AltaRock Newberry project breaks new geothermal ground
By Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon contributing writer
The Newberry Volcano Enhanced Geothermal Systems Demonstration could make geothermal energy more affordable.
AltaRock Energy Inc. and its partners are beginning an ambitious $43.8 million project in the Deschutes National Forest, intended to broaden the possibilities for geothermal power development and financing in the United States.
The Seattle-based geothermal company is currently installing monitoring equipment at the Newberry Volcano Enhanced Geothermal Systems Demonstration following approval from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in April.
The project is a partnership with Connecticut-based Davenport Newberry Holdings LLC, which acquired leases for geothermal exploration on the Newberry Volcano’s flank in 2006 and has since been exploring the area.
The demonstration project is a first-of-its kind application of a technology known as Engineered Geothermal Systems or EGS. While EGS has been tried worldwide and is successful, the Newberry demonstration will involve stacking multiple water-cycling reservoirs in a single geothermal project for the first time, a prospect that allows for development in drier conditions and also increases production, making geothermal more commercially viable.
Davenport Newberry was initially hunting for very hot geothermal water on 62 square miles of leases, hoping to build a traditional geothermal plant. What the company found instead was extremely hot rock — with temperatures to 600 degrees Fahrenheit — but no hot water. Looking to tap the area’s potential to heat water and drive a turbine, Davenport Newberry paired with AltaRock, which specializes in research and development of EGS.
The technology involves the creation of reservoirs made up of connected cracks far below ground — depths between 6,500 and 11,000 feet. The reservoirs are made using a technique known as hydroshearing, which uses pressurized cold water to widen existing fissures. Once in place, water is cycled through the reservoirs and heated, then brought to the surface as steam, which then can be used to turn a turbine to produce electricity. The steam is condensed into water during the process, and is then injected back into the ground to be reheated.
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