Geothermal Rock-Fluid Interaction System
Realistic simulations covering extreme conditions to optimize development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems
PARC’s geothermal rock-fluid interaction system for modeling and evaluating wells and reservoirs could significantly reduce the risks and costs incurred during development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), a potential vast source of base-load renewable energy. Our system provides better understanding of hot rock-fluid interactions, through more realistic simulations that mimic extreme conditions not currently achievable with other systems.
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EGS have the potential to make geothermal energy a major supplier of energy for U.S. base-load power generation capacity by 2050, according to a recent MIT study1. In fact, EGS have all the proven advantages of conventional hydrothermal energy as well as about 100 times higher potential capacity and a number of auxiliary benefits. For example, carbon dioxide (CO2) can be sequestered underground and used as a heat-mining fluid to generate bonus energy, producing up to 50% more electricity than water.
EGS often require injecting fluids into the wells to harness the underground heat. These fluids could cause unpredictable interactions with the hot rocks under very harsh underground conditions, possibly rendering the well or reservoir useless.
In the US, the cost to drill a well and assess it can be several million dollars, with no guarantee of successful production. Typically, success rates start out low (25% for first ‘wildcat’ well) and level off at about 60%-80% after drilling multiple geothermal wells in an area and learning from those experiences2. Therefore, early and accurate assessment of the subsurface realities, especially the hot rock-fluid interactions, is key to reducing risks, costs, and project completion times for this enormous and clean energy resource.
How It Works
PARC’s rock-fluid interaction system is a multi-channel one that measures interactions of hot rocks with geothermal waters, dissolved minerals, and gases under realistic high-temperature and high-pressure conditions. The system consists of a large high-temperature oven, containing an assembly of up to five high-pressure stirred reactors equipped with sensors and other devices, and an adjoining rack of supporting equipment including feed pumps and sample analytics. A flow-through column can replace the reactors in order to mimic an EGS reservoir. The key competitive advantage of this system is the ability to maintain, monitor, and sample at realistic extreme conditions. This provides an unprecedented ability to accurately simulate a wide variety of subsurface geothermal situations, to better assess the development costs and operational value of any generic situation or a specific field-site.
Stage of Development
PARC is building a prototype system, which is nearing operation. A multi-million dollar grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) is allowing us to model several possible pathways to transition an EGS reservoir from a dry or water-containing system to a new type that uses supercritical CO2 as a working fluid.
We are interested in partners who want to run realistic simulations and analysis of interactions of rocks and fluids from geothermal sites, further develop this system into a commercial product, co-develop a similar system for an industrial application (e.g., oil, gas, water, mining, construction materials), or license key pieces of the technology for their own use.
1. “The future of geothermal energy impact of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st Century,” report for the U.S. Department of Energy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006.
2. “Research and Development in Geothermal Exploration and Drilling,” Geothermal Energy Association, 2009.