Innovations in geothermal energy – fluid chemistry, drilling technology, and materials
Geothermal energy deployment faces various challenges, which various research project target with innovative technology approaches. Part of that work on fluid chemistry, materials and drilling technology is done by TWI together with international partners under EU-funded research programs.
In a blog post on its website, Britain-based research and technology organisations TWI shared details on the challenges and innovations in geothermal energy deployment. The post provides details about TWI’s work in collaboration with international partners under research projects funded under European Union energy research funding schemes.
Despite the myriad of opportunities offered, exploitation of geothermal energy as an alternative energy resource still faces its share of technological, economic and social challenges, requiring much research and innovation to improve its accessibility and economics in the energy mix.
Harvesting geothermal energy: Challenges and Innovations
Deployment of geothermal energy is capital intensive with high upfront costs heavily skewed towards drilling geothermal wells, making up for 30-70% of the total investment. This is especially true for deep Engineered Geothermal Systems (EGS) in hard rocks, where the cost increases with increase in drilling distance and increased tripping times associated with decline of component life due to harsh inherent environments, particularly due to the unknown chemistry of the interacting reservoir/geothermal fluids. The latter is also known to be a major threat to the integrity of the various components of geothermal power plants. Dissolved gases like carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, together with the presence of salts like sulfates and chlorides, are the dominant elements for the cause of damaging mechanisms such as corrosion, erosion and scaling, leading to high operation and maintenance costs.
Growing concerns of climate change and the resulting implementation of legislative frameworks has enabled active participation of national and international organisations to support research, demonstration, innovation and market-uptake actions to explore opportunities with geothermal for sustainable development goals.
Understanding fluid chemistry
GEOPRO aims to generate advances in understanding and modelling of geofluid properties with a wide applicability across a majority of geothermalinstallations to ensure consistent behaviour across significantly different applications.
Holistic drilling technology
High costs associated with drilling can be reduced by provision of technology that can increase drill rate and reduce the tripping time with improved life-time of drill components. Project Geo-Drill aims to reduce drilling costs through Down-The-Hole (DTH) hammer advanced drill monitoring through low-cost and robust 3D printed sensors and improved component life through advanced materials and coatings.
Cost-efficient materials for increased efficiency and longevity of the installations
Project Geo-Coat and GeoHex are developing new materials and coatings to reduce operational and maintenance costs of geothermal plants. The new high performance coatings developed aim to address the material challenges as well as improve the efficiency of critical components for competent and economical geothermal systems.
Increased flexibility for power demand
Project GeoSmart, aims to address the strategic flexibility required from European geothermal installations, as they become significant energy sources over the next 20-30 years, replacing decommissioned fossil fuel plants. GeoSmart will allow the geothermal plant to respond quickly to the heat and power demand to stabilise the grid reliability against fluctuation caused by progressive integration of variable renewable energy resources to the energy grid. The project’s main objective is the demonstration, in working geothermal plants, of two variants of GeoSmart technology, meeting the different flexibility needs of low-enthalpy and high enthalpy combined heat and power (CHP) provision.
Find out more
To find out more about these innovations can help mitigate the challenges associated with the geothermal exploitation, meet the team at the upcoming World Geothermal Congress (WGC).
These projects have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement numbers 764086 (Geo-Coat), 815319 (Geo-Drill), 818576 (GeoSmart),851816 (GEOPRO) and 851917 (GeoHex).