The Voice for Industry
|August 27, 2008|
||Heat of the Earth. Close to
A geothermal development company in Seattle announced Tuesday it had received $26.25 million in financing to pursue a new approach for developing geothermal power.
AltaRock Energy Inc.'s investors include Google.org, Vulcan Capital and Advanced Technology Ventures. These investors join first-round contributors Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.
AltaRock founder Susan Petty was among the engineers and scientists who produced an eye-opening 2007 study led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) regarding geothermal's potential as a source of clean and cost-effective power in the US.
Earlier Seattle Industry bulletins highlighted the cool water geothermal generating system recently developed at the Chena Hot Springs Resort in Alaska. AltaRock works the other end of the geothermal industry, pursuing very hot water at great depths through a process called Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) electrical generation. EGS, like traditional geothermal development, creates electricity with very few environmental impacts and nearly no greenhouse emissions.
Using existing technologies developed in the oil and gas industries, the EGS approach engineers a geothermal resource using deep wells to inject very cold water into fissures in hot rock, creating fractures that allow large volumes of water to flow through them. The resulting hot water is then pumped back to the surface to turn turbines and create electricity. The water is then cooled and recycled back into the system.
In an article published in 2007, Petty told U.S. News and World Report that AltaRock will seek to develop 10,000 megawatts of geothermal electricity within 10 years. That would be enough to power 10 million homes. EGS "brings an absolutely gigantic amount of power into the realm of economic feasibility," Petty told the magazine.
The western slope of the Cascades Mountains has numerous sites with high geothermal potential.
While development costs are currently high, the MIT report predicted EGS production costs could be brought down to between 3.6 and 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which would be competitive with nearly all electricity except that fueled by super cheap hydro power.
The MIT team found "no technological showstoppers" to stymie EGS development. The world's first commercial EGS system went on line last year in Germany.
It is not new to generate electricity with geothermal power. The first generating system was developed in Italy in 1904 and geothermal creates electricity today in dozens of countries.
But, it was long assumed that geothermal power is only practical in places like Iceland and The Geysers area north of San Francisco that are close to high volcanic activity and hot water very near the surface. But that assumption has been toppled by the cool water system at Chena and the hot water system in Germany.
With EGS, the MIT team predicted, much of the United States could become an enormous geothermal power zone. For instance, the geothermal conditions at the German EGS plant are very similar to those that exist beneath Washington, D.C., where many national leaders remain blind to the potential of geothermal power.
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