The tiny Nordic nation of Iceland has made history in the field of geothermal energy with the development of the world's first system for harvesting the power of the Earth's molten magma.
The Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) bored through just over two kilometres of the Earth’s crust in order to gain access to the super-hot magma purling away within the planet’s hidden mantle.
The drilling project undertaken by IDDP near the Krafla volcanic crater in northeastern Iceland marks only the second time in history that humans have managed to pierce the crust of the Earth to reach the layer of magma below.
IDDP, a consortium comprised of Iceland’s National Energy Authority and the country’s top energy suppliers, managed to drill to such extraordinary depths through a technique which has already had a transformative impact on world energy markets – hydrofracking.
By pumping cold water into the shaft hole, IDDP engineers were able to break up the crust of rock located immediately adjacent to the layer of magma.
Once they reached the molten magma below the crust, IDDP coated the bottom of the bore hole with steel, thus permitting the creation of a column of high pressure steam whose temperatures are in excess of 450 degrees Celsius – a new world record for geothermal heat.
IDDP plans to use the super-heated, high pressure steam in the borehole as the primary energy source for the nearby Krafla electrical plant, converting it into the world’s first magma-based enhanced geothermal system (EGS).
“According to the measured output, the available power was sufficient to generate up to 36 megawatts electricity, compared to the installed electrical capacity of 60 megawatts in the Krafla power plant,” said IDDP in an official statement.
While a valve failure forced Iceland’s National Power Company to shut the bore hole just as they were making preparations for the connection of a pipe system, the company plans to reopen the shaft soon, as well as mount launch drilling operation in Iceland Reykjanes within the next several years.
IDDP is confident that their new technique marks a major advance upon existing geothermal methods in terms of efficiency, and even conjecture that it would herald revolutionary changes for energy markets in those parts of the world with the appropriate geological resources.
“In various parts of the world so-called EGS geothermal systems [pump] cold water into hot dry rocks at 4 to 5 km depths. Then the heated water is taken up again as hot water or steam from nearby production wells…with uneven and typically poor results,” said IDDP in its official statement. “The success of this drilling and research is amazing to say the least, and could in the near future lead to a revolution in energy efficiency in high-temperature geothermal areas of the world.”