Source: Kirby Baier of Continental Resources

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is excited to announce the launch of the nation’s first commercial enterprise to co-produce electricity from geothermal resources at an oil and gas well. With support from DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO), researchers at the University of North Dakota (UND) successfully generated geothermal power from hot water that flows naturally from petroleum wells in the Williston Sedimentary Basin in western North Dakota. This technology offsets the need for costly transmission construction and reduces energy costs at remote oil fields. The facility started generating electricity for the first time in late April.

UND’s process to co-produce electricity involves the use of hot fluid—a by-product of oil, gas, and other material harvesting processes. While the quality of the resource depends on water volume and temperature, the technology has the potential to extend the economic life of oil and gas fields. UND’s technology features a special engine that can make steam from warm water pumped out of the ground with oil. The heat in the water flashes into steam and drives a turbine to create electricity.

Low-temperature geothermal resources between 150⁰F and 300⁰F are widely available, having historically been used in direct-use applications, such as heating. Through new technology, power generation and electricity unit installations continue to increase in the United States due to their considerable potential for production of emission-free, renewable electricity. In fact, the coproduction of lower temperature geothermal electricity from oil wells holds the potential to produce more than 30 gigawatt hours of electricity nationwide. GTO continues to work with industry, academia, and national laboratories to develop and deploy new low-temperature and coproduction technologies that will help the geothermal community achieve this potential.