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Q&A: FORGE-ing Ahead to Clean, Low-Cost Geothermal Energy

July 17, 2014 - 2:48pm

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Q&A: FORGE-ing Ahead to Clean, Low-Cost Geothermal Energy
Q&A: FORGE-ing Ahead to Clean, Low-Cost Geothermal Energy
Q&A: FORGE-ing Ahead to Clean, Low-Cost Geothermal Energy
Q&A: FORGE-ing Ahead to Clean, Low-Cost Geothermal Energy

1. What is FORGE?

The Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) will be a research site in the United States that allows scientists and engineers to develop and test new technologies for Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS). EGS are the next frontier in geothermal energy:  human-made geothermal reservoirs with the potential to generate approximately 100 gigawatts (GW) of renewable, baseload power in the United States – about 10% of current U.S. power production capacity. Because EGS technology has the potential to transform the clean energy sector, the Energy Department today announced plans to launch FORGE as a field laboratory devoted entirely to accelerating our understanding of how best to create new, large-scale EGS anywhere that has accessible hot rock underground.

2. What is the purpose of FORGE?

The purpose of FORGE is to accelerate cutting-edge geothermal research that, by the conclusion of the project, could lead to replicable, commercial pathways to EGS and the growth of geothermal energy outside of just the western United States. Based on a foundation of collaboration and knowledge-sharing, FORGE will openly share its data in real-time, advancing scientific research, technology testing and instrumentation that could benefit the wider scientific community, industry and, eventually, the general public. This breakthrough research and data-sharing effort, coupled with an equally innovative collaboration and management platform, is truly a first-of-its-kind endeavor.

How does FORGE broaden the U.S. domestic energy portfolio?

Engineers can potentially create EGS reservoirs – designed to allow efficient heat extraction when water flows through them – anywhere we find accessible hot rock. These systems emit little to no carbon pollution, and water vapor is the only appreciable emission.  EGS also have the advantage of providing reliable baseload power and can still be ramped up to generate more electricity during periods of peak demand.  Currently, nearly all the 12 GW of geothermal installed capacity in the world taps naturally occurring hydrothermal resources.

4.  Where will FORGE be located?

This is where you come in! To kick off the FORGE effort, the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) today released a funding opportunity announcement asking energy scientists, researchers and industry experts to propose candidate sites and operational teams for FORGE.

Following a rigorous review process, the Energy Department will select up to 10 potential teams – which will include a proposed FORGE operator and site – for phase one planning. During this phase, teams will complete technical and logistical assessments to demonstrate their site’s viability in achieving FORGE’s objectives. After completing the planning phase, the Energy Department may select up to three of those teams to move on to phase two, which would include permitting and site characterization work. Subject to appropriations, a single team may be selected to move to phase three to develop and operate the FORGE site.

5. What sort of research and development activities will be conducted at FORGE?

FORGE will strengthen our understanding of the key mechanisms critical to EGS success – in particular how to initiate and sustain fracture networks in rock formations using different technologies. Equipped with this knowledge, engineers at the FORGE site will design and test large-scale, economically sustainable heat-exchange systems, paving the way for a rigorous and repeatable approach to EGS that could encourage growth in this emerging industry.

Additional research planned within FORGE may include innovative drilling techniques, well connectivity, and flow-testing efforts. The project also includes around-the-clock monitoring of geophysical and geochemical data and dynamic models to synthesize, predict, and verify reservoir properties and performance. All of the research and development projects planned for FORGE will be competitively selected and open to the scientific and engineering community, small businesses, academia, and others in the subsurface industry.

6. How will FORGE be managed?

FORGE will be a collaborative effort, with participation from industry, academia, and the national labs. At its core, the FORGE effort will be guided by a proposed science, technology, and analysis team that will include representatives from the Energy Department and outside technical experts. The selected site operator will have responsibility for day-to-day operations. The Energy Department will serve as the final decision-making authority on priorities and approaches.

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