In a story about using the potential of geothermal heat from beneath the Earth’s surface as a source of clean, renewable energy, National Geographic Daily News tapped the expertise of SMU geophysicist David Blackwell.

Blackwell is one of the foremost experts on geothermal energy. He heads SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory and his decades-long research led him to map the nation’s geothermal energy potential. The work of Blackwell and SMU Geothermal Lab coordinator Maria Richards recently received extensive news coverage after they released research showing vast geothermal energy potential beneath West Virginia.

Science journalist David LaGesse interviewed Blackwell for the Dec. 28 article “Can Geothermal Energy Pick Up Real Steam?


By David LaGesse
For National Geographic News

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

Steam rising from a valley just north of San Francisco reminded early explorers of the gates of hell. Others saw the potential healing powers of the naturally heated water, and still others realized the steam could drive turbines to generate electricity.

It’s been 50 years since power plants began running off the pools of steam that sit under California’s Mayacamas Mountains. The pioneering plants in the area known as The Geysers highlighted the promise of geothermal energy, internal heat from the Earth with vastly greater energy potential than that of fossil fuels. But geothermal, virtually free of carbon emissions and more reliable than intermittent wind and solar energy, still provides only a small slice of the world’s energy.

Now amid the rush to alternative energies, geothermal advocates sense a new chance to mine the heat rising from Earth’s white-hot core. They plan to generate man-made steam by pumping water deep underground into hot, dry rocks in what’s called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems. They also despair that governments and businesses aren’t investing enough in the sophisticated technology needed to unlock the deep-seated energy.

“There’s a window of opportunity where geothermal can play a part in our energy future, and we risk missing it,” says David Blackwell, a geophysicist at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.