know.
OverTheMoon
5 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
This being Iceland, I wonder how they managed to build this without disturbing the Huldufolk (elves) that live in the rocks? And where was the elf lobby on this?
TopCat22
3 / 5 (4) May 05, 2017
I hope Elon Musk is reading this and giving his new Boring Company some guidance of what they should be doing with their boring machines. We regularly drill large tunnels 10 and 20 kilometres long for roads. You don't need to go that far down (or that large a diameter) to get to geothermal sources for energy in many places of the world ... unfortunately that would create energy that is too cheap to measure. This is the main reason we don't have less dependence on fossil fuels.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 05, 2017
I hope Elon Musk is reading this and giving his new Boring Company some guidance of what they should be doing with their boring machines.


Drills for drilling huge horizontal tunnels are very different from those drilling small-ish vertical holes. That's like asking a company that specializes in cold room storage to look into manufacturing ice cream. Yeah - both are cold, but that's about where the similarities end.
TopCat22
3 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
the way boring machines work vs a drill rig is what I am referring to. Rather than drill down from the surface with a 10 kilometre long bit which is very hard to do, use an small autonomous boring machine to tunnel to where the free energy is.
SamB
1 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
Iceland drills 4.7 km down into volcano to tap clean energy


Clean energy?
Wow, imagine all the 'clean' energy you could have if you could create volcanoes on demand!
Eikka
3.3 / 5 (4) May 05, 2017
the way boring machines work vs a drill rig is what I am referring to. Rather than drill down from the surface with a 10 kilometre long bit which is very hard to do, use an small autonomous boring machine to tunnel to where the free energy is.


It's still a completely different proposition, considering that it's very very hot down there and the waste material has to be conveyed up a vertical drill shaft.

The reason why a continuous bit is used is because the waste rock is being pumped away with the same water that is used for cooling the drill. The whole thing is a hollow pipe.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 05, 2017
, use an small autonomous boring machine to tunnel to where the free energy is

You need to keep the bore hole open. That is not a given with a machine that is small and autonomous. (A small machine would have to brace itself against the sides of the bore hole to offset torque. This would make a cave-in all the more likely)
Also boring takes a humongous amount of power. Getting that amount of power to a small-ish machine would be very complicated.

Trust the guys who have been doing this for decades. They know what kinds of borers work for what kinds of applications.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
Actually, with only a little research, we find that borers can be used for geothermal recovery.

Horizontal drilling is already being used...

"Application of advanced horizontal well circulation system technology in permeable sedimentary formations provides a number of significant environmental advantages over traditional geothermal recovery..."

-and large diameter preexisting flooded mine excavations are being considered both for geothermal heat recovery and as heat sinks.

"Underground mines are extremely capital intensive, but despite this investment the traditional view has been that they have little useful value after closure... during the winter heat can be extracted from mine water and supplied for space heating, and in the summer the process can be reversed and the heat transferred back to the water to provide cooling."

-Of course this would apply whether on earth or mars where water and heat recovery and storage would be a distinct advantage.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
Trust the guys who have been doing this for decades. They know what kinds of borers work for what kinds of applications
Yeah trust the guys who actually do the work and post it on the internet instead of assuming you know what it is they are doing.

Another few minutes of curiosity brings this:

"CTES (cavern or mine thermal energy storage). STES stores are possible in flooded mines, purpose-built chambers, or abandoned underground oil stores (e.g. those mined into crystalline hardrock in Norway), if they are close enough to a heat (or cold) source and market."

-Purpose-built chambers - tunnels.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
Now heres something that should interest aa in particular...

"No potential source of heating energy should be left unused if the German energy turnaround is to be successful. A promising pilot project has been realised in Jenbach, Austria: ground source energy from a railway tunnel is used to heat buildings.... The fact that the tunnel surface areas adjacent to soil or rock are large, means that tunnel structures can supply a considerable amount of geothermal energy. Even the tunnel air can make a significant contribution to energy generation."
cont>
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
"In order to make the best possible use of thermal energy in the case of TBM (Tunnel Boring Machine) tunnels, an 'energy lining segment' has been developed by the engineering firm Arup in conjunction with Rehau AG and the tunnel construction specialist Züblin AG. Energy lining segments are precast concrete parts, which together form the tunnel shell. A special pipework system made of high pressure cross-linked polyethylene (PE-Xa), developed by Rehau is placed inside the energy lining segments... Similar projects have also been completed successfully in Germany, such as the extension of a city railway section of the U6 line in Stuttgart and the Katzenbergtunnel."

fin
Eikka
not rated yet May 05, 2017
Otto, you're talking about low temperatures geothermal heat sources, such as for geothermal heating with heat pumps. That is a completely different matter.

Everyone else is talking about drilling deep vertical holes into the earth, because the earth's crust isn't particularily thin in most of the places, and going straight down is the shortest way to get to where it's hot enough to boil water.

TBMs don't work in that sort of drilling. First of all the hole is narrow, secondly you need a way to stabilize the hole from crumbling, and thirdly you need a way to pump the drilling waste up the hole. The only feasible way to do that is with a conventional drill made of pipe sections, which are welded together end on end and pushed down the hole as the drill advances.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 06, 2017
Everyone else is talking about drilling deep vertical holes
No the comment you and aa responded to:
You don't need to go that far down (or that large a diameter) to get to geothermal sources for energy in many places of the world ...
-was not about vertical holes but still on topic.

I was responding to the frequent sanctimony of you 2. I suspect you werent aware of horizontal drilling and tunnel heat recovery so I enlightened you.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 06, 2017
And geothermal wells aren't all lined, nor are they all vertical, nor do they need to be very deep.

Here's an example of one that doesn't even need water:
https://www.asme....-promise
Eikka
not rated yet May 06, 2017
-was not about vertical holes but still on topic.


Yes it was. The whole article is about generating electricity out of geothermal heat, and for that you need much higher temperatures than your generic geothermal well which could be drilled with a TBM.

In some places the heat is close to the surface, but you still can't get at it with a tunnel boring machine because of the very fact that it's too hot for the system. With well above 100 C temperatures in the surrounding rock, the mechanics and electronics of such machines fail.

Where the temperature is below 100 C, you can't boil water and you can't build a geothermal powerplant. You may still extract geothermal heat, but that's a whole different topic.
Eikka
not rated yet May 06, 2017
Getting to depths where geothermal power extraction becomes possible (~2km) with a tunnel boring machine would be downright insane, because in general these machines are only capable of going down about 5% in grade because the drilling waste is carried away with a conveyor belt and the whole thing moves on rails.

So 2 km down would require you to bore a tunnel 40 km horizontally, and even if the machinery could take the heat, the drilling time and cost would be many times that of simply drilling straight down.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 06, 2017
Getting to depths where geothermal power extraction becomes possible (~2km) with a tunnel boring machine would be downright insane
You didn't read anything I posted. Geothermal energy can be extracted from subway tunnels and abandoned mines. People heat their houses with backyard systems.

Keep pretending you know what you are talking about.

Here, let me repost one to save wear and tear on your scroll finger.

"No potential source of heating energy should be left unused if the German energy turnaround is to be successful. A promising pilot project has been realised in Jenbach, Austria: ground source energy from a railway tunnel is used to heat buildings.... The fact that the tunnel surface areas adjacent to soil or rock are large, means that tunnel structures can supply a considerable amount of geothermal energy. Even the tunnel air can make a significant contribution to energy generation."
betterexists
not rated yet May 06, 2017
Provide U-Shaped Tube around which discharged Batteries CONSTANTLY Drop and Rise up IMMEDIATELY after getting Charged - of course, Making sure The Battery Components are of Right Type.
Eikka
not rated yet May 08, 2017
You didn't read anything I posted. Geothermal energy can be extracted from subway tunnels and abandoned mines. People heat their houses with backyard systems.


This article is about geothermal power - generating electricity - not geothermal heating, in Iceland - not Germany.

You're arguing a completely irrelevant point.

To get to depths for geothermal power extraction, all you need is a shovel. To get to depths where geothermal power extraction becomes possible, you need a drill.
Eikka
not rated yet May 08, 2017
To get to depths for geothermal power extraction, all you need is a shovel.


That should read "geothermal heat extraction" but the edit button dissapeared.

Geothermal heat extraction becomes sensible at about 6 ft down where the temperature stabilizes to the average year-round levels. Below that, the temperature starts to increase by about 25 C for every kilometer.

In Iceland, you need to be at least 2 km deep before the rock gets hot enough for geothermal POWER extraction. Elsewhere in the world where the earth's crust is thicker the average is around 4-5 km deep.

That is also why geothermal power is not commonly used, because it gets mighty expensive to drill that deep, and the temperature is still just barely enough to boil water so the efficiency and energy return for the investment is very low, and once you start extracting the heat the well goes cold in about 20 years, because the earth's internal heat is only about 0.1 Watts per square meter.
Eikka
not rated yet May 08, 2017
Geothermal heat extraction is actually extracting solar heat trapped in the soil some tens to a maximum of about 120 meters down. The actual geothermal energy rising from the mantle is minimal compared to the 1+ kW/m^2 of sunshine striking the surface on most days, and so the heat reservoir is mostly charged by the sun.

So you see, geothermal heat and geothermal power are two completely different things in practice. Confusing the two by calling both "geothermal energy" is missing the point entirely.
barthachris
5 / 5 (1) May 08, 2017
GhostofOtto is making himself look like a fool. He's confusing geothermal systems that use the Earth or body of water as a heat exchanger with the system of power generation/district heating that uses heat from magmas close proximity in volcanically active areas. Two totally different concepts.

TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet May 08, 2017
geothermal POWER extraction
The article doesn't make that distinction.

"Iceland's decision to harness the heat inside the earth in a process known as geothermal energy dates back to the 1970s and the oil crisis."

-And these sources are not solar:

"CTES (cavern or mine thermal energy storage). STES stores are possible in flooded mines, purpose-built chambers, or abandoned underground oil stores (e.g. those mined into crystalline hardrock in Norway), if they are close enough to a heat (or cold) source and market."

-And in fact, not having to convert steam into electricity for heating domestic hot water is more efficient...

"To supply electricity and hot water to a city like Reykjavik..."
antialias_physorg
not rated yet May 08, 2017
The article doesn't make that distinction.


ya know, I think it does
If successful, the experimental project could produce up to 10 times more energy than an existing conventional gas or oil well, by generating electricity from the heat stored inside the earth

Notice the word 'electricity'?

Jeez..once a month you unblock someone to check...and whaddaya know? Same old stupid. I guess I'll put you on a 6 month cycle for now. The once-a-month turns out to be a waste of time.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) May 08, 2017
And once a month I don't give a Shit. You sound an awful lot like Hillary ya know?

The point was, that topcat made a comment about a related issue and you 2 continued to attempt to shame him even when he made it clear that he understood the distinction. Which lies me to believe he knew more about the topic than either of you did.

"Rather than drill down from the surface with a 10 kilometre long bit which is very hard to do, use an small autonomous boring machine to tunnel to where the free energy is."

-See?

"Trust the guys who have been doing this for decades"

"sanc·ti·mo·ni·ous
adjectivederogatory
making a show of being morally superior to other people."
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet May 08, 2017
And again, you're wrong.

"LOW TEMPERATURE WATER HEAT RECOVERY TECHNOLOGY
Increasingly, low-temperature resources once used predominantly for direct use applications such as heating, fisheries, and industrial
processes can now also be used for power generation in suitable conditions. Low-temperature technologies have the potential to utilize
geothermal resources from across the nation, expanding geothermal power potential using various low temperature sources DiPippo R.,
(2008). Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) is one such technology which utilizes for power production from low enthalpy geothermal reservoirs."

- Is there anything else you need to be enlightened on?
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (1) May 08, 2017
The reason this heat source must be accessed vertically by drilling involves both temperature and pressure. There are other geothermal applications that perhaps are different, but a thermal steam power cycle requires a pressure/temperature condition that cannot be tunneled into.
Supercritical steam systems in conventional thermal power generation applications operate at temperatures higher than 800 degrees Fahrenheit, usually with design limits of 1000 to 1100 at pressures that can exceed 2000 psi. The most the article says about that is that the "hot liquids" to be accessed are around 800 F and "extreme pressure", but provides no specifics.Even in those vague terms it doesn't sound like something to tunnel into...... nor does the article go into how the engineering challenges are resolved, but that would be an interesting subject.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet May 08, 2017
Topcats comment wasnt about high temp or pressure.
You don't need to go that far down (or that large a diameter) to get to geothermal sources for energy in many places of the world
Why did you think it was?

He knew that wasnt possible...
Rather than drill down from the surface with a 10 kilometre long bit which is very hard to do, use an small autonomous boring machine to tunnel to where the free energy is
-See?

So whats your problem besides not bothering to read the thread?
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (1) May 08, 2017
Otto, I was posting about accessing the heat source the article is discussing, not necessarily in response to topcat's post, but more with regard to the general argument. There may be geothermal sources that don't require vertical drilling, and can be accessed by tunneling, but this article is not about them. Topcat doesn't seem to understand that, but my post was not directed towards his/her comment - just trying to remind the ensuing argument about the subject matter of the article.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet May 08, 2017
Otto, I was posting about accessing the heat source the article is discussing, not necessarily in response to topcat's post
Sure you were...
Even in those vague terms it doesn't sound like something to tunnel into
-and neither topcat nor I were suggesting it.
just trying to remind the ensuing argument about the subject matter of the article
-And youve been here long enough to know that these articles often trigger secondary discussions on related issues. Eikka and aa both took the opportunity to disparage another poster for suggesting that borers should be used vertically, even after he clarified that that was nonsense.

"su·per·cil·i·ous
ˌso͞opərˈsilēəs/Submit
adjective
behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others.
"a supercilious lady's maid"
synonyms: arrogant, haughty, conceited, disdainful, overbearing, pompous, condescending, superior, patronizing, imperious, proud, snobbish, snobby, smug, scornful, sneering"
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (1) May 08, 2017
Sorry Otto - I can't see your posts any more. That's a little unfortunate - but I should suggest that you also place me on your ignore list, if I get under your super thin skin so easily.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet May 09, 2017
So like aa you hate to lose as well and can't stand to admit it? No prob.
betterexists
not rated yet May 09, 2017
I have put So Many on Ignore List; Recently, some appeared, but I IMMEDIATELY Skipped. Just NOT Interested!

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.