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New 2018 budget cutting U.S. geothermal research program to the bone

US DOE FORGE - Screenshot from the Website
Alexander Richter 26 May 2017

In a statement, the U.S Geothermal Energy Association comments on the 2018 Budget by the U.S. Government, painting a bleak picture for available funding for geothermal research in the U.S.

In a statement on the release of the 2018 Budget by the U.S. Government, the U.S. Geothermal Energy Association paints a bleak picture for available funding for geothermal research in the U.S.

As proposed now, the budget “cuts the DOE geothermal research program to the bone”, so GEA. “The 82% funding reduction from $71 million to $12 million will have significant, negative impacts on technology development for the US geothermal industry, significantly reducing the ability to achieve the economic benefits of tapping the vast geothermal resource base of the United States.

The US Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Program (DOE GTP) has a history of supporting the development of new technology that is critical for the geothermal industry. DOE GTP’s support has helped the industry expand beyond high-temperature resources in the US by producing power from moderate-temperature geothermal resources, more than doubling the number of states with geothermal power production. But much more can and needs to be done to enhance the value of and address the high risk of conventional resources, such as developing unique opportunities for extracting strategic minerals from geothermal fluids, improving exploration technology and reducing drilling risk, and ultimately allowing production of geothermal power nearly anywhere by engineering geothermal systems to enable the extraction of energy from deep, hot rocks.

With respect to the last, DOE GTP has had a strong focus on Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) by advancing the development of new technologies that will allow us to “mine” the vast amount of heat that is present deep beneath our feet. The flagship EGS R&D project is FORGE (Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy), which will be an experimental site to develop and test techniques to enhance rock permeability in just the right way to enable effective heat mining. The bare bones budget appears to continue the FORGE effort using prior year balances, which means the funding for the final center chosen will be left to future appropriations bills – a risky proposition. The minimal budget would reduce DOE GTP’s efforts to develop the tools needed for EGS (such as specialized drilling and completion methods, advanced stimulation techniques, zonal isolation, fracture management, maximizing energy extraction, etc.), undercutting the success of EGS development efforts.

With respect to conventional geothermal resources, support for developing new exploration tools and technology – which are needed to identify the one-half of all US geothermal resources that are as yet undiscovered – would end under the proposed budget, despite the fact that the pay-off from this investment would be substantial. New exploration technology is particularly important in states with no geothermal projects, where geological prospecting takes on higher risks. Similarly, support for co-production (of geothermal fluids that are produced together with oil or gas), low-temperature technologies (allowing power production from the more common lower-temperature geothermal resources) and secondary products (recovery of lithium, rare earth elements and other strategic minerals from geothermal fluids) is ending – despite their significant near-term benefits. Taken together, this means that valuable benefits for the US economy will be lost; for example, rather than developing domestic production of critical minerals for high tech applications, imports from China will continue.

DOE GTP has established a thoughtful and balanced R&D program that targets specific near-term and long-term opportunities for geothermal to contribute to our national energy security and economic growth. In contrast, the proposed budget would severely limit the ability to make meaningful geothermal energy advancements in the United States.

Source: Statement by GEA released by email, 25 May 2017