Geothermal energy is nothing new, but new science suggest we may be able to tap the energy from molten rock itself even deeper in the crust. Most geothermal energy is produced by drilling into hot rocks, circulating water and harnessing the steam, but this new technology aims to capture ‘dry steam’ at 400ºC which could produce enough energy to power 30,000 homes. Typical geothermal installations produce around 5 times less energy.
The difficulty lies in finding active magma chambers as it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Also the inherent danger in potentially causing an eruption. How do you cap a volcano?
This concept was initially discovered by a team in Iceland, The Icelandic Deep Drilling Project, who hit upon molten rock, although they were looking for water that was heated to a supercritical state as high as 1,100ºC. What they found was almost as good, it’s just that no one knew what to do with it.
To access this deposit, they needed to drill down more than twice as deep as a geothermal installation. At that depth liquid rock or magma is far more likely, especially in active regions.
Although there isn’t yet a station built to harness this power, the fact that scientists have figured out a theoretic method to harness this massive amount of potential energy is encouraging. Australia is not in the position to access this type of energy source, but our volcanic neighbours in Indonesia and New Zealand, who already use geothermal sources for energy production, will no doubt be watching this development closely.