Geo Thermal Energy

Salton Seismic Trough, part of the San Andreas Fault between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate

In California’s Imperial Valley near the Salton Sea there is a lot of heat accessible through the tough in the mantle due to gravitational pressure.

Our world’s dependence on fossil fuels has made some resources holders politically and militarily aggressive, at the expense of subservient, resource dependent peoples. Naturally occurring ‘lead pots’ hot mud pools are caused by hot water and carbon dioxide CO2 creating mini volcanoes at the Davis Shrimp mud piles.

Mud pots by the Salton Sea

Permanent Energy Source

They are active, then become dormant, and come up somewhere else.  They sit on one of the largest geothermal generation fields in the world.  They are sustainable and carbon free so it is paying to tap into this hot field resource. Production scientist for Berkshire Hathaway’s Caltech Energy project is Billy Thomas.  ‘25 wells and 10 power plants together delivered 345 megawatts, enough power for 3500 homes.  And they are only scratching the subsurface.’ This field has huge potential, they have the 5000 gallons (Brine) per minute flowing through the plant.

B.H. Cal Tech plant in Imperial Valley giving off steam

‘Geothermal heat comes from our core at 1000° F said to be as hot as the surface of the sun.’ Here wells are drilled between 2000 feet and 2 miles deep were it is only 600° F. They release hot brine [generally applied to highly salted liquid] and steam that spins turbines to produce electricity.  The brine is injected back into the earth where it replenishes the subterranean reservoir.

Berkshire Hathaway Cal Tech Geo. Thermal plant

Sustainable and No Pollution

Infinitely sustainable if managed well? ‘We have the benefit of operating for up to 40 years.  We generally have a robust reservoir so we don’t see a decline.  So we have a situation that could provide a ‘Base Load’ energy 24-7-365 steady production of power that wind and solar cannot provide.

Base load electricity supplied
24 hours a day 7 days a week

Geothermal is a prime candidate for a place in a carbon neutral electrical grid.  Geologist Amanda Kolker is programming geothermal energy at the National Renewable Energy Laboratories at Golden Colorado.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado.

Drilling Technology Innovation

Optimization improvements and innovative ideas applied to the geothermal sector in the last decade.  Geothermal wells can also be a great source of minerals.  At the site of geological fracturing, the Controlled Thermal Resources Company is building a 50 Megawatt plant in the Imperial valley.  The salt water rising from the wells is providing almost the entire Periodic Table of Elements.  The demand for electric vehicle cars and the battery’s has made it profitable to extract lithium.  We will produce approximately 20,000 tons of lithium per year.  Four times what the U.S. produces today. 

In the past it had not been enough value to build a plant and operate it.  Lithium compounds are now in high demand.  The rock beneath is naturally fractured and permeated lying at the end of the San Andreas Fault.

Drillable depth resources are not available everywhere at this time to produce steam. But that could be temporary. At the Forge Project in Utah they are the piloting a drilling project for Enhanced Thermal Systems.

Drilling for Heated Rock

The plan is to drill two wells into low permeable rock, fracture it, (by pressure or seismic blasts I assume).  Pump water into the cracks with one well then collect and pipe the steam up the other well to the surface where it could be directed to power turbines.

Oil drilling veterans are now drilling for hot rock not oil

Cindy Taft of Huston based Sage Geo Systems Engineering, has a plan to drill one well vertically, then horizontally into sedimentary rock at two levels and fractured of rock in between.  Water is fed down, heats to stay in the knees taken up through a concentric pipe within this very same well.  With the experience of seismic fracturing for oil and gas extraction, they can control the seismic distribution in fractured rocker to local conditions.

Seismic monitoring is in place about the drilling project site.  Because fracturing explosions have set of earthquakes in specific locations from South Korea to Indonesia where a gas project released mud, threatening to become an environmental, public health  disaster. (Further reading below for more.) ‘We don’t need stimulation from most Geothermal drilling plants. When we do need stimulation (explosion), avoiding zones of seismic risk is a necessity for controlling devastating consequences.’ Cindy Taft said.  ‘Fracking’ experience mitigates seismicity consequences, the intermingling of fuel deposits with aquifers are extreme incidents.

Drilling Innovation Business

The geothermal boom has driven a lot of innovation in the drilling business.  In Huston ‘Particle Drilling’ is partnering with a big player in N.O.V. to push Drilling Technology into a whole new era.  The bit they are developing fires 12 million steel balls out through four nozzles. ‘It will obliterate the rock material,’ said Jim Schilling of Particle Drilling.

‘It costs about $100,000 a day to operate a drilling rig.  We are at the tipping point where we can go from 60 to 80 feet per hour to 100 feet, then we move that economic efficiency to be able to drill geothermal wells anywhere,’ said Tony Pink of NOV.

In 2020 renewable energy made up to 12% of U.S. Energy consumption with geothermal providing only 2% of that share.

Further Reading

The Salton Sea’s increasing salinity is killing off wildlife and its receding shoreline is exposing communities in the Riverside and Imperial counties to toxic fumes. The lake has been shrinking for decades. But the problem has grown severe in the past few years.  ‘Ghost towns and toxic fumes: How an idyllic California lake became a disaster’  by Emma Newberger  LINK

Salton Sea fish kill

A leak from the well, which began on May 27, continues to spew poisonous mud across East Java. The flow now covers about 130 hectares to a depth of four metres. The Age LINK

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