The startup plans to drill a 12-mile hole to take advantage of geothermal energy

A US company claims that tapping into geothermal energy supplies by drilling 12.4 miles into the earth is “more than” enough to meet human energy needs.

Matt Hoody is the co-founder of Quaise Energy, a Massachusetts startup that will use a private drilling rig to vaporize rock to harness geothermal energy.

That heat under our feet, he said, could provide enough clean, renewable energy to meet global demand and help the transition away from fossil fuels.

Huddy, co-founder and project manager at Quaise Energy, outlined the technology while speaking at TEDX Boston this month.

“The total thermal energy content stored underground exceeds our annual energy demand as a planet by a factor of a billion,” Hudy said.

“So tapping into a small portion of that is more than enough to meet our energy needs for the foreseeable future.”

It’s unclear where the first hole will be drilled or how much the technology will cost, though reports suggest it could run into several billion.

MailOnline contacted the company for more information.

Artist’s rendering of the Quaise drilling rig under development to reach the geothermal miles under our feet. Shipping containers on the right give scale

What is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy is heat inside the Earth. The word geothermal energy comes from the Greek words geo (earth) and therme (heat).

Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source because heat is constantly being produced within the Earth.

People use geothermal heat to bathe, heat buildings, and generate electricity.

Source: eia.gov

Quaise Energy aims to have its first drilling rig operational by 2024, the first wells producing up to 100 megawatts of geothermal power by 2026, and fossil power plants by 2028, providing clean energy around the world.

This year, it has already secured $52m (£43m) in funding to help it take its first rig off the drawing board.

It is very likely that the company’s first plant will be in one of the western US—like California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, or Nevada—but it aims to bring them all over the world.

“Our current plan is to drill the first holes in the field in the next few years,” Hudy said.

“As we continue to develop the technology to drill deeper, we will also explore our first commercial geothermal projects in shallow locations.”

Quaise Energy spun off from the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center in 2018.

The drilling technology was developed at MIT over the past 15 years and has been demonstrated in the laboratory by drilling a hole in basalt.

The system first works by using conventional rotary drilling to get 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) down to basement rock – a layer of crystalline rock that lies above the Earth’s mantle.

It then travels to a specially designed drilling rig that generates high-energy millimeter waves (near microwaves in the electromagnetic spectrum).

Illustration of Quaise Energy's drilling technology.  Quaise Energy uses a gyrotron - a high-energy linear beam vacuum tube that generates millimeter waves

Illustration of Quaise Energy’s drilling technology. Quaise Energy uses a gyrotron – a high-energy linear beam vacuum tube that generates millimeter waves

In the lab at MIT, engineers demonstrated the technique by drilling a hole in basalt with an aspect ratio of 1:1 (two inches deep by two inches in diameter).  Pictured is a rock sample with a two-inch hole drilled by millimeter wave at the MIT Plasma Science Fusion Center.

In the lab at MIT, engineers demonstrated the technique by drilling a hole in basalt with an aspect ratio of 1:1 (two inches deep by two inches in diameter). Pictured is a rock sample with a two-inch hole drilled by millimeter wave at the MIT Plasma Science Fusion Center.

Pictured is a high-energy waveguide pointing at a fresh rock sample before activating the millimeter wave drill at Oak Ridge National Laboratories

Pictured is a high-energy waveguide pointing at a fresh rock sample before activating the millimeter wave drill at Oak Ridge National Laboratories

Energy Quize timeline

2024The first large-scale hybrid drilling rig that combines the capabilities of conventional rotary drilling with millimeter wave drilling

2026: the first “ultra superheated enhanced geothermal system” rated to 100 megawatts of thermal power from a handful of wells

2028: the first fossil-fired power plant restarted with clean thermal steam

Quaise Energy uses a gyrotron — a high-energy linear beam vacuum tube that generates millimeter waves — to power its platform.

These millimeter waves, along with high-pressure gas, are injected through a tube all the way to vaporize the rock.

The rock turns to ash and is carried back to the surface by the gas for removal.

Vaporizing rock at extreme depths allows Quaise Energy to reach temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius).

Currently, the deepest borehole drilled to date, the abandoned Kola well in Pechengsky District, Russia, is 7.6 miles deep.

It took 20 years to drill the Kola well because conventional equipment such as mechanical drill bits could not withstand conditions at those depths.

“The reality is that we would need hundreds, if not thousands, of Kola wells if we were to increase geothermal energy to the required capacity,” Hudy said.

According to Quaise Energy, exploiting the geothermal energy supply by drilling 12.4 miles into the earth would meet human energy needs.

According to Quaise Energy, exploiting the geothermal energy supply by drilling 12.4 miles into the earth would meet human energy needs.

Currently, the deepest borehole drilled to date, the abandoned Kola well in Pechengsky District, Russia, is 7.6 miles deep.  In the photo, the superstructure of the Kola well, 2007

Currently, the deepest borehole drilled to date, the abandoned Kola well in Pechengsky District, Russia, is 7.6 miles deep. In the photo, the superstructure of the Kola well, 2007

Renewable energy sources

Renewable sources:

Solar Light and heat from the sun.

Wind – Through wind turbines to run electric generators

hydro – Captured from falling or fast-running water

Tides Energy from rising and falling sea levels

geothermal Energy generated and stored in the ground

Biomass Burning organic matter to release stored energy from the sun

Renewables contrast with more harmful fossil fuels – coal And the Gas

Although nuclear energy is considered clean energy, its inclusion in the list of renewable energy is the subject of much debate.

Nuclear energy itself is a renewable energy source. But the material used in nuclear power plants – uranium – is not renewable.

Source: EDF Energy / Stanford University

The company’s gyrotron machine that produces millimeter wave energy is nothing new; It has been used for about 70 years in research related to nuclear fusion as an energy source.

He added that millimeter waves are “ideal for the hard, hot, crystalline rocks in the deep sea that conventional drilling struggles with.”

They are not as efficient in softer rocks closer to the surface, but “these are the same formations in which conventional drilling excels.”

According to Howdy, there are multiple benefits to deep geothermal energy in general, especially compared to other energy sources—even renewables.

Geothermal energy is renewable, inexhaustible and ubiquitous – the only renewable solution that has the potential to bring humanity to net zero by 2050.

Unlike solar and wind power, geothermal energy is available 24/7, which “can help balance the intermittent flows of wind and solar energy,” he says.

Deep geothermal plants will also have a “minimum surface footprint” – meaning they won’t need as much land, compared to wind and solar.

It also has a similar scalability to environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels, allowing scientists to quickly put it on the grid.

Geothermal energy is already in use, in areas where there are pockets of naturally occurring heat sources near the surface, and in easily accessible locations.

The problem is that, to be viable, they must be close enough to the power grid, which makes geothermal plants relatively rare.

The picture is the Earth's wind and solar energy requirements
By comparison, the ground requirements for deep geothermal power plants

Deep geothermal plants will also have a ‘minimum surface footprint’ – meaning they won’t need as much land, compared to wind and solar (left)

The goal is to be able to repurpose existing fossil-fuel power plants, replacing coal burning 900 degrees Fahrenheit from miles below the Earth's surface.

The goal is to be able to repurpose existing fossil-fuel power plants, replacing coal burning 900 degrees Fahrenheit from miles below the Earth’s surface.

Geothermal energy currently provides about 0.3 percent of global energy consumption, but Quaise Energy believes its technology can quickly increase the number.

The company also plans to use its drilling technology to restart conventional power plants, saving on infrastructure costs and utilizing the existing workforce in the oil and gas industry.

Howdy acknowledged that there were still many challenges to be solved to scale up the technology, such as gaining a better understanding of rock properties at great depths and developing a supply chain for gyrotrons.

How it works: The high energy beam vaporizes rock

Deep geothermal energy is the core of an energy-independent world.

It is the only renewable solution that can get us to net zero by 2050. It is renewable, inexhaustible, and available everywhere.

The gyrotron-powered drilling rig vaporizes wells through rock and provides access to deep geothermal heat without complicated equipment.

Based on advanced fusion research and well-established drilling practices, this is a new approach to deep drilling.

First, a conventional rotary auger is used to access the base rock. Next, high-energy millimeter waves are used to reach unprecedented depths.

This will allow drilling to reach depths of up to 12.4 miles below the surface, where temperatures can reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius).

Deeper geothermal energy is more inclusive, as it can be tapped anywhere on Earth, and linked to power plants.

Hotter geothermal energy has a greater energy density than conventional near-surface geothermal energy.

At these temperatures, geothermal energy is so powerful that it can restart most fossil-fuel power plants.

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