Iceland plans to get hot and steamy…

28 Feb

The Earths centre is around 6000 degrees Celsius and is hot enough to melt rock. At just a few kilometres down, the temperature can be over 250 degrees Celsius if the Earth’s crust is thin.

Geothermal energy works as follows; Hot rocks underground heat water to produce steam. We then drill holes down to the hot region; steam comes up, is purified and used to drive turbines, which drive electric generators. Walla we have energy.

Geothermal energy is not a recent development; it has been used for thousands of years. In some countries, they used this form of energy for cooking and heating. The name “geothermal” comes from two Greek words: “geo” means “Earth” and “thermal” means “heat”.

Iceland has decided to break records by becoming the first country to utilise the world’s magma as a source of power. The country has built a geothermal energy system to take advantage of the Earths heat to generate electricity.

Geothermal systems are currently well established in science which involves pumping water deep below the ground, which boils, turns to steam and pushes a turbine as it returns back to the surface. But Iceland has gone the extra mile. They have created a system which produces steam in a region of molten, rather than solid rock.

In Iceland the researchers fitted a valve where superheated steam could flow through in sufficient quantities to generate 36 megawatts of power. This will mark the second time researchers have effectively drilled into a magma bubble. The only country before this was Hawaii, who created a plug and installed it to the bottom of the hole for protection.

Iceland made precautions to connect the steam output to a nearby electrical plant in Krafla (Northeast Iceland), but the valve failed resulting in the hole needing to be closed. Regardless of this, the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) has confidence in that it can reopen the hole, 2.1 kilometres below the surface.

They also intend to drill an additional borehole in the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest of the country. The IDDP said;

“The experiment at Krafla suffered various setbacks and tried personnel and equipment throughout. However, the process itself was very instructive, and… comprehensive reports on practical lessons learned are nearing completion.”

“The success of this drilling and research is amazing to say the least, and could in the near future lead to a revolution in energy efficiency in high-temperature geothermal areas of the world”

A major problem with geothermal energy is the cost of test drilling as approximately 50% of test drilling produces negative results with zero geothermal activity. This becomes difficult when commercial banks are involved as it is simply too high a risk to fund. Thus, countries must be confident on where this type of technology can and should be installed.

A number of countries around the world have some confidence when it comes to geothermal energy as they are located on what is known as ‘The ring of fire’.  This is an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. In a 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes.

So, while all eyes are currently on Iceland…if successful we could see a huge jump in geothermal, utilising the natural resources the Earth has to offer.


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