New drilling technology may boost geothermal energy potential

December 19, 2014 0 By Amanda Giasson

Commercialization of enhanced geothermal systems may soon be possible.

A recently announced partnership formed between AltaRock Energy and ON Energy could be very promising news for the geothermal industry, because the partnership may help further the commercialization of enhanced geothermal energy, making this renewable resource a new source of electricity and, though a joint venture, the companies will provide geothermal developers with advanced tools that will help make commercialization possible.

The problem of expensive drilling could be solved with new “hammer” drilling tech.

According to technology news site, Gigaom, the two companies intend to use a new drilling technology called a “water hammer” drilling machine. With this tech, the companies believe that they can solve the problem of costly drilling.

The drilling machine hammers down fast on the rock surface with a force so powerful it causes huge vibrations, pulverizing rock. This technique differs from the typical drilling method that uses a rotary bit to break down rock.

Rotary drilling, on the other hand, does not perform well when faced with hard surfaces. Drilling is slow and the bit requires replacement because the hard rock rapidly wears it out. Due to these issues, it is not easy for geothermal developers to reach depths that exceed 10,000 feet, which is what is needed for enhanced geothermal systems (EGS).

While hammer drilling can achieve these deep depths at a faster rate, the trouble this technique has faced in the past is it depended on extremely large air compressors to deliver the pressure to the drill bits. This made the process more expensive. However, the water hammer drill from Hanjin D&B uses water to deliver the pressure to the bit. Compared to standard drilling, the water hammer drill can reach depths of over 12,000 feet, ten times faster, and up to 50% of the cost.

The joint venture may lead to cost reductions in the geothermal energy industry.

According to the Business Wire press release regarding the partnership announcement between AltaRock Energy (a next-gen geothermal startup), and ON Energy (the American supplier of Hanjin D&B, a South Korean drilling company), the companies plan to take a leadership role in commercializing products for deep geothermal reservoirs.

The CEO at AltaRock Energy, Aaron Mandell, said that “ON Energy has demonstrated excellence in bringing down the cost of hard rock drilling and we see this as the critical next step in deploying geothermal power at a scale that can displace coal.”

Mandell added that the companies will be able to provide a new price structure for geothermal energy development by combining deep drilling and integrating geothermal simulations into one offering. He explained that the goal “is to reduce the overall risk of exploration by reducing the cost of constructing a reservoir.”

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