Massive efforts are underway to utilise heat from the earth—some of them very successful such as the Riff Valley geothermal plant in Kenya that we wrote about over a year ago. But Geothermal companies all over the world are trying to take it to the next level.
However, In 2009, a borehole drilled in northeast Iceland, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), unexpectedly penetrated into magma (molten rock) at only 2100 meters depth, with a temperature of 900-1000 C. The borehole, (called IDDP-2), was the first in a series of wells being drilled in Iceland in the search for high-temperature geothermal resources.
The result was a radical increase of power output from one geothermal well. Compared to a conventional geothermal which on average puts out around 4 to 5 MW per well, the power from a high temperature well sees an increase by a factor of 10 from 4 to 5MW to 40 to 50MW per well.
Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, who also co-authored along with Icelandic colleagues three of the research papers in the special January issue of Geothermics, said:
“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,” Elders said. “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,”
He added that despite some difficulties several important milestones were achieved:
–The project was able to drill down into the molten magma and control it;
–It set a new world record for geothermal heat as this well was the hottest in the world;
–Steam from the IDDP-1 well could be fed directly into the existing power plant at Krafla;
–The IDDP-1 demonstrated that a high-enthalpy geothermal system could be successfully utilized. (Enthalpy is a measure of the total energy of a thermodynamic system)
“Essentially, the IDDP-1 created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system,” Elders said. “This unique engineered geothermal system is the world’s first to supply heat directly from molten magma.”
The IDDP is a collaboration of three energy companies — HS Energy Ltd., National Power Company and Reykjavik Energy — and a government agency, the National Energy Authority of Iceland. It will drill the next borehole, IDDP-2, in southwest Iceland at Reykjanes in 2014-2015. From the onset, international collaboration has been important to the project, and in particular a consortium of U.S. scientists, coordinated by Elders, has been very active, authoring several research papers in the special issue of Geothermics.
Funding for the science program of the IDDP was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.