Newberry Volcano Selected as a Finalist for National Geothermal Energy Lab

Well at the Newberry project site in Oregon (source: AltaRock Energy)
Alexander Richter 29 Apr 2015

New ways to extract underground heat to produce electricity with enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) could be tested at a proposed research field observatory on Newberry Volcano in central Oregon.

A team led by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has been awarded up to $200,000 to develop plans for a potential field laboratory – called the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy, also known as FORGE – on the northwest side of Newberry Volcano near La Pine, Oregon.

The Newberry site is one of 10 possible observatory locations awarded a total of $2 million by the Geothermal Technologies Office within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. PNNL is partnering with Seattle geothermal developer AltaRock Energy Inc. and Oregon State University for the project. Project leaders include PNNL geophysicist Alain Bonneville, AltaRock geologist Trenton Cladouhos and Oregon State University geophysicist Pr. Adam Schultz.

“The Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy will be the first of its kind when it’s built,” Bonneville said. “The world-class research that is planned for the observatory will help the U.S. move from having just 0.4 percent of its electricity come from geothermal resources to as much as 4 percent by 2025. We are excited to have the opportunity to bring such important research to Newberry Volcano and the region.”

“AltaRock Energy has led an innovative EGS Demonstration at Newberry for the last five years and successfully created an EGS reservoir in 2014 using our multi-zone stimulation technology” said Trenton Cladouhos, Senior VP for Research & Development for AltaRock and lead geoscientist for AltaRock’s current geothermal project. “We are very excited to see more funding dedicated to developing and testing a wider variety of geothermal technologies, and are very pleased to see it located next to our soon-to-be-finished project.”

The observatory will allow researchers and developers to test more efficient, less costly and potentially ground-breaking ways to extract underground heat where conventional geothermal power generation is not possible. Conventional geothermal power makes use of existing hydrothermal fields that are usually sited where natural circulation brings hot water or steam to the surface or close to the surface of the earth. Wells drilled into these locations have enough permeability that the wells produce steam or hot water at sufficient rates to spin power-producing turbines. A much larger geothermal resource are the hot, rocks 2-4 miles below the surface that can be reached by today’s drilling technology in much of the US.. Enhanced geothermal energy involves pumping water underground to create or enhance cracks in these hot rocks that will then allow circulated water to extract heat from the rock mass and then flow to a production well. Because hot rock at depth are widespread, DOE estimates enhanced geothermal systems could allow the U.S. to generate as much as 100 gigawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power about 100 million homes.

For the project’s initial year-long phase, the team will conduct a detailed analysis of the Newberry ’suitability as a geothermal observatory site, and develop scientific, management, environmental, safety, and public outreach plans for how the observatory will operation Deschutes County. In 2016, DOE will select the three of the initial projects to obtain the permits and gather the additional information needed to prepare their sites. Just one location will ultimately be chosen to house the observatory.

This project will extend ongoing geothermal efforts at the Newberry Volcano. In 2010, AltaRock Energy Inc. received a 5 year, $21.5 million matching grant from the Department of Energy to demonstrate an engineered geothermal system at hot, dry well drilled there in 2008. Since 2012 Oregon State University and partners have received more than $1M in funding from the Department of Energy to develop new geophysical methods for continuous monitoring of fluid circulation and related processes within the Newberry Volcano EGS demonstration site.

Source: Press Release by AltaRock