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
MAY 17, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Rethinking dams: the true cost of hydropower
MAY 17, 2021
Rethinking dams: the true cost of hydropower
Hydrological dams have been portrayed as green, renewable energy capable of aiding in the transition away from fossil fu ...
JUN 07, 2021
Health & Medicine
Higher Incidence of Breast Cancer in Polluted Urban Areas
JUN 07, 2021
Higher Incidence of Breast Cancer in Polluted Urban Areas
A Taiwanese study looked at the incidence of breast cancer in areas of Taiwan with varying levels of air pollutants. Air ...
JUN 18, 2021
Health & Medicine
Antidepressants in Waterways Can Change Animals' Behavior
JUN 18, 2021
Antidepressants in Waterways Can Change Animals' Behavior
Prescription drugs in waterways may be altering the behavior of aquatic animals, according to a study published this wee ...
JUN 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Rising Temps Seem to Limit Vegetation's Access to Water, Reducing Growth
JUN 27, 2021
Rising Temps Seem to Limit Vegetation's Access to Water, Reducing Growth
Some have suggested that excess atmospheric carbon can promote plant growth, and maybe bigger plants would take up more ...
JUN 28, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Tracking marine microplastics from the sky
JUN 28, 2021
Tracking marine microplastics from the sky
Researchers at the University of Michigan have figured out how to more accurately track microplastics in the ocean using ...
JUL 16, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Climate Change Causes Carbon Loss in Soil & Root Problems in Plants
JUL 16, 2021
Climate Change Causes Carbon Loss in Soil & Root Problems in Plants
Concerns about runaway climate change and tipping points of no return are constant sources of fear in our warming world. ...
Loading Comments...