The Promise of Volcano Geothermal
At an ancient Oregon volcano, developers have made what they call a technological breakthrough in expanding the fledgling geothermal energy industry.
AltaRock Energy, a Seattle-based developer, recently completed a test at Newberry Volcano in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest showing the first signs that a geothermal source of power can come from where none was naturally occurring, according to Business Week.
The company drilled three geothermal reservoirs within a single well by pumping high-pressure groundwater into hot, dry rock, a process called “hydroshearing.” That process is markedly different than conventional drilling techniques that pull hot water and steam from the ground.
AltaRock Energy has a $21 million grant from the Department of Energy for the Newberry Enhanced Geothermal System Demonstration Site in the Cascade Mountain range near Bend, Ore. A matching grant of $22 million from a partnership between the company and Davenport Power is also providing funding.
“The purpose of the Newberry EGS project is to demonstrate AltaRock’s new technology designed to lower the cost of EGS, and thus allow economic extraction of heat from the earth in locations where high temperatures can be reached by conventional drilling techniques,” said Susan Petty, the company’s founder.
Next steps at the active volcano, the largest in the mountain range, include injection tests and tests of heat exchange areas. Eventually, the company wants to build a demonstration-size power plant on site and a utility-scale power plant that could provide power to some 100,000 homes.
The Newberry Volcano has lots of available relatively shallow heat and has built itself a “broad shield shape” through repeated eruptions over the last 400,000 years, according to the National Park Service. Its last eruption was about 1,500 years ago.