GEOTHERMAL ENERGY, DEEP HOLES, AND TECHNOLOGY
This is an important story, one which bears close watching in my opinion. It was spotted and shared by V.T., a frequent contributor of "bloggable articles" here, and it concerns the plans of a geothermal energy company to use a new technology to burrow farther into the Earth than ever before:
The company, as noted in the article, is called Quaise, but it's the technology itself that intrigues me, and makes me wonder if behind the publicly-stated quest for more geothermal energy, other more hidden functions might be stacked:
Geothermal energy has a low profile compared to other renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro, but Quaise believes it is “at the core of an energy-independent world,” according to the company’s website. This form of energy is among the oldest power sources harnessed by humans, but it only accounts for about 0.4 percent of net energy production in the United States, which is the world’s biggest geothermal producer.
Current geothermal plants are typically built in areas where hot rock is located close to Earth’s surface, such as tectonically active fault lines, which makes it easier to tap our planet’s natural heat and convert into steam-powered electricity. But geothermal energy could play a much bigger role in meeting the world’s energy needs if plants could access the hot rock that is globally available several miles under the planet’s surface.
Quaise, which is a spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), intends to pioneer this technology using vacuum tubes known as gyrotrons that shoot millimeter-wave light beams, powered by electrons in a strong magnetic field. Using these devices, the company plans to burn almost twice as far into Earth as the deepest holes ever made, such as Russia’s Kola Superdeep Borehole or Qatar’s Al Shaheen oil well, both of which extend for about 7.5 miles.
Gyrotrons are powerful enough to heat plasma in nuclear fusion experiments, making them an ideal tool to probe unprecedented depths of some 12 miles, where subterranean rocks roil at temperatures of about 500°C (930°F). Water pumped into this searing environment would instantly vaporize as steam that could be efficiently converted to electricity.
Araque and his team at Quaise plan to funnel their seed money into prototype technologies within the next few years. By 2028, the company aspires to retrofit coal-fueled power plants into geothermal energy hotspots. The process of drilling out these super-deep holes would take a few months, but once the setup is complete, they could provide limitless energy to a region for up to a century, according to Araque.
Now, at one level the technology in use here is clear, and the method of generating power from such a deep hole equally clear. But my high octane speculation mind cannot help but wonder if drilling a lot of such holes will have unintended geophysical results, from an overall cooling of the planet to a potential effect on the interior dynamo of the Earth and on its magnetic field (and I suspect the answer to the basic question of unforeseen consequences is yes, whether or not my specific questions turn out to be true or not).
But those concerns are not why this article really intrigues me. What intrigues me is the capability of the technology to bore deeply into the planet, and do so in such a way as to leave a nice neat round hole. Remember the Guatemala sink hole of 2010?
At the time, when people were trying to explain the sudden appearance of this large "sink hole", I offered my high octane speculation that (1) it was man-made, (2) was not a "sink hole" in any conventional sense, and (3) appeared to be the product of a sophisticated boring technology, perhaps even space based. (See my blog:
The National Geographic article, you'll note, offers up a "burst sewer pipe" and underground erosion as the explanation for the nearly perfectly round hole:
A burst sewer pipe or storm drain probably hollowed out the underground cavity that allowed the chasm to form, according to Sam Bonis, a geologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, who is currently living in Guatemala City (map).
The Guatemala City sinkhole, estimated to be 60 feet (18 meters) wide and 300 feet (100 meters) deep, appears to have been triggered by the deluge from tropical storm Agatha.
But the cavity formed in the first place because the city—and its underground infrastructure—were built in a region where the first few hundred meters of ground are mostly made up of a material called pumice fill, deposited during past volcanic eruptions.
Ok. I can buy the pumice fill explanation. But a "sink hole" of that size, depth, and perfect shape, gives me difficulties.
It still looks bored out to me.
And now, finally, with this article, we have an admission that such a technology actually exists.
The question is, can it be effectively based in space? And while we're at it, consider its use on the Moon, or to go looking for things deeply underground...
See you on the flip side...
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