Geothermal research gets stimulus boost

It’s enough to make a geothermal engineer cry: extensive investment has allowed the oil and minerals industry to map out a good picture of the fossil fuels lurking below Earth’s surface. 

Geothermal power possibilities, meanwhile, remain poorly researched and largely a mystery. But that’s a state of affairs that University of Nevada scientists, funded by a $1 million Recovery Act grant, are aiming to change.

The Nevada team has been working to get a better understanding of nearly 500 sites in the geothermal hotbed that is the Great Basin. Most of the geothermal reservoirs in the Great Basin do not have any surface expressions to indicate a potential hot well.

Jim Faulds, the principal investigator on the project, said the research will “provide the baseline studies that are absolutely needed if Nevada is going to become the Saudi Arabia of geothermal.”

The researchers are now into a second phase of research, focusing in on five or six out of the 250 sites identified as having decent potential for geothermal drilling. They’ll do 3-D imaging on some of the sites to better understand the geothermal processes at play and identify the best areas to drill for the hot fluids.

The data will be used to provide a catalog of favorable structural elements such as “pattern of faulting and models for geothermal systems and site-specific targeting using innovative techniques for fault analysis.” 

Faulds said this sort of knowledge is necessary in order to allow for acceptable levels of site-selection risks before companies spend millions in drilling for a hot well.

* Jasmine Greene, EarthTechling