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SMU geothermal scientist Maria Richards to guide global energy organization

An energy source that covers the whole gamut – from producing electricity for industries, to even cooling homes

Maria Richards, coordinator of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, has been named president-elect of the Geothermal Resources Council. She will become the 26th president of the global energy organization beginning in 2017.

Richards has been at the forefront of SMU’s renowned geothermal energy research for more than a decade, and the University’s mapping of North American geothermal resources is considered the baseline for U.S. geothermal energy exploration. SMU’s Conference on Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas fields, which Richards directs, is pioneering the transition of oil and gas fields to electricity-producing systems by harnessing waste heat and fluids.

“The Geothermal Resources Council is a tremendous forum for expanding ideas about geothermal exploration and technology related to this commonly overlooked source of energy provided by the Earth,” Richards said. “It’s a great opportunity for educating people about an energy source that covers the whole gamut – from producing electricity for industries, to reducing our electricity consumption with direct-use applications, to even cooling our homes.”

“This also is a unique occasion for me to encourage and mentor young women to participate in the sciences throughout their careers and get involved in leadership roles,” said Richards, who will be the GRC’s first woman president.

Development of many forms of renewable energy can lose momentum when the price-per-barrel of oil is low, but Richards expects the current low oil prices to drive more interest in geothermal development.

Today, sedimentary basins that have been “fracked” for oil and gas production create reservoir pathways that can later be used for heat extraction. Fluids boil after being pushed through the hot reservoir pathways, producing electricity-generating steam. In addition to the geothermal energy, the equipment used in active oil and gas fields generates heat, which also can be tapped to produce electricity.

“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.”

SMU’s seventh international geothermal energy conference and workshop is scheduled for May 18 to 20 on the Dallas campus. Designed to reach a broad audience, from the service industry to reservoir engineers, “Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields,” is an opportunity for oil and gas industry professionals to connect with the geothermal and waste-heat industries to build momentum. The conference is a platform for networking with attendees from all aspects of project development. Presentations will highlight reservoir topics from flare gas usage to induced seismicity and will address new exploration opportunities, including offshore sites in the eastern United States. Information and registration is available at www.smu.edu/geothermal.

Richards’ projects at SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory vary from computer-generated temperature-depth maps for Google.org to on-site geothermal exploration of the volcanic islands in the Northern Mariana Islands. Along with Cathy Chickering Pace, Richards coordinates the SMU Node of the National Geothermal Data System funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Past research includes the Enhanced Geothermal System potential of the Cascades, Eastern Texas Geothermal Assessment, Geothermal Map of North America, Dixie Valley Synthesis, and the resource assessment for the MIT Report on the Future of Geothermal Energy.

Richards has previously served on the Geothermal Resources Council Board of Directors and was chair of the Outreach Committee in 2011‐12. She is also a Named Director of the 2015 Board for the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA).

Richards holds a Master of Science degree in Physical Geography from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a B.S. in Environmental Geography from Michigan State University. — Kimberly Cobb

Follow SMUResearch.com on twitter at @smuresearch.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

Oil & Gas: Geothermal in the oil field, the next emerging market

One of the petroleum industry’s major sources for industry news has covered the emergence of geothermal energy from existing oil and gas fields as a potential source of power generation.

The June 20 article “Geothermal in the oil field, the next emerging market” provides context for the emerging technology that is making geothermal production possible. The article cites SMU’s annual geothermal conference as a source of more information about geothermal production.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory hosted its fifth international conference dedicated to “Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil & Gas Development” in mid-June on the SMU campus.

EXCERPT:

Oil & Gas Magazine

The petroleum industry is at a crossroads. A perfect storm of declining reserves, aging oilfields, increasing costs for exploration, operating, and decommissioning, volatile oil prices, and the uptick trending of “green” energy — it has never been more important to make the most out of existing reserves, assets and infrastructure.

Geothermal energy is an emerging worldwide energy market. Geothermal often gets overlooked in a world of PV, CSP, wind and hydro; however, geothermal offers more reliability (average 95 per cent capacity factor), lower carbon emissions and lower maintenance costs compared to these more “glamorous” renewable energy sources.

Geothermal has some major barriers to entry to the mainstream energy market. The largest barriers include the high-initial capital costs related to drilling and constructing new geothermal wells, long payback periods, and the risk associated with unknown formation performance when drilling in a new area.

Using proven technology, expertise and reservoir data from the petroleum industry, this unlikely partnership can provide a springboard for the geothermal industry to enter the mainstream renewable energy market, while at the same time benefiting the petroleum industry. If the initial capital costs for drilling geothermal wells could be reduced by utilizing existing oil field infrastructure, while also minimizing risk by using existing oilfield data, the barriers to entry for geothermal suddenly come tumbling down.

Recent advancements in energy conversion technologies and Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology have made incorporating geothermal in the oil field a viable and exciting emerging-energy market. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded several projects demonstrating electricity generation from geothermal fluids, produced from active, abandoned, or marginal oil and gas wells. Federal tax incentives, the Department of Treasury Cash Grant and the DOE Loan Guarantee program combined with aggressive state renewable portfolio goals are expected to drive growth in the geothermal industry in the near term.

Read the full story.

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Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

Natl Geographic: Can Geothermal Energy Pick Up Real Steam?

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?

EXCERPT:

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.

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Fast Company: How Google Cash Helped Find Geothermal Energy in West Virginia

The business innovation magazine Fast Company took note of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory‘s recent report on the large green-energy geothermal resource underground in West Virginia. The research was funded by Google.org.

SMU geologist David Blackwell leads the lab and its research.

The Oct. 8 article “How Google Cash Helped Find Geothermal Energy in West Virginia” by reporter Ariel Schwartz notes that Google.org’s foray into geothermal is the latest step in its renewable energy investments.

EXCERPT:

By Ariel Schwartz
Fast Company
Google has already spent a lot of money on renewable energy investments. Now the search giant can be credited with bringing green energy to a state that mostly relies on coal-fired power. A project from Southern Methodist University, funded by a $481,500 grant from Google.org, has found that West Virginia has 78% more geothermal energy than previously estimated. That means the state could double its electrical generation capacity without bringing more coal power online.

Now we know that West Virginia could produce up to 18,890 MW of clean energy if just two percent of its geothermal energy resources were used. The state currently has a generating capacity of 16,350 MW — and 97% of that comes from coal.


Read the full story.

Journalist Robert Wilonsky at The Dallas Observer also covered the SMU Geothermal Lab’s release of the West Virginia mother lode of geothermal resource in his Oct. 7 Unfair Park entry: Hot Hot Heat: SMU Researchers Find West Virginia’s Just Leaking Geothermal Energy.

Wilonsky quotes Maria Richards, coordinator of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory, saying “they’ve discovered what could be enough Earth-made energy to potentially support ‘commercial baseload geothermal energy production.'”

EXCERPT:

By Robert Wilonsky
The Dallas Observer

At month’s end, researchers from SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory — among ’em, David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geophysics and director of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory — will go to Sacramento for the 2010 Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting. There, the trio will present a much more detailed version of this report just posted to the Hilltop’s website, in which Blackwell, grad student Zachary Frone and geothermal expert Maria Richards say that in the western part of the Appalachian Mountains, they’ve discovered what could be enough Earth-made energy to potentially support “commercial baseload geothermal energy production.”

Read the full story.

The international news wire service Reuters also covered the report’s release with a story by Danny Bradbury of GreenBiz.com: “Google Warms to West Virginia’s Vast Geothermal Potential.”

EXCERPT:

By Danny Bradbury
GreenBiz.com

A Google-funded project has discovered a large geothermal resource under West Virginia that could more than double the electrical generation capacity of the high-profile coal state.

The research, carried out by the Southern Methodist University and funded with a $481,500 grant from Google’s philanthropic arm, found that there is 78 percent more geothermal energy under the state than originally estimated.

The researchers calculated that if 2 percent of the available geothermal energy could be harnessed, the state could produce up to 18,890 megawatts (MW) of clean energy.

The study was conducted with more detailed mapping and more data points than had been used in previous research. For example, 1,455 new thermal data points were added to existing geothermal maps using oil, gas and water wells.

The research team found that most of the high-temperature points are located in the eastern part of the state.

“The presence of a large, baseload, carbon-neutral and sustainable energy resource in West Virginia could make an important contribution to enhancing the U.S. energy security and for decreasing CO2 emissions,” the report concluded.

Read the full story.

Other coverage:

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Science: West Virginia is geothermal hot spot, says SMU Geothermal Lab

Science, the international weekly science journal, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has covered the geothermal mapping research of Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Laboratory, led by SMU geologist David Blackwell and funded by Google.org.

The Oct. 4 article “West Virginia is a Geothermal Hot Spot” by science journalist Eli Kintisch quotes Maria Richards, coordinator of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory, saying discovery of vast geothermal bounty in the coal state was a unexpected. “Nobody expected West Virginia to show up as a hot spot,” Richards is quoted.

EXCERPT:

By Eli Kintisch
Science
Researchers have uncovered the largest geothermal hot spot in the eastern United States. According to a unique collaboration between Google and academic geologists, West Virginia sits atop several hot patches of Earth, some as warm as 200 degrees Celsius and as shallow as 5 kilometers. If engineers are able to tap the heat, the state could become a producer of green energy for the region.

In 2004, researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, and colleagues created the Geothermal Map of North America. The map charted the potential for geothermal energy nationwide. Two years ago Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search engine giant, hired the SMU scientists to update the map.

The group analyzed temperature data from oil and gas firms that no one had bothered to map. Those data were collected via single thermometer readings on the end of drilling equipment, but the readings were artificially low because of water used to cool and wash the equipment. So the SMU team corrected the readings according to the rock type that was being drilled. Then the researchers estimated the temperatures of adjacent rock layers according to their geologic properties.

The work revealed surprising results for West Virginia, a state that had only four data points in the 2004 map. The Google.org-funded effort added measurements from more than 1450 wells in the state. The warm spots were found at depths of 3 to 8 kilometers over an 18,700-square-kilometer area. By comparison, geothermal hot spots in Nevada reach 200 degrees Celsius at 2 kilometers below the surface, and steam produced from them runs turbines to create electricity. Iceland, meanwhile, has 200 degrees Celsius temperatures just below the surface and uses warm water to heat buildings and showers throughout Reykjavik and elsewhere.

Read the full story.

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West Virginia is hot bed for geothermal resources: Green energy source in coal country, says Google-funded SMU research

New research produced by Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from Google.org, 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 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.

Researchers from SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory will present a detailed report on the discovery at the 2010 Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting in Sacramento, Oct. 24-27. Summary of the report.

New heat discovered after adding data points to geologic model
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.”

Eastern region of West Virginia hot enough for commercial production
The high temperature zones beneath West Virginia revealed by the new mapping are concentrated in the eastern portion of the state (Figure 1). Starting at depths of 4.5 km (greater than 15,000 feet), temperatures reach over 150°C (300°F), which is hot enough for commercial geothermal power production.

Traditionally, commercial geothermal energy production has depended on high temperatures in existing subsurface reservoirs to produce electricity, requiring unique geological conditions found almost exclusively in tectonically active regions of the world, such as the western United States.

New technologies, drilling methods for wider range of geologic conditions
Newer technologies and drilling methods can be used to develop resources in wider ranges of geologic conditions. Three non-conventional geothermal resources that can be developed in areas with little or no tectonic activity or volcanism such as West Virginia are:

  • Low-Temperature Hydrothermal — Energy is produced from areas with naturally occurring high fluid volumes at temperatures ranging from 80°C (165°F) to 150°C (300°F) using advanced binary cycle technology. Low-Temperature systems have been developed in Alaska, Oregon, and Utah.
  • Geopressure and Co-produced Fluids Geothermal — Oil and/or natural gas produced together with hot geothermal fluids drawn from the same well. Geopressure and Co-produced Fluids systems are currently operating or under development in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
  • Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) — Areas with low natural rock permeability but high temperatures of more than 150°C (300°F) are “enhanced” by injecting fluid and other reservoir engineering techniques. EGS resources are typically deeper than hydrothermal and represent the largest share of total geothermal resources. EGS is being pursued globally in Germany, Australia, France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. EGS is being tested in deep sedimentary basins similar to West Virginia’s in Germany and Australia.

Next: More geological information needed to refine estimates
“The early West Virginia research is very promising,” Blackwell said, “but we still need more information about local geological conditions to refine estimates of the magnitude, distribution, and commercial significance of their geothermal resource.”

Zachary Frone, an SMU graduate student researching the area said, “More detailed research on subsurface characteristics like depth, fluids, structure and rock properties will help determine the best methods for harnessing geothermal energy in West Virginia.” The next step in evaluating the resource will be to locate specific target sites for focused investigations to validate the information used to calculate the geothermal energy potential in this study.

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.”

Discovery could enhance U.S. energy security
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 Google.org’s RE<C initiative, which is dedicated to using the power of information and innovation to advance breakthrough technologies in clean energy.

SMU is a private university in Dallas where nearly 11,000 students benefit from the national opportunities and international reach of SMU’s seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.Kimberly Cobb

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SMU Geothermal Lab and DOE host Wyoming geothermal conference

800px-Geothermal_energy_methods.pngThe U.S. Department of Energy’s Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center, RMOTC, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL, and Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory, hosted a two-day “Geothermal in the Oil Field” symposium in Casper, Wyo., Aug. 18-19, 2010.

The event highlighted the application of low-temperature geothermal power production in oil and gas operations and other settings in the western United States.

This first-of-its-kind symposium provided valuable information on this emerging domestic power source. Speakers covered low-temperature projects throughout the western U.S. and provided participants an opportunity to learn about the remarkable potential for power generation using co-produced fluids from existing oil, gas, and industrial infrastructure with minimal additional environmental impacts.

On Day 1, RMOTC hosted field tours of nearby formations at Alcova Reservoir that correlate to the producing formations at NPR-3 and the test site located at the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 (NPR-3) 35 miles north of Casper, Wyoming.

Day 2 was a day of technical presentations and panel discussions by DOE and industry representatives.

To view the list of speakers and presentations, go to http://www.rmotc.doe.gov/symposium.html.

Background information on low-temperature geothermal activities at RMOTC is available at http://www.rmotc.doe.gov/press.html and http://www.rmotc.doe.gov/PDFs/geothermal.pdf.

For more information on the geothermal energy activities taking at NREL please visit http://www.nrel.gov/geothermal/.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC.

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DOE awards SMU $5.25 million to expand U.S. geothermal production

geothermal-map-of-north-america.jpgThe Geothermal Laboratory at SMU has been awarded $5.25 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to help provide data for the planned National Geothermal Data System.

The grant allocation is part of $338 million in Recovery Act funding that was announced Oct. 29 by DOE Secretary Steven Chu. The funding is intended to help dramatically expand geothermal production in the United States.

800px-Geothermal_energy_methods.pngSMU will work with a diverse team of experts from academia, industry and national labs with experience in conventional hydrothermal geothermal resource assessment, Enhanced Geothermal Systems, oil and gas data, geopressure geothermal and produced water non-conventional geothermal systems in providing the data, including:

  • An expanded and updated version of the SMU Heat Flow database that covers the whole onshore U.S. and offshore regions in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Geothermal Resources Council library with over 36K in documents and over 1.3 million pages on geothermal research
  • Extensive information on Enhanced Geothermal System research including legacy data files and the latest developing results of research in the northeastern U.S.
  • Core logs, well logs, and current and legacy geopressure data from the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology covering many states
  • Detailed nationwide data on produced water collected from numerous states’ oil and gas agencies and several federal agencies plus relevant geological, spatial, well bore, injection/disposal, and water well data.

blackwell.jpg
Principal investigators are SMU’s David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geothermal Studies, and Fabian Moerchen of Siemens Corporate Research. The project team also includes Jefferson Tester, the Kroll Professor of Chemical Engineering at Cornell University; William Gosnold, chair of geology and geological engineering at the University of North Dakota; Seiichi Nagihara, associate professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University; John Veil, manager of the water policy program at the Argonne National Laboratory and Martin Kay, president of MLKay Technology LLC.

“The primary benefit of this project is that it will support developers of geothermal power plants by decreasing the costs of the resource identification and the risks inherent in the exploration phase,” Blackwell said. “The project will rescue important data from deterioration or complete loss and provide a set of tools to be used by other parties to submit data to the NGDS.”

A distributed network of databases, NGDS was established by the U.S. Department of Energy to collectively build a system for acquisition, management and maintenance of geothermal and related data.

The SMU Geothermal Lab is hosting its annual conference, “Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil & Gas Development,” Nov. 3-4 on the Dallas campus. Registration is available at the door. Find more information at the conference web site. — Kim Cobb

Related links:
SMU Geothermal Energy Utilization Conference
SECO: Texas Geothermal Energy
Google invests in SMU geothermal research
Google video on advanced geothermal technology
CBN News: Geothermal energy right under our feet
SMU Research News: Earth’s inner heat can generate electric power
SMU geothermal home
SMU Geothermal Laboratory
David Blackwell
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences

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Earth & Climate Energy & Matter

Geothermal heat: Will Earth’s “hot rocks” become new “Texas tea”?

Texas, which has been the nation’s largest fossil-fuel producer, also has an abundant supply of another natural resource for a different kind of energy boom: clean, renewable, geothermal energy.

Like the oil and gas beneath Texas, there’s a huge quantity of naturally occurring “hot rocks” underground that could be tapped for geothermal energy to produce electricity, according to new research by SMU scientists. South and East Texas have an abundant supply, say the researchers.

iphone%20feb%205%202008%20058.jpg“There is more than enough heat below our feet to take all the state’s industrial consumption off the existing transmission grid,” says Maria Richards, program coordinator for the SMU Geothermal Laboratory.

Lab researchers recently completed an assessment of geothermal resources in South and East Texas for the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, or SECO. They found enough heat to supply Texas with clean, renewable, affordable electricity for hundreds of years, Richards says. Some of the state’s largest urban areas sit atop the vast regional geothermal zone, which extends east from Interstate 35 and includes Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, Corpus Christi and Kilgore.
Maria Richards with a driller on an oil rig.

The SMU analysis will be part of The Energy Report, a SECO report on clean and renewable energy resources in Texas. SECO funded the SMU Geothermal Laboratory research with a $200,000 grant. SMU will submit the assessment to SECO later in June.

Currently Texas gets the bulk of its electricity from natural gas-, coal- and nuclear-powered generating plants. But commercial interest in geothermal energy is growing both in the state and nationwide, says David Blackwell, one of the country’s foremost authorities on geothermal energy and a professor at SMU. Over the past 12 months, SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory has received a record number of requests from private entities asking for help in developing commercial projects, says Blackwell, who has advised the industry for the past 40 years.

Pioneers in assessing the nation’s geothermal resources, Blackwell and Richards revealed the potential for widespread geothermal development with their Geothermal Map of North America, published in 2004 by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

The two also helped author a 2007 study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology that found geothermal energy could supply a substantial amount of the energy the United States will need in the future, likely at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact. The MIT study’s authors said geothermal energy is especially attractive because it is widely available, doesn’t have to be stored to supply minimum demand, and has a small footprint with low or no emissions. It is also considered virtually inexhaustible, according to the Geothermal Energy Association.

The MIT study estimated the U.S. geothermal resource base at more than 13 million exajoules, which is a measurement of stored thermal energy. The extractable portion of that is estimated at more than 200,000 exajoules, or about 2,000 times the annual U.S. consumption in 2005 of primary energy, according to the report.

Currently the U.S. has more geothermal generating capacity online than any other country, about 30% of the world’s total, according to the Geothermal Energy Association.

MikePaul%5B1%5D.JPGTexas is uniquely positioned for geothermal development, according to Blackwell and Richards. That’s due in large part to the state’s thousands of existing oil and gas wells that could be developed in various ways to tap geothermal heat.

Pictured right: Michael Paul, SMU director of energy management and engineering, collects temperatures at a field near Corpus Christi

The SMU Geothermal Lab’s research has proven the potential for drawing electricity from low-temperature geothermal sources through “binary” technology. A binary power plant circulates hot groundwater through an existing oil or gas well to heat a secondary fluid. The resulting vapor then drives turbines to generate electricity.

There are thousands of oil and gas wells in Texas that could be economical for geothermal development, Richards says. That’s especially true since the technology can operate concurrently in oil and gas wells, which would significantly reduce the cost of geothermal exploration. Geothermally produced electricity could then offset the power normally required to operate oil-field production units. Additionally, excess electricity could be sold back to the statewide electric transmission grid. Depleted oil and gas wells that are slated for abandonment could again generate revenue when tapped for geothermal production.

SMU’s regional assessment for SECO covered 91 counties. It calculated the geothermal heat under South and East Texas at 921,085 exajoules, giving the state enormous geothermal potential. Anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent of that is recoverable, depending on the efficiency of the conversion technology and the location of the resource.

“As humans we have no real concept as to how much heat is below our feet,” Richards says. “We feel the sun in our face, and the wind in our hair, but we don’t feel the Earth’s heat through our feet.”

SMU’s researchers analyzed historical temperature data for wells drilled since the early 1990s. Drilling logs for each hole include temperature recordings taken at various depths. The SMU analysis looked at wells ranging from 2,000 feet to 20,000 feet deep. The researchers were surprised that the temperature in some wells ran as hot as 450 degrees Fahrenheit, Richards says.

Wells drilled from 9,000 feet to 14,000 feet deep, with temperatures downhole of 250 degrees or greater, will likely be economical for geothermal energy. They would be sufficiently hot and reasonably close to the surface. In deeper wells, unless they flow naturally, the binary technology would require too much electricity.

The team of SMU Geothermal Laboratory researchers included six graduate and undergraduate students.

“This turned out to be a wonderful project for the students,” Richards says. “With President Barack Obama’s push for more emphasis on science and renewable energy, these are students on the leading edge of that whole process. And they are focused on a project that was funded by the state of Texas.” — Margaret Allen

Related links:
SMU Geothermal Energy Utilization Conference
SECO: Texas Geothermal Energy
Google invests in SMU geothermal research
Google video on advanced geothermal technology
CBN News: Geothermal energy right under our feet
SMU Research News: Earth’s inner heat can generate electric power
SMU geothermal home
SMU Geothermal Laboratory
David Blackwell
Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences

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SMU conference: Geothermal energy from oil, gas wells

Enhancing existing oil and gas wells for the purpose of producing electricity from the Earth’s heat will be the focus of an annual international geothermal conference at SMU in November. The conference is coordinated by the SMU Geothermal Laboratory and SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil and Gas Development” will connect landowners with technical, operational and financial players interested in embarking on a geothermal energy project. The two-day conference is set for Nov. 3-4.

Geothermal energy can be extracted from well fluids using compact turbines with binary fluids, according to Maria Richards, program coordinator for the SMU Geothermal Laboratory. The systems are now sized to fit a single well or multiple wells with approximately 120 degrees Fahrenheit temperature differential between produced and cooling temperatures.

This is a good year to start a project, Richards says. In addition to federal passage of the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit, there’s also federal stimulus money available for renewable energy projects. Texas and other oil-producing states with thousands of existing oil and gas wells are uniquely positioned for economical geothermal development, says David Blackwell, one of the country’s foremost authorities on geothermal energy and a professor at SMU who has advised the geothermal industry for the past 40 years. Projects are being submitted now for Texas demonstration sites in response to a request for proposals from the Department of Energy. Proposals are due in July.

“Geothermal energy produces clean, renewable electrical power that is considered a base load source since it produces 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Richards says. “This capability to generate power gives a new revenue stream to low-yield producers with high-water volume and a reason to keep them producing.”

The conference is sponsored by Pratt & Whitney, SMU Cox Executive Education, the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Perma Works LLC, Telios, the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, Gulf Coast Green Energy, Hilcorp Energy Co., and Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

SMU Geothermal Laboratory researchers recently completed an assessment of geothermal resources for the Texas State Energy Conservation Office. It found that the volume of geothermal heat in the ground beneath Texas could supply the state with clean, renewable, affordable electricity for hundreds of years. Some of the state’s largest urban areas sit atop the vast regional geothermal zone, which extends east from Interstate 35 beneath Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, Corpus Christi and Kilgore.

Over the past 12 months, SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory has received a record number of requests from private entities asking for help in developing commercial projects, Blackwell says.

Pioneers in assessing the nation’s geothermal resources, Blackwell and Richards revealed the potential for widespread geothermal development with their Geothermal Map of North America, published in 2004 by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. The two also helped author a 2007 study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology that found geothermal energy could supply a substantial amount of the energy the United States will need in the future, likely at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.

Geothermal projects and research, while cutting-edge, are not new for SMU, Richards says.

“When I talk about the SMU Geothermal Laboratory at a professional meeting, I mention the fact that it’s been around for 40 years,” she says. “It’s not just a start-up because of a trend. We’ve been doing this for a long time — and we’re still at the leading edge.”

Related links:
What, how, where: Geothermal energy from oil wells
Geothermal heat: Will Earth’s ‘hot rocks’ become new Texas tea?
SMU Geothermal Laboratory
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences
Pratt & Whitney
SMU Cox Executive Education
Texas State Energy Conservation Office
Perma Works LLC
Telios
Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America
Gulf Coast Green Energy
Hilcorp Energy Co.
Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

Categories
Earth & Climate Economics & Statistics Energy & Matter

Earth’s inner heat holds promise of generating much-needed electric power in Northern Mariana Islands

A chain of 14, breathtaking Pacific islands is paradise lost without reliable electricity.

The Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth some 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, has seen its garment industry waste away in the face of global competition. Attracting replacement industry is difficult, in part because of the commonwealth’s undependable power supply. Rolling blackouts are the norm, caused by aging power plant equipment and the irregular delivery of expensive, imported diesel to run the plants.

SMU’s geothermal energy team of faculty and graduate students is aiming to prevent the Islands’ economic oblivion by helping to convert their volcanic heat into affordable, renewable energy.

James Quick

“This [energy crisis] could be the United States 20 years from now,” says James E. Quick, associate vice president for research and dean of graduate studies at SMU.

Quick knows from his own work in the Marianas what it would mean for residents to cut their dependence on costly diesel fuel. He directed a volcano-monitoring program for the islands during his previous career with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Most recently Quick has served as a liaison for the island government in its search for renewable energy: He introduced Northern Mariana officials to SMU’s recognized experts in geothermal energy: David Blackwell, W.B. Hamilton Professor of Geophysics in Dedman College, and Maria Richards, coordinator of SMU’s Geothermal Lab.

In the Marianas, the SMU team is studying the potential applications for two different types of geo-thermal systems that use Earth-heated water and steam to drive turbines and produce electricity.

David Blackwell

Testing has been completed on volcanic Pagan Island, where the results are being studied to determine if a large, steam-driven power plant like those found in California and Iceland may be a fit.

On Saipan, the most populated island in the Marianas chain, subsurface water temperatures are lower because there is no active volcano. Testing of existing water wells completed in early summer supports the potential for building smaller power plants designed for lower temperatures. Plans call for drilling a test bore hole on Saipan to confirm water temperatures at deeper depths.

Interest in geothermal energy has been growing against a backdrop of rising oil prices.

Google.org is providing nearly $500,000 to SMU’s Geothermal Lab for improved mapping of U.S. geothermal resources. Blackwell, who has been collecting heat flow data for 40 years, is credited with drawing attention to the untapped potential energy source with his Geothermal Map of North America, first published in 2004.

The Google.org investment in updating that map will allow Blackwell to more thoroughly mark locations where potential exists for geothermal development.

Blackwell and Richards are convinced that oilfields may be some of the most overlooked sites for geothermal power production in the United States. SMU’s geothermal team is offering an energy solution that would boost capacity in low-producing oilfields by using the deep shafts drilled for petroleum products to also tap kilowatt-generating hot water and steam.

The process of pumping oil and gas to the surface frequently brings up a large amount of hot wastewater that the industry treats as a nuisance. Install a binary pump at the well head to capture that waste hot water, Blackwell says, and enough geothermal energy can be produced to run the well, mitigating production costs for low-volume wells. It can even make abandoned wells economically feasible again.

Taken a step further, surplus electricity generated from an oilfield full of geothermal pumps could be distributed to outside users at a profit. This kind of double dipping makes sense for short and long-term energy production, Richards says.

“This is an opportunity,” she says, “for the energy industry to think outside the box.” — Kim Cobb

Related links:
SMU geothermal home
SMU Geothermal Lab
SMU geothermal program
Google invests in SMU geothermal research
Google video: Advanced geothermal technologyvideo.jpg
CBN News: Geothermal energy right under our feet
Texas geothermal energy
David Blackwell
James E. Quick
SMU Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences