Electricity from Earth Crust – Iceland Drilling in Molten Magma

Thor drilling in Reykjanes peninsula. Credit: Iceland Drilling

Thor drilling in Reykjanes peninsula. Credit: Iceland Drilling

Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) is drilling down into the molten magma that flows through volcanoes and hopes to have created the hottest hole in the earth. The project leaders and earth science scientists have hopes of establishing a powerful new sustainable energy source. The project involves drilling a 5-km (3.1-mile) deep hole in the south-west corner of Iceland. Expected to be completed by the end of this year and is predicted to become world’s hottest hole. The temperatures inside could be anywhere between 400 and 1,0000C. Experts estimate this much heat is sufficient enough to generate supercritical steam that could generate up to 50 megawatts of electricity – this can be 10 times more efficient than traditional geothermal wells.

Research on geothermal energy has been going around the world for decades, and it involves drilling into the natural heat stored inside earth to power turbines and generate electricity. But IDDP is taking care, by attempting to bypass rocks completely and drill into the source of earth’s heat – the magma oozing into volcanoes. This type of drilling directly into magma has a massive potential to exploit earth’s inner heat.

The very concept of exploiting the energy beneath earth’s crust struck scientists by an accident. In the year 2009 when IDDP was drilling for the construction of traditional geothermal well, they by mistake drilled into a magma reservoir 2 kilometres (1.25 miles) below the surface. After having noticed this they further decided to experiment. They poured water down the deep hole to see / judge the quantum of heat such well could generate and ended up producing 30 megawatts of power. Thus making it the most powerful geothermal well ever in Iceland.  Iceland is famous for its geologically active hot springs. Presently more than a quarter of the country is powered by geothermal energy wells, which tap into hot rocks below earth’s surface. The rest of the Iceland’s electricity needs are met by hydroelectric power plants.

The drilling of this projected “hottest hole” on the earth started on August 12, 2016, in the geologically active Reykjanes region of Iceland. At the end of the well / hole, the scientists are hoping to reach the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – the major boundary between earth’s tectonic plates – where magma heats seawater to temperatures of up to 1,0000C. At this juncture water is also under a lot of pressure (200 times atmospheric levels), which the team expects will generate ‘supercritical steam’ – a state of matter that’s neither liquid nor gas, and holds way more heat energy than either, in turn, generating electricity.

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