AltaRock announces success with Oregon geothermal test

AltaRock Energy is declaring a success at its demonstration project in central Oregon, which is great news for the geothermal energy industry.

AltaRock Energy is declaring a success at its demonstration project in central Oregon, which is great news for the geothermal energy industry. 

AltaRock Energy is reporting success at its Newberry Volcano Enhanced Geothermal Systems Demonstration, announcing last week it created three reservoirs within a single wellbore at its geothermal demonstration site.

The news is big for the geothermal world, showing the first signs that AltaRock's signature technology — its Enhanced Geothermal Systems — can lower costs and expand possibilities for geothermal power by creating multiple reservoirs within a single well.

The end-goal is for the company to flow water through its multiple reservoirs, heating it into steam over the 400-600-degree rocks inside and then use the steam to drive a turbine. With success, a power plant there could generate three-times the electricity of a traditional, single geothermal well.

"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, president and founder of AltaRock, in a press release.

EGS reservoirs are created in hot, lower permeability rock by injecting cold water that fractures the rock.

The company reports that the success of its recent, triple-reservoir stimulation hinged on identifying materials that could stimulate wells even in cool temperatures, shift from one zone to the next, and then degrade into non-damaging components. The company spent years researching a patented polymer described as "biodegradable" and "non-toxic" for the job.

Since geothermal wells can cost several millions to drill — on par with the cost of new coal development — projects that increase the generation capacity of a single well can make geothermal more cost competitive with other types of power and lower the cost of the energy they produce.

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