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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Magma Power for Geothermal Energy?

By Andy Fell, UC Davis   |   February 23, 2011   |   1 Comment 
California, USA -- When a team of scientists drilling near an Icelandic volcano hit magma in 2009, they had to abandon their planned experiments on geothermal energy. But the mishap could point the way to an alternative source of geothermal power.
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February 23, 2011
The idea sounds great - this solves the most significant problem with enhanced geothermal energy (EGS) by using the convection of liquid flowing rock to transfer heat rather than the conduction of hard rock to transfer heat.
For those that are not aware, EGS rapidly depletes the rock strata of its high temperatures, and the rock strata must be continually re-fracked to provide new high-temperature channels for the water/steam to flow through for high-heat transfer. This is because the water strips heat from the rock faster than the conduction through the rock can replace that heat.

HOWEVER, there's a problem with magma. That boils down to materials science. Liquid rock would quickly cap whatever channels for water/steam were used for the heat exchange, and any closed pipe that was sunk into 1000 K liquid would suffer such high attack combined with such drastic material weakening that there would be a very short lifespan.

Magma is the ultimate dream for EGS, but a great deal of development would be required in order to figure out how to economically tap that resource.

I wish them luck, but I would advise everyone not to expect a magma-well EGS system in their neighborhood soon.

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