JUL 24, 2015 8:39 AM PDT

New Technology May Provide Inexpensive Access To Geothermal Energy

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Dunlop
Geothermal. Tapping into the Earth's heat. It's basically free, completely clean energy. Why isn't everyone doing it? All you have to do is drill down through the Earth's crust to get to it. Oh, right. Drilling's expensive. Really expensive, especially if you have to drill a long way down. But new Washington State based drilling technology company called HyperSciences, might be about to change that. Headed by Mark Russell, an aeronautical engineer, the firm has recently applied for a patent on an entirely new type of drilling technology. To be more precise, though it does the same thing as a drill, it doesn't actually use a drill at all. It's a ram accelerator, a very specialized sort of gun that will be used to blast very deep holes in the ground, enabling access geothermal resources at much lower expense than traditional drilling techniques. Russell has told the press that geothermal power is the wave of the future, and not just for heating and cooling buildings and creating electricity. He thinks we may one day use it to make space travel commonplace.

A diagram from the patent application for HyperSciences' ram accelerator

It seems Shell Oil may actually be interested in diversifying. Maybe they know something about the end of oil that the rest of us don't. In any case, they're underwriting HyperSciences research with a grant. It's actually not too far off the beam for Shell. Even if Shell sticks with oil, they still have to get through the Earth's crust to get to it. Whether they're looking to move into geothermal or keep drilling oil, or both, if there's a technology that will allow them to "drill" more cheaply, it's in Shell's best interest to pursue it.



The video above shows how a ram accelerator could be used to launch a projectile into space.

Here's how the HyperSciences technology works. A projectile is loaded into a ram accelerator (that's the gun). Gas is pumped into the ram accelerator and ignited. This causes the pressure in the chamber to increase and pushes the projectile forward. Okay, fairly standard "gun" technology. But unlike traditional firing mechanisms, in this gun, which is actually a form of ramjet technology, the accelerator is used as both a barrel and chamber, enabling it to launch its projectiles at speeds up to 4,500 mph. The projectiles vaporize themselves and whatever they strike. One shot creates a hole in the ground. Multiple shots create deeper and deeper holes, all at much lower cost than traditional drilling techniques. Russell's team is also looking into the possibly adding plastic explosives to the projectile to increase the hole depth with each shot. Russell claims that once he and his team get it right, the system could be used to access geothermal resources even if they're two miles down.

The only places where Geothermal power has been financially viable up to this point have been places like Iceland, where the Earth's magma isn't very far below the surface. In those places it is being harnessed to vast and excellent effect. But not all geographic areas have such easy access to the geothermal riches below them. This is the key. Drilling using traditional drilling techniques gets more and more expensive the deeper you go. That may explain why companies like Shell are taking new ideas like the ram accelerator seriously, and even funding them.


(Source: phys.org)
About the Author
  • Andrew J. Dunlop lives and writes in a little town near Boston. He's interested in space, the Earth, and the way that humans and other species live on it.
You May Also Like
SEP 01, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
No Child's Play - Advanced Bubble Manipulation Method can Transform Chemical Processing
SEP 01, 2020
No Child's Play - Advanced Bubble Manipulation Method can Transform Chemical Processing
Gas bubbles are fascinating, playful objects in children's eyes. In fact, they play an essential role in many indust ...
SEP 03, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Nuclear Pioneers Joined Force to Fast-Track Clean Energy Tech
SEP 03, 2020
Nuclear Pioneers Joined Force to Fast-Track Clean Energy Tech
Last week, TerraPower, a Bill Gates-backed nuclear startup, announced its latest project - a collaboration with GE Hitac ...
SEP 30, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Iron levels limit coral resiliency and growth
SEP 30, 2020
Iron levels limit coral resiliency and growth
A new study from Penn State researchers reports that corals’ resiliency to climate change depends on environmental ...
OCT 15, 2020
Plants & Animals
Meet the World's First Cloned Przewalski's Horse
OCT 15, 2020
Meet the World's First Cloned Przewalski's Horse
Say “hello!” to Kurt, a two-month-old Przewalski’s horse that has made scientific history as the world ...
OCT 14, 2020
Earth & The Environment
That's not really how atolls form...
OCT 14, 2020
That's not really how atolls form...
A study published this month in the Annual Review of Marine Science challenges the accuracy of Darwin’s theor ...
NOV 18, 2020
Plants & Animals
This Bat Species Uses Masks for Mating
NOV 18, 2020
This Bat Species Uses Masks for Mating
From pandemic precautions to televised talent shows, masks are having a moment. Even this bizarre bat species has a buil ...
Loading Comments...