Could Texas’ dirty coal power plants be replaced by geothermal systems?

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: April 26, 2016

For Texas electricity customers, geothermal energy is pretty much an afterthought. But some scientists — and even some people in the oil and gas business — say that heat from deep underground may become a significant source of power.

SMU ‘Power Plays’ conference April 25-26

SMU NEWS

Originally Posted: April 22, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU’s renowned Geothermal Lab will host its eighth international energy conference April 25-26 on the Dallas campus, focused on using the oilfield as a base for alternative energy production through the capture of waste heat and fluids.

In addition to oil and gas field geothermal projects, experts will discuss coal plant conversion for geothermal production, the intersection of geothermal energy and desalination, and large-scale direct use of the energy source produced by the internal heat of the earth.

“Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields” begins with an opening reception and poster session from 5:30 – 8 pm Monday, April 25, followed by a daylong program of speakers and presentations Tuesday, April 26. Conference details are available here. Walk-up registration is available at the conference site, the Collins Center at 3150 Binkley Avenue, Dallas, 75205.

The technology that is the primary focus of the conference takes advantage of an existing resource frequently considered a nuisance – wastewater produced by oil and gas wells during extraction. As a well ages it will typically produce more water and less oil or gas over time, which raises the cost of production. Where the produced wastewater is hot enough, and the water flow rate is sufficient, specially designed turbines can draw geothermal energy from the wastewater.

That “bonus” geothermal energy can be used to either generate electricity to operate the oil field equipment and lower the cost of production, sell the electricity directly to the power grid or – more likely – to nearby industry users seeking a highly secure electrical source. READ MORE

Associate dean for General Education addresses questions about UC-2016

SMU Daily Campus

Originally Posted: April 16, 2016

By: Peter Moore, associate dean, General Education

Let me take a moment to address the issues Noah Bartos raised in his editorial regarding UC-2016.

Noah is rightly concerned about the potential headaches various groups will face regarding two very similar curricula (UC-2012 and UC-2016). We are too. He notes the increase in paperwork. That comes in three forms: 1) course proposals that faculty must write; 2) assessment; and 3) student petitions.

He is right in pointing out that in the near-term faculty will have some additional work to do. A significant portion of that has already been completed this spring and I hope that most of the rest will be finished by December. There is a sense of fatigue, but this is offset to some extent by the improvements he notes in the structure which allow for new opportunities for participation. Regarding assessment, my expectation is that this will actually decrease initially (while eventually returning to the current level).

My biggest concern is with student petitions that will arise through confusion between the two curricula. Noah notes this problem as well regarding the mixture of requirements in the same course. This mixture does not involve Proficiencies and Experiences which are identical in both curricula. We are aware of the problem regarding pillars (UC-2012) and breadth and depth (UC-2016) and will be working to mitigate the headaches that are bound to result.

Noah also raises concerns with the new STEM requirements which he believes have the potential to unduly impact Meadows’ students. With regard to the lab-based portion (PAS under UC-2012) of this requirement the revision in UC-2016 is closer to the original intent of the UC adopted in 2010, that students complete two lab-based courses. The TM requirement, however, should not be an additional burden for most Meadows’ students who will be able to complete it in the major (e.g., Theater Lighting).

Noah notes the advantages from the simplified Second Language requirement which should prove beneficial across all majors. The changes in UC-2016 are designed to lessen the need for double-counting pillar courses by opening up courses in the major.

For example, I expect Cox majors to benefit when ITOM 3306 (a required course for all Cox students) satisfies the TM requirement. In this case the number of UC requirements met in the Cox major will increase from two to three. The modifications introduced in UC-2012 were designed to address high-credit majors and enhance students’ ability to double major. Students should find the same advantages in UC-2016 along with a simplified structure.

Finally he argues that the language of the proposal does not provide an adequate description of content. The descriptions match the information provided in the original UC and are augmented by the Student Learning Outcomes. Together these do provide a good basis for determining what the new breadth and depth requirements are all about.

Nearly two years ago the University Curriculum Council responded to concerns about the original UC and introduced key modifications. Those modifications have helped the class of 2012 to graduate on time. However, the modifications led to some unintended consequences which UC-2016 addresses. We expect that our efforts this time around will be even more beneficial. READ MORE

Heather DeShon, Earth Sciences, seven million Americans at risk of man-made earthquakes, USGS says

Washington Post

Originally Posted: March 28, 2016

Earthquakes are a natural hazard — except when they’re man-made. The oil and gas industry has aggressively adopted the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to shatter subsurface shale rock and liberate the oil and gas lurking there. But the process results in tremendous amounts of chemical-laden wastewater. Horizontal drilling for oil can also produce massive amount of natural, unwanted salt water. The industry disposes of this wastewater by pumping it into deep wells. READ MORE

Matthew Siegler, Earth Sciences, ancient lunar ice indicates the moon’s axis slowly shifted by 125 miles, or 6 degrees, over 1 billion years.

SMU Research

Originally Posted: March 23, 2016

NASA data leads to rare discovery: Earth’s moon wandered off axis billions of years ago

A new study published today in Nature reports discovery of a rare event — that Earth’s moon slowly moved from its original axis roughly 3 billion years ago.

Planetary scientist Matthew Siegler at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and colleagues made the discovery while examining NASA data known to indicate lunar polar hydrogen. The hydrogen, detected by orbital instruments, is presumed to be in the form of ice hidden from the sun in craters surrounding the moon’s north and south poles. Exposure to direct sunlight causes ice to boil off into space, so this ice — perhaps billions of years old — is a very sensitive marker of the moon’s past orientation.

An odd offset of the ice from the moon’s current north and south poles was a tell-tale indicator to Siegler and prompted him to assemble a team of experts to take a closer look at the data from NASA’s Lunar Prospector and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter missions. Statistical analysis and modeling revealed the ice is offset at each pole by the same distance, but in exactly opposite directions. READ MORE

Think GeoEnergy: Interview with Maria Richards at the Geothermal Lab at SMU in Texas

Think GeoEnergy

Originally Posted: March 3, 2016

Utilizing geothermal energy in oil & gas fields could expand the geothermal sector dramatically and is the key topic of the annual Power Plays conference organized by SMU in Texas. Here we talk with Maria Richards on SMU, the conference and her view on geothermal energy in oil and gas fields.

Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas is one of the few universities in the United States with a dedicated geothermal laboratory and/ or program. The school has played a particularly important role in looking at ways for a technology transfer from the oil & gas sector into geothermal.

This year the school will be holding its 8th international geothermal energy conference, “Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields”. It will take place April 25-26, 2016 at the SMU Campus in Dallas, Texas.

We have been covering some of the work done on geothermal work on oil & gas fields in the U.S., and therefore have been following a bit the work by the SMU Geothermal Lab. So it was great being able to do an interview with Maria Richards, the Coordinator for the Geothermal Lab, and President-elect of the Geothermal Resources Council (GRC). READ MORE

Geothermal energy, W.Va’s next big energy sector?

The Register Herald

Originally Posted: February 28, 2016

There’s thermal energy in them hills!

Well, under them hills.

West Virginia is sitting on the largest geothermal hot spot in the eastern United States, so scientist say.

Scientists believe the Mountain State sits on several hot patches of earth, some scorching hot as 200 degrees Celsius, which is nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit, according to sciencemag.com.

The magazine reports the energy is only slightly more than 3 miles below ground. “If engineers are able to tap the heat, the state could become a producer of green energy for the region,” the magazine hypothesizes.

West Virginia’s resources are mostly EGS type (for electricity) and not the traditional hydrothermal plants which are built in the western part of the United States..

Data from Southern Methodist University estimates EGS geothermal resources in West Virginia would be about 1 to 6 gigawatts of EGS. A gigawatt is equal to 1,000 megawatts = 1 billion watts. The total capacity of U.S. electricity generating plants in 2012 was about 1,100 gigawatts, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Benjamin Matek, an industry analyst and research projects manager at the Geothermal Energy Association, said geothermal fields in California have generated energy for close to 50 years and some in Europe for more than a century.

However, the geothermal plants are more popular in Europe than in the United States.

Geothermal plants are “built in Europe but the Europeans have a friendly business environment for projects like this. They offer a really high FITs (a type of design) for geothermal power because of its environmental and economical values,” he said.

One European country investing heavily in geothermal is Iceland, an island nation of about 800,000 people, which started development of geothermal energy about 70 years ago, today is the largest user of geothermal energy in the world.

Thordur H. Hilmarsson, director of Invest in Iceland, said within the past decade the country’s use of geothermal energy has increased drastically.

Today in Iceland, about 80 percent of the energy production is used for production of aluminum and various other energy dependent industrial processes such as production of silicon metal. So only 20 percent of the electricity is used by the general public and smaller industries.

However, that 20 percent is put to good use. “Geothermal energy is also used for central heating of 90 percent of all houses in Iceland,” he wrote in an email response to questions submitted by The Register-Herald.

Hilmarsson said foreign countries have expressed interest in locate to Iceland because of the geothermal energy. He explained there are three benefits to the energy source:

• Competitive energy prices

• Longterm power contracts with fixed base price conditions

• Availability of green and sustainable energy sources allowing the industries to reduce their carbon footprint.

Iceland made economic development around the geothermal resources a priority.

“In Iceland we have the first geothermal resource park at the Reykjanes Peninsula (a small headland on the southwestern tip of the island) where the main aim is to utilize the energy streams for industrial purposes,” Hilmarsson wrote in his email reply.

Engineering companies and Icelandic scientists are leaders in know-how in both harnessing and designing around utilization of geothermal resources, he said. These companies are currently working internationally on geothermal projects.

Iceland’s data centers, fish farming, algae production and production of green methanol are just few examples industries benefiting from the multiple energy streams available from the geothermal sources, he said.

Time is one drawback to geothermal energy, Hilmarsson said. The long lead time from researching of a geothermal area to actually building a power plant based can take between seven to 10 years, he said.

The process includes test drilling to investigate the capacity of the area in mind as well as completion of Environmental Impact Assessment prior to all permitting.

Matek said geothermal’s biggest positive for West Virginia would be the health benefits and improved air quality. Geothermal power can replace fossil fuel facilities megawatt for megawatt, generating the same type of base load power, yet do not have emissions which reduces asthma and health problems for people who live around the plant, he said.

“In some places in Africa, Japan and Costa Rica plants are actually built inside national parks with no or little adverse impacts on the wildlife, park or air quality,” he said.

He said the cost would be about the same. Generally its about about $4,000 to $6,500/kilowatt.

“I would expect a plant in West Virginia would be on the upper end of that range.

Plants normally sign PPAs (Power Purchasing Agreements) between 17 cents and $1.10 cents/kWh in the west,” he said.

Maria Richards, a geothermal expert and geographer at SMU, said she was surprised to find West Virginia as a hot spot.

“Nobody expected West Virginia to show up as a hot spot,” she told Science magazine. READ MORE

Grad student discovers river in Peru so hot it boils animals alive

Tech Insider

Originally Posted: February 22, 2016

Deep in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, an anomalous and perplexing natural wonder lies: A raging river that boils.

Once just the stuff of folklore, geophysicist Andrés Ruzo, a PhD student at Southern Methodist University, set out to find the legendary waterway himself.

He not only found it, but he confirmed that it does, in fact, surge at a scalding 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It feels like I’m in a sauna inside a toaster oven,” Ruzo said sitting on the bank of the river in his new book, The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon. (Ruzo also discussed his quest to understand its puzzling features in a recent TED talk.) READ MORE

SMU-led seismology team cited in Dallas Morning News story on oil fracking

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: February 18, 2016

Oklahoma is dealing with earthquakes, so why isn’t Texas?

Texas regulators seem to have a tough time finding a link between injection wells used to dispose of hydraulic fracturing wastewater and seismic tremors. A SMU-led study team found a probable association but the Texas Railroad Commission continues to challenge those findings.

Now let’s drive north to Oklahoma. Oil and gas regulators there this week asked the operators of about 250 injection wells to reduce the amount of wastewater they inject into the ground by 40 percent. They also want operators in western Oklahoma to reduce injections by more than 500,000 barrels a day. The earthquake activity demands a regional response, which they noted in their press statement:

“…there is agreement among researchers, including our partners at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, that the data clearly underscored the need for a larger, regional response. That is why, even as we took actions in various parts of the region in response to specific earthquake events, we were already working on a larger plan.”

Oil and Gas Conservation Division Tim Baker says while the plan is a response to the continued seismicity in the area, the action will also include areas that are not yet experiencing major earthquakes. READ MORE

Congratulations to the Dedman College Research Day Winners

SMU graduate and undergraduate students presented results of ongoing and completed SMU-based research on February 10. Dedman College students received an impressive 20 awards.

Research Day aims to foster communication between students in different disciplines, give students the opportunity to present their work in a professional setting, and share the outstanding research being conducted at SMU with their peers and industry professionals from the greater Dallas community.

CLICK HERE for a full list of Research Day winners