Teams Developed Innovative 3D-Printed Tools to Harness Geothermal Energy
Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the winners of the American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize, a $4.65 million competition to incentivize innovators to use 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, to address the challenges associated with operating sensitive equipment in harsh geothermal environments. Teams quickly developed, tested, and revised prototypes using additive manufacturing to support the advancement of geothermal tools and technologies. By focusing on manufacturing innovation, DOE is investing in improved performance, driving down costs, and expanding clean energy deployment.
“This DOE competition harnesses breakthroughs in additive manufacturing to help overcome barriers to widespread deployment of geothermal energy,” said Alejandro Moreno, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power. “The rapid prototype development supported by this prize is spurring advancements in the geothermal industry to help power the nation from the heat beneath our feet.”
Harsh geothermal environments—high temperatures, nearly impenetrable rocks, and corrosive fluids—pose significant challenges for manufacturing tools, components, and equipment. These tools and equipment have high manufacturing costs because the small U.S. geothermal market results in low production volumes and harsh conditions shorten the lifespans of equipment. Additive manufacturing can help improve the performance of geothermal tools and equipment by supporting the identification of high-performance materials, the creation of complex components, and quick development of prototypes, leading to rapid advances in geothermal manufacturing.
During the course of the prize, which launched in January 2020, teams competed in three progressive competitions to propose a solution, design it, and create a prototype. The finalists presented their innovations at the annual Geothermal Rising conference in Reno, Nevada. Each winning team was awarded $500,000 in cash and up to $200,000 to test their innovations in the field. The winners are:
- Team Downhole Emerging Technologies (Houston, Texas): This team developed an alternative to traditional packer systems. The all-metal, retrievable packer system is designed specifically for high temperatures, extreme pressures, and corrosion experienced in geothermal wells. The Downhole Emerging Technologies’ (DET) partnership resulted in the production of the largest Inconel additively manufactured component by Proto Labs, Inc. and the development of DET’s tool, the “Diamond ETIP (Extreme Temperature Isolation Packer).”
- Team Ultra-High Temperature Logging Tool (Houston, Texas): This team developed a technology that uses a labyrinthian heat sink to reduce thermal emissivity and increase the exposure time of temperature sensitive electronic components. Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a powder bed laser fusion technique to manufacture the heat sink design, with the aim that the technology would solve limitations around maximum temperature rating and lifetime of electronics in logging and measurement tools. The team also worked closely with Sandia National Laboratories to test the logging prototype in a high-temperature setting.
The American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize is supported by the Geothermal Technologies Office and the Advanced Manufacturing Office in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.