SMU to host geothermal energy conference May 18-20, 2015

geothermal energy

SMU to host geothermal energy conference May 18-20, 2015

Power Plays 2015 geothermal conference logo

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory will host its seventh international energy conference and workshop on the main campus May 19-20, 2015. The conference is designed to promote transition of oil and gas fields to electricity-producing geothermal systems by harnessing waste heat and fluids from both active and abandoned fields.

More than 200 professionals – ranging from members of the oil and gas service industry, to reservoir engineers, to geothermal energy entrepreneurs, to lawyers – are expected to attend “Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields.

Topics of discussion will include:

  • Power generation from flare gas
  • Power generation from waste-heat and geothermal fluids
  • Research updates on induced seismicity, as well as onshore and offshore thermal maturation
  • Play Fairway Analysis – a subsurface mapping technique used to identify prospective geothermal resources
  • Technology updates

SMU Geothermal Lab logoResearchers from the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences will present results from their Fall 2014 Eastern North American Margin Community Seismic Experiment (ENAM CSE) research. In addition, equipment such as one-well systems, desalination and other new technologies will be explored.

SMU has been at the forefront of geothermal energy research for more than 45 years, and the Geothermal Laboratory’s mapping of North American geothermal resources is considered the baseline for U.S. geothermal energy exploration. Geothermal Laboratory Coordinator Maria Richards and Emeritus Professor David Blackwell have seen interest in geothermal energy wax and wane with the price of oil and natural gas.

But Richards believes current low oil prices will drive more interest in geothermal development, encouraging oil and gas producers to use geothermal production from existing oil and gas fields as they try to keep them cost-effective for petroleum production at 2015 prices.

The technology that will be examined at the conference is relatively straightforward: Sedimentary basins drilled for oil and gas production leave behind reservoir pathways that can later be used for heat extraction. Fluids moving through those hot reservoir pathways capture heat, which at the surface can be turned into electricity, or used downhole to replace pumping needs. In addition, the existing surface equipment used in active oil and gas fields generates heat, which also can be tapped to produce electricity and mitigate the cost of production.

“Oil and gas drilling rig counts are down,” Richards said. “The industry has tightened its work force and honed its expertise. The opportunity to produce a new revenue stream during an economically challenging period, through the addition of relatively simple technology at the wellhead, may be the best chance we’ve had in years to gain operators’ attention.”

Featured speakers include Jim Wicklund, managing director for equity research at Credit Suisse, who will speak on “Volatile Economics in the Oil Field,” and Holly Thomas and Tim Reinhardt from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office.

STW Water Process & Technology, a water reclamation and oilfield services company, will have desalination equipment on-site for attendees to understand size and scaling capacity of water purification for oil field operators.

Registration is still open; walk-ups will be accepted. For more information, visit

Written by Kimberly Cobb

May 14, 2015|Calendar Highlights, For the Record, News|

‘Unconventional geothermal’ a game changer for U.S. energy policy?

SMU-Google geothermal map of North AmericaSMU geothermal energy expert David Blackwell gave a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday, March 27, 2012, on the growing opportunities for geothermal energy production in the United States, calling “unconventional” geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. energy policy.

Blackwell’s presentation outlined the variety of techniques available for geothermal production of electricity, the accessibility of unconventional geothermal resources across vast portions of the United States and the opportunities for synergy with the oil and gas industry. Also speaking at the briefing were Karl Gawell, executive director of the geothermal energy association, and James Faulds, professor at the University of Nevada-Reno and director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

“This is a crucial time to do this briefing,” said Blackwell, W. B. Hamilton Professor of Geophysics in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and one of the nation’s foremost experts in geothermal mapping. “Everybody is worrying about energy right now.”

The session was one in a series of continuing Congressional briefings on the science and technology needed to achieve the nation’s energy goals, titled collectively, “The Road to the New Energy Economy.” The briefing was organized by the National Science Foundation, DISCOVER Magazine, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was honorary host for the March 27 briefing at the Senate Visitor’s Center, which included congressional staffers, members of science and engineering associations, government, private and industry representatives.

SMU’s geothermal energy research is at the forefront of the movement to expand geothermal energy production in the United States. Blackwell and Maria Richards, the SMU Geothermal Lab coordinator, released research in October that documents significant geothermal resources across the United States capable of producing more than three million megawatts of green power — 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today. Sophisticated mapping produced from the research, viewable via Google Earth, demonstrates that vast reserves of this green, renewable source of power generated from the Earth’s heat are realistically accessible using current technology.

Blackwell began his presentation by debunking the common misperception that geothermal energy is always dependent on hot fluids near the surface – as in the Geysers Field in California. New techniques are now available to produce electricity at much lower temperatures than occur in a geyser field, he said, and in areas without naturally occurring fluids. For example, enhanced geothermal energy systems (EGS) rely on injecting fluids to be heated by the earth into subsurface formations, sometimes created by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Blackwell noted the potential for synergy between geothermal energy production and the oil and gas industry, explaining that an area previously “fracked” for oil and gas production (creating an underground reservoir) is primed for the heating of fluids for geothermal energy production once the oil and gas plays out.

The SMU geothermal energy expert called these “unconventional” geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. Energy policy. Geothermal energy is a constant (baseload) source of power that does not change with weather conditions, as do solar and wind-powered energy sources. Blackwell noted that SMU’s mapping shows that unconventional geothermal resources “are almost everywhere.”

Blackwell closed his presentation with acknowledgment that site-specific studies and more demonstration projects are needed to make geothermal energy a strong partner in the new energy economy.

The briefing was taped and will be posted to the Science 360 website hosted by the National Science Foundation at a later date.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

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April 11, 2012|News, Research|

Research Spotlight: Mapping confirms vast geothermal resources

Coast-to-coast U.S. geothermal map from the SMU Geothermal LaboratoryNew research from the SMU Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from, documents significant geothermal resources across the United States capable of producing more than three million megawatts of green power – 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today.

Sophisticated mapping produced from the research, viewable via Google Earth, demonstrates that vast reserves of this source of power are realistically accessible using current technology.

The results of the new research, from SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics David Blackwell and Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, confirm and refine locations for resources capable of supporting large-scale commercial geothermal energy production under a wide range of geologic conditions, including significant areas in the eastern two-thirds of the United States.

The estimated amounts and locations of heat stored in the Earth’s crust included in this study are based on nearly 35,000 data sites – approximately twice the number used for Blackwell and Richards’ 2004 Geothermal Map of North America, leading to improved detail and contouring at a regional level.

Based on the additional data, primarily drawn from oil and gas drilling, larger local variations can be seen in temperatures at depth, highlighting more detail for potential power sites than was previously evident in the eastern portion of the U.S. For example, eastern West Virginia has been identified as part of a larger Appalachian trend of higher heat flow and temperature.

Conventional U.S. geothermal production has been restricted largely to the western third of the country in geographically unique and tectonically active locations.

However, newer technologies and drilling methods can now be used to develop resources in a wider range of geologic conditions, allowing reliable production of clean energy at temperatures as low as 100˚C (212˚F) – and in regions not previously considered suitable for geothermal energy production. Preliminary data released from the SMU study in October 2010 revealed the existence of a geothermal resource under the state of West Virginia equivalent to the state’s existing (primarily coal-based) power supply.

“Once again, SMU continues its pioneering work in demonstrating the tremendous potential of geothermal resources,” said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association. “Both Google and the SMU researchers are fundamentally changing the way we look at how we can use the heat of the Earth to meet our energy needs, and by doing so are making significant contributions to enhancing our national security and environmental quality.”

“This assessment of geothermal potential will only improve with time,” said Blackwell. “Our study assumes that we tap only a small fraction of the available stored heat in the Earth’s crust, and our capabilities to capture that heat are expected to grow substantially as we improve upon the energy conversion and exploitation factors through technological advances and improved techniques.”

Blackwell is scheduled to release a paper with details of the results of the research to the Geothermal Resources Council in October 2011.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

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> Watch a video on Enhanced Geothermal Systems video

November 17, 2011|Research|

Research Spotlight: West Virginia a hotbed of geothermal energy

wv-image-03-press-release.jpgNew research produced by SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from, suggests that the temperature of the Earth beneath the state of West Virginia is significantly higher than previously estimated and capable of supporting commercial baseload geothermal energy production.

Geothermal energy is the use of the Earth’s heat to produce heat and electricity. “Geothermal is an extremely reliable form of energy, and it generates power 24/7, which makes it a baseload source like coal or nuclear,” said David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geophysics in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and Director of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory has increased its estimate of West Virginia’s geothermal generation potential to 18,890 megawatts, assuming a conservative 2 percent thermal recovery rate. The new estimate represents a 75 percent increase over estimates in MIT’s 2006 “The Future of Geothermal Energy” report and exceeds the state’s total current generating capacity, primarily coal based, of 16,350 megawatts.

The West Virginia discovery is the result of new detailed mapping and interpretation of temperature data derived from oil, gas, and thermal gradient wells – part of an ongoing project to update the Geothermal Map of North America that Blackwell produced with colleague Maria Richards in 2004. Temperatures below the earth almost always increase with depth, but the rate of increase (the thermal gradient) varies due to factors such as the thermal properties of the rock formations.

“By adding 1,455 new thermal data points from oil, gas, and water wells to our geologic model of West Virginia, we’ve discovered significantly more heat than previously thought,” Blackwell said. “The existing oil and gas fields in West Virginia provide a geological guide that could help reduce uncertainties associated with geothermal exploration and also present an opportunity for co-producing geothermal electricity from hot waste fluids generated by existing oil and gas wells.”

The team’s work may also shed light on other similar geothermal resources. “We now know that two zones of Appalachian age structures are hot – West Virginia and a large zone covering the intersection of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana known as the Ouachita Mountain region,” said Blackwell. “Right now we don’t have the data to fill in the area in between,” Blackwell continued, “but it’s possible we could see similar results over an even larger area.”

Blackwell thinks the finding opens exciting possibilities for the region. “The proximity of West Virginia’s large geothermal resource to east coast population centers has the potential to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce CO2 emissions, and develop high paying clean energy jobs in West Virginia,” he said.

SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory conducted this research through funding provided by’s RE<C initiative, which is dedicated to using the power of information and innovation to advance breakthrough technologies in clean energy.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

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October 27, 2010|Research|
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