JUL 24, 2015 08:39 AM PDT

New Technology May Provide Inexpensive Access To Geothermal Energy

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
DEC 17, 2018
Earth & The Environment
DEC 17, 2018
Federal court "speaks for the trees"
A federal appeals court has called in the Lorax, the grumpy little creature famous in Dr. Seuss’s book for acting as a guardian for the trees. In a r...
DEC 23, 2018
Videos
DEC 23, 2018
Happy holidays?
It's great to get into the holiday spirit, but there's no way around it: some things about the holidays are just not healthy - for us and for the p...
FEB 03, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 03, 2019
The Effort to Sequence the Genomes of 1.5 Million Species
The Earth BioGenome Project aims to sequence and characterize the genomes of all known eukaryotes....
FEB 12, 2019
Earth & The Environment
FEB 12, 2019
Scientist swims Tennessee River and finds unprecedented plastic pollution
One researcher recently undertook an interesting strategy in order to analyze levels of microplastics in the Tennessee River: swimming. Dr. Andreas Fath, a...
FEB 12, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 12, 2019
Man's Best Friend - Wildlife's Worst Enemy?
Established as one of man’s best friends, dogs can seemingly be found in almost every other household you visit. But while humans may enjoy dogs&rsqu...
FEB 13, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 13, 2019
New Turtle Species Discovered in Asia, But it's Almost Extinct Already
Just when you thought scientists have uncovered every Earth-dwelling creature they possibly could, a new animal discovery makes headlines. The latest unear...
Loading Comments...