A Renewable Energy Breakthrough to Put the World on a Completely Different Trajectory

The secret behind human excellence is rooted in a myriad of different factors, but no factor has more to do with it than our tendency to grow on a consistent basis. This willingness to become better, under all possible circumstances, has brought the world some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, predicated upon its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for one hot second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component was, in fact, what gave the creation a spectrum-wide presence, and as a result, initiated a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, the next thing this revolution did was to scale up the human experience through some outright unique avenues, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

The researching team at Pennsylvania State University has successfully developed a new technique, which is geared towards not only preventing “short-circuits” that can cause geothermal power plants to halt production but also improving the efficiency of geothermal power. In order to gauge the significance of such a development, we must start by understanding how geothermal technology works when it  comes to generating electricity. Basically, enhanced geothermal systems involve injecting cold water into hot dry rock deep underground. This water then travels through fractures in the given rock and heats up. Once the water is adequately heated, production wells in place pump it to the surface where a power plant turns it into electricity. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, it’s not. You see, wide fractures may allow large volumes of water to move too quickly to sufficiently heat up before reaching the production wells, something which can be a huge detriment for the efficiency of the whole operation. Now, producers have tried to navigate the issue by adjusting how much water circulates through the system or potentially shutting down production periodically, but that means continuous production can never be a feasible possibility. Hence, the Penn State researchers have proposed mixing into the liquid certain materials or chemicals, a move they feel will let us autonomously control flow from inside the rock itself. Talk about how the whole mechanism actually works on a rather practical note, the methodology, named as fracture conductivity tuning technique, basically ropes in these materials that have the ability to change properties with the temperature, therefore hindering cold water and allowing hot water to flow through the fractures.

“All these things are happening inside rock—we don’t have any access, and it’s so hot and the pressure is so high that you can’t have a valve or sensor there,” said Arash Dahi Taleghani, professor of petroleum engineering at Penn State and co-corresponding author on the study. “But with this method, we can add something that basically acts like an autonomous regulator, reducing the fluid passing through each fracture when some parts of the reservoir get cold and letting it go if it’s hot.”

By leveraging their latest brainchild, the researchers plan on spreading the flow more uniformly across the reservoir to sweep more heat from the rocks to the production wells. Simultaneously, they would hope to further strengthen their efforts in the context of preventing shortcuts that allow cooler water to rush to the production wells while heat remains in underutilized portions of the reservoir.

The team has already tested its technology using multiple modeling techniques. Going by the available details, they discovered that the process could increase the cumulative heat extraction at an enhanced geothermal site by more than 65% over 50 years of production and it can also, quite effectively, prevent early appearances of cold-water breakthroughs.

“These findings confirm significant improvements in energy that can be harvested by using this technique,” said Qitao Zhang, a doctoral candidate in the John and Willie Leone Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering and co-author of the study. “We are proposing an effective approach by controlling the flow deep inside the reservoir.

That being said, the efficiency levels can go even higher with reservoirs boasting high fracture density and connectivity like the complicated geologies found in real-world settings. To validate the same, the researchers further conducted a field test by mapping the fracture networks from a rock outcrop in Arches National Park in Utah. This effort of theirs will reveal an extra heat extraction of 101% over 50 years of production.

“This technology could be used to make renewables cost-effective and competitive with other energy sources,” Dahi Taleghani said. “This shows there are still tremendous energy resources in the subsurface that we can use without damaging our environment.”


Copyrights © 2024. All Right Reserved. Engineers Outlook.