Interview: Dr. J. Moore, Managing Principal Investigator Utah FORGE site

University of Utah, foothills (source: flickr/ Edgar Zuniga Jr., creative commons)
Alexander Richter 1 Aug 2017

In this interview with Dr. Joseph Moore, the managing principal investigator of the Utah FORGE site from the Energy & Geoscience Institute (EGI) at the University of Utah, we learn more about the research done on EGS in Utah under the FORGE program by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) established the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) project to develop a state-of-the-art laboratory that will enable scientists to start from scratch to research, develop and test both new and novel geothermal technologies and methods. The project goal is to create sustainable geothermal energy methods that can be used on a commercial scale to produce energy in locations where it is not currently recoverable.

Speaking on the topic is Dr. Joseph Moore, the managing principal investigator of the Utah FORGE site from the Energy & Geoscience Institute (EGI) at the University of Utah (UofU). Utah FORGE is one of two final teams vying for a $100M grant to develop the laboratory.


Why is the FORGE program focusing on developing EGS from scratch? Why is this so important?

The goal of this project is to research and develop the technology and methods needed to engineer this type of large-scale reservoir for commercial use.  The available energy from geothermal resources is immense, but it is currently underutilized. We’ve attempted to develop large-scale, commercial EGS projects for more than four decades, but we really haven’t been able to generate more than one to two megawatts.

What types of methods and tools will be developed and tested?

Part of our focus will be on extending existing oil and gas technologies. Temperature is a major factor to consider when developing and testing new tools and technology. This project’s requirements outline specific temperatures needed to sufficiently produce electricity – these requirements push the envelope in terms of current oil and gas technologies. We will be utilizing some tools and technologies common in the oil and gas industry, but for higher temperatures.

In terms of drilling, we will be developing new techniques since the DOE has asked for highly-deviated wells. Our goal is to develop an efficient reservoir with multiple fractures through new drilling techniques. Additionally, we’ve chosen a site with low permeability to expand rock fracturing testing.

Another new method we’ll be using is predicting micro-seismicity with sophisticated real-time monitoring. Seismicity in the Utah FORGE site area has been monitored for decades because there is already an operating geothermal plant there and the geothermal plant has recorded very low seismicity throughout the years. Based on the monitoring history in the area, we will drill into the same formations that the operating plant has been using and expect the seismicity to remain low—it will be continuously monitored to ensure this.

If a successful commercial path to geothermal is found, what would this mean for the nation in terms of energy production and sustainability? What about for the oil/gas/energy industry?

If this is successful, we’ll be able to use this technology and process to provide geothermal energy anywhere in the world. Imagine being able to power New York, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Mumbai using the natural energy of the earth. Without pollution and with minimal footprints.

I don’t see the oil and gas industry going away for 50 years or more. If renewable energies become predominant, the oil and gas industry would probably make a shift toward renewables.

Why Utah for geothermal energy?   

Utah has been at the forefront of geothermal energy efforts for years and nobody knows it. Utah had one of the first geothermal plants in the [Utah/Nevada] basin and the state currently has three operating plants that produce about 73 MW for a variety of uses. Geothermal helps heat 330,000 square feet of the state prison and 25 acres of greenhouses. And we have some of the brightest experts in geothermal energy working in Utah universities. We have a great team working on the project and we’re excited to share our data.


We thank Dr. Joseph Moore and Haley McLennan for taking the time for the interview.