World’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system now in Iceland

Just like solar and wind, geothermal energy is a clean power source. The problem is that, for the time being as least, harvesting it is a tad more expensive than erecting wind farms or installing solar panels.

A magma-enhanced geothermal system was operational in Iceland for two years Image credits: Wikipedia

A magma-enhanced geothermal system was operational in Iceland for two years
Image credits: Wikipedia

The good news is that brainiacs are working on making geothermal energy more appealing, and that, judging by recent developments, it is only a matter of time until this clean power source starts getting the attention it deserves.

In a press release published on the official website for the University of California, Riverside just yesterday, researchers detail the setting up of the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system in Iceland.

What’s more, they say that the geothermal system in question has managed to break the world record for geothermal heat while it was operational.

The scientists detail that the entire affair began back in 2009, when a borehole (i.e. a narrow shaft bored in the ground) drilled in Krafla, north Iceland, penetrated lava (i.e. molten rock).

Information shared with the public says that the lava was reached at a depth of about 2,100 meters (roughly 6,890 feet), and that temperature in this location was documented to be one of 900 – 1,000 degrees Celsius (1652 – 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence anywhere in the world and this is only the second known instance, the first one, in 2007, being in Hawaii,” explains specialist Wilfred Elders.

“The IDDP [Icelandic Deep Drilling Project], in cooperation with Iceland’s National Power Company, the operator of the Krafla geothermal power plant, decided to investigate the hole further and bear part of the substantial costs involved,” he adds.

After deciding that exploring the geothermal energy potential of this borehole might not be such a bad idea, the scientists and engineers who worked on this project fitted a steel casing inside the borehole.

The casing’s bottom section, which was closest to the molten rock, was not intact, but perforated.

The borehole that the scientists and the engineers got to toy with started to heat up, and, once it got hot enough, it started letting our superheated steam.

Apparently, it continued to do so for about two years, and it did not stop willingly, but because workers were forced to shut it down in order to be able to fix some surface equipment that had been affected by wear and tear.

Still, while up and running, the borehole coughed out steam whose temperature sometimes exceeded 450 degrees Celsius (842 degrees Fahrenheit). This represents a world record in terms of geothermal heat.

“Essentially, the IDDP created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system. This unique engineered geothermal system is the world’s first to supply heat directly from a molten magma,” stresses Wilfred Elders.

Furthermore, “In the future, the success of this drilling and research project could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide.”

Specialists are now working on getting the borehole back online, and hope it will not be long until they can continue experimenting with this method to harvest geothermal heat.


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