MIT wants to dig the deepest hole in the world to produce energy

New drilling technologies could open new doors for geothermal energy and disrupt the entire energy industry.

Geothermal energy is already one of those technologies that make it possible to supply large amounts of energy without burning the slightest fossil resource and without the slightest emission of greenhouse gases. But unfortunately its applications are limited to very specific geographical areas at the moment.

Specialists believe that this technology can still advance considerably, but this implies digging very deep geothermal wells, well beyond the few tens of meters of current channels. But from a certain depth, the hardness of the rock and the temperature become difficult to tolerate for exercises.

Therefore, to take geothermal energy to the next level, it is necessary find an effective way to drill into the crust, or even the much deeper mantle of the Earth. The engineering challenge is huge, but the reward is worth it; With this approach, it would be possible to exploit a phenomenal amount of geothermal energy that could revolutionize the entire energy industry.

A high-tech microwave to vaporize rock

And that’s where it comes in Dock, a satellite company of the prestigious MIT. Based on the work of the engineer. Paul Woskovdeveloped a concept based on a gyrotron. It is a device already used in many industrial sectors to heat materials from a distance, especially in the case of nuclear fusion experiments.

Very vulgarly, it works a bit like a big laser; the goal is to focus an electromagnetic wave to concentrate all its power in a small space. The difference is that the gyrotron operates in a different frequency range; emits microwave instead of visible light.

The idea is very simple on paper: it consists of using very powerful gyrotrons to heat the rock until it is sprayed on site. This technique could make it possible to drill extremely deep geothermal wells; the company even talks about deepest holes ever drilled!

At the moment, it remains just a concept. Although the technology on which it is based seems already mature, it is another story to implement it in real conditions. And that is precisely what Quaise will attempt to do with a grant from the US Department of Energy.

At the end of the year, it will test its first prototype. The objective will be to dig a hole. ten times deeper » than Woskov during his solo work (this figure has not been revealed). It will then go into a second well, this time 100 times deeper than the original.

This step is not expected before 2024, as it will require extensive modeling efforts. But if Quaise passes this course, the firm will then have all the weapons in hand to approach the final stretch.

Ultimately, the company wants to reinvest in disused power plants. This way you can reuse the existing infrastructure; enough to give a second life to these buildings. At this point it would suffice to convert the rest of the equipment and then dig to a depth of about 20km — where the temperature consistently reaches several hundred degrees.

An incipient but really promising concept.

Then it would be possible to do jump the geographical limits of geothermal energy. ” We believe that by drilling up to 20 km we will be able to access these extreme temperatures of 90% of the planet says the MIT press release.

And it’s not just about availability. Having access to such temperatures at all times would make it possible to produce a Large amount of energy that could even compete with traditional power plants.

At these temperatures, we produce steam at a temperature very close to, or even higher than, that found in coal or gas-fired power plants. “, explains the press release.

According to the researchers, this is also a sustainable approach. Once mature, it could replace almost all coal globally and meet human energy needs for “ Millions of years “.

Is this time the right one?

Of course, we are still a long way from that. For now, the drilling technology itself is not even fully developed. Once it is, its environmental impact will also have to be determined. Then it will be necessary to develop new equipment to exploit these exceptionally deep wells, which will be anything but simple.

Despite everything, MIT is optimistic and believes that the first results could arrive very soon. The technological foundations are already well established and all that remains is to integrate everything into a single efficient and reliable system. ” If we can solve these engineering problems, I think we will have a plant in operation within five or six years. “says the father of the concept.

This makes this technology particularly interesting in today’s context. “ We’ve made incredible progress on renewable energy in recent years, but overall we’re still not moving fast enough to meet targets that will limit the impact of global warming. the researchers explain. The arrival of such technology would certainly be a big step in this direction.

However, it should be Take all these promises with a grain of salt. As always when an institution unveils a source of revolutionary energy. After all, it is no accident that Woskov’s work has long stopped; the technical challenge is enormous. But this approach has such great potential that it deserves to be explored in any case. Therefore, we give you an appointment in a few years to see if this research will have gone from concept to reality.

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