Andy Kadir-Buxton has vigorously pursued his dream of deep well geothermal power plant installations for quite a few years and he’s still often commenting on articles and blogposts that mention or discuss the idea.

Andy seems to be well liked and passionate about the idea. The premise is to drill to the depth where the subterranean rock temperature is high enough to make dry steam. Thus you would have a very deep well, wide enough to insert pipes for water and to withdraw the steam. That implies a substantial bore hole that might need to be a meter (about 40 inches) or so around some 10 kilometers deep. 10km would be about 6.2 miles or nearly 33,000 foot of drill string. Hard rock oil and gas drill people are doing this now so the technology to get down there is at hand, although the notion of drilling out to a meter raises some brows in surprise.

But it’s not that simple. Your oil and gas hard rock guys expect that only a small percentage of total depth is drilling through hard rock, while most of the drilling will be through the much softer layers of sedimentary rocks made by the compression of various soils over millions of years. Added to that is the fact that drilling in oil basins avoids the very high temperatures encountered when looking for geothermal reservoirs. Another problem is the mineralization of the fluids used to cool and lubricate the leading edges of whatever bit technology is used. Then there is the problem of the fluids just disappearing into the fissures of the rocks being drilled through.

Meanwhile the US Department of Energy has spent years researching, developing and funding pilot projects, many that are in operation now and have been for years. The obvious focus has been in the easy to reach heat reservoirs. With those mostly found and development underway a noteworthy amount of energy is and will be coming online.

It hasn’t stopped there. The DOE is continuing to research just what and how deeper heat reservoirs can be exploited. It’s definitely an area that is getting attention yet remains poorly funded. With most of the known resources in the far west the prospects for facilities further east will need almost all of the research completed out west and then even more extension and tuning for the conditions in the east. It’s fair to say that the US DOE and its industry partners are leading the field. It’s just that coal is still cheap and the technology research while underway is stuck in the low gears.

So Mr. Kadir-Buxton can relax on the premise that his dream wells of power will come to pass. But if he’s really serious he will ask the public to notice that the US government and others with the foresight to be looking into geothermal on a power plant scale need some serious resources.

Here is the short list of things that need research and development. Exploration, the locating of the best and most economical places to site facilities is in its infancy. The techniques and the tools are being developed but are in the poorly funded area. Next is devising the tools to understand the attributes of a heat reservoir. A borehole will obviously transfer the heat to the fluids inside, but at what rate can the heat energy be transferred? Will the fluids be heated continuously or will they work for a few hours or so and then need to wait for the warmth to migrate to the borehole? Some deep rock locations are far better than others. Heat by itself isn’t enough; it has to move to the borehole at a rate that sustains the conversion to useful energy at a steady pace. Even as the technology to drill exists the special needs for the conditions required for heat reservoir drilling is well underway and ideas are being researched that may well cut costs by half. As so much of the information gained by both the oil and gas and the thermal reservoir drillers applies both ways and this area has experienced considerable improvement.

The real action is in the conversion technology that changes the hot material coming from the well to a form that will generate electricity. Dry steam and flash steam system are well understood and the work being done is in materials that can cope with the extraordinary chemical composition coming from the wells. The materials need to address special concerns in addition to efficiently conducting the heat. The problems are scale formation, corrosion resistance, and simply withstanding the temperatures while getting the conduction done. It’s not so simple.

Most interesting is the binary cycle. Binary cycle systems take the hot well material and use a heat exchanger to move the heat to another working fluid for driving generators. A binary cycle system offers huge advantages as the problems from the hot material is isolated to the exchanger rather than expected to go on through the handling equipment and turbines. This research offers long-term benefits and the technology can be used to make lower temperature sites practical. The binary system is in its simplest form what is being used for home energy conservation.

Credit must be given to Andy Kadir-Buxton. He has diligently pursued his dream of deep well geothermal energy and has kept it in the eye of the public for some time now. It is time for the rest us to ask that the world’s governments promote this technology more completely as it offers a huge amount of potential. If any technology development means jobs from the start at surveying for sites to the operation and maintenance of facilities this would be it.

The US DOE offers a substantial web presence for geothermal energy research and production. To get you started here are some links and I suggest you run a search on your favorite search site, too.

A huge 515 page report from 1999.

A highly informative 21 page overview.

The lead page from the US DOE.

Andy Kadir-Buxton’s own page.


6 Comments so far

  1. mike kelley on November 13, 2007 11:13 PM

    the names of some of the companies that are getting geothermal energy from the china lake area.

  2. Bill on December 10, 2007 12:55 AM

    This would be a much better and cheaper source of heat, to boil water, than any oil, coal, or fission plant.

    In addtion, the advent and development of single botehole, modular,direct binary to generation plants will make this power source available virtually anywhere.

  3. Ted Sieber on August 15, 2008 9:43 AM

    To combat the impossible gas and diesel fuel prices we need geo thermal steam generators and large auto batteries similar to those in Israel that can run 130 miles before charging or exchanging batteries.

    I have a group with assets of $50,000,000 for efforts in this direction. I would like to present them with details about the above.

    Thank you,

    Ted Sieber
    5901 Sheridan Rd., Unit 11K
    Chicago, IL 60660
    Fax 773/878-1895

  4. A Yorkshireman on September 9, 2008 2:55 PM

    Nice site, Andy.

  5. Choky Siregar on September 7, 2009 8:10 AM

    We are looking for partnership to form a consortium for the exploration of geothermal prospective reservoir in Indonesia.

    We urge industry leaders and corporate as well as individual investors to act now and take advantage of this rare fast moving investment option and path the way to energy that is much needed by Indonesia and hence accommodate its industrial development and infrastructure growth.

    P.T. ZASKYA is confident and optimistic that your financial participation and involvement in this Geothermal energy venture is necessary and that it will significantly contribute to Indonesia achieving its full potential and fuel the country’s development and growth in the future, simultaneously become part of the solution for solving the local energy problem that has global implications.

    We look forward to establishing a business relationship and forming a joint venture agreement with project sponsors and those who are able and willing to bring the necessary finance, technical know how and experience to this venture.

    We welcome interested and serious players to contact us and make a request for further information and data on the available geothermal reservoirs.

    We thank you for allowing us to share this information and opportunity.

  6. William Feimster on July 31, 2011 11:39 AM

    My co-developer and I are currently developing an undersea geothermal power plant. The ttechnology already exists for such an endeavor. We are trying to figure out cost of development which has been difficult to determine because a lot of the prices for most of the individual components we need is currently being withheld from public disclosure. Can you offer any assistance?

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