Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search engine company, announced on August 19 that it is investing $10.25 million in Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology. EGS employs rock fracturing technologies in high-temperature geological formations deep underground, and it can be used to either create a geothermal reservoir of hot water or steam where none existed before or to extend and enhance an existing geothermal reservoir. Google.org will invest $4 million in Potter Drilling, Inc., which is developing technologies for drilling in hard rock deep underground, and $6.25 million in AltaRock Energy, Inc., which is specifically focused on EGS technologies. Google.org has also awarded a grant of $489,521 to the geothermal laboratory at Southern Methodist University to update the mapping of geothermal resources in North America. See the Google press release and the EGS technologies Web page on the DOE Geothermal Technologies Office site.
Potter Drilling uses a high-intensity stream of hot fluid to disintegrate the rock in its path, a process called hydrothermal spallation. The company plans to have its first prototype ready for field trials next year. For AltaRock Energy, the Google.org funds are part of a $26.25 million financing round that will fund an EGS demonstration project. Both Potter Drilling and AltaRock Energy have principals that were involved in the world's first EGS project, a DOE demonstration project in Fenton Hill, New Mexico, that was run by DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the early 1990s (at that time, the technology was called "Hot Dry Rock"). See the AltaRock Energy and LANL websites and the AltaRock Energy press release on its financing round.
Currently, Australian company Geodynamics, Ltd. is leading the commercial development of EGS technology. Geodynamics is drilling an EGS well in Australia's Cooper Basin, an area with high-temperature geothermal resources. The company is also preparing to run a flow test on its nearby "Habanero" wells, where the company has established an EGS reservoir over the past several years. Geodynamics plans to soon install a 1-megawatt power plant at that site and is aiming to build a 50-megawatt EGS power plant by 2012.