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Unearthing Geothermal's Potential

September 16, 2010 - 12:33pm


Our latest geothermal technologies awards are for those who think outside of the box (and below the surface). Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced $20 million towards the research and development of non-conventional geothermal energy technologies in three areas: low temperatures fluids, geothermal fluids recovered from oil and gas wells and highly pressurized geothermal fluids.

As the Secretary said, these innovative projects have the potential to expand the use of geothermal energy to more areas around the country.

Low temperature resources are widely available across the country and offer an opportunity to significantly expand the national geothermal portfolio. However, most low temperature geothermal resources are not hot enough to be harnessed through traditional processes such as dry steam or flash steam power plants. These low temperature fluids can be used in binary-cycle power plants which use the water from geothermal reservoirs to heat another fluid with a much lower boiling point. This fluid is vaporized and used to drive the turbine or generator units. In Canby, California, Modoc Contracting Company will use its $2 million award to create a “cascading” application for low temperature geothermal resources that will have significant implications for the nearly 1,500 potential low to moderate temperature well sites located across western United States.

In Florida Canyon Mine, Nevada, ElectraTherm will develop a low-cost, mobile power plant that produces electricity from the heat coproduced in geothermal brine. With an expected output capacity in the 30 to 70 kilowatt range, this power plant can be deployed for small resources in remote locations.

Two more projects by Louisiana Geothermal in Cameron Parish, Louisiana and NRG Energy Inc in Princeton, NJ, will demonstrate the economic viability of electricity produced from geopressured resources. These resources occur in deep basins where fluid and gas occur naturally under very high pressure. These reservoirs often contain dissolved natural gas that may not be economical to produce alone, but can be economically developed in combination with geothermal production.

Learn more about the Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Program here:

Niketa Kumar is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Office of Public Affairs at the Department of Energy.