U.S. DOE awards US$1.8M to National Energy Technology Laboratory for two geothermal power research projects to better predict performance of fracture networks, develop method for monitoring, assessing effectiveness of enhanced geothermal systems

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia , September 28, 2011 (press release) – Two geothermal energy projects led by researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have been selected to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. These projects, along with 30 others selected through a competitive process, promise to help accelerate development of geothermal energy technologies and diversify America’s sources of clean, renewable energy.

“The Department of Energy is investing in pioneering new technologies that will further develop the nation’s geothermal resources, create skilled jobs for American workers, and help diversify our energy portfolio,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in announcing the selected projects earlier this month. ‘The projects . . . will provide opportunities for clean energy innovations that will ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in geothermal energy development and expand the nation’s use of this important renewable energy resource.”

The addition of reliable geothermal energy resources to our national energy portfolio not only means cleaner energy options, but more energy options overall, reducing vulnerability to disruptions and dependence on foreign energy sources. The Energy Department is interested in developing new tools and technologies for drilling, reservoir engineering, and characterization technologies, which prompted the funding announcement. In particular, new ways of addressing the high exploration risks and costs of geothermal development and the technical barriers of enhanced geothermal systems as they relate to reservoir creation and sustainability are important.

The NETL projects will be at the forefront of geothermal technology development, finding new ways of efficiently extracting heat from hot, underground rock, an indigenous resource, and converting it to electricity. NETL will partner with industry and academia on the projects to work toward President Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

One NETL award is for a project that will improve capabilities for predicting the behavior and performance of fracture networks in enhanced geothermal systems. NETL researchers will partner with scientists from Penn State, West Virginia University, and the University of Pittsburgh in the 2-year effort. The team will execute experimental, analytical, and modeling work that involves pre-characterization of fluid-rock samples and modeling of flow through fractures; experimental work with regular monitoring of fluid composition; post-characterization of the samples to assess final reaction products; and coupling isotopic behavior to fluid-rock reactions that occurred during the experiment. The project was awarded up to $1,000,000 in support.

In the second award, researchers from NETL, Oregon State University, and Zonge International will collaborate to develop a novel, low-cost method for monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of enhanced geothermal systems to ensure reservoir longevity and efficiency. The study will apply recent developments in advanced geophysical techniques—including high-resolution gravity surveys, repeat electromagnetic imaging, and a portable, millimeter-resolution, ground-based radar system—in combination with geologic and geochemical analyses, to monitor a reservoir under controlled production and recharge conditions. The integrated process will give well-field operators information necessary to identify the location of reservoir flow-pathway restrictions, reservoir temperature variations, and key geochemical information to determine if a flow blockage is related to mineralization, allowing them to develop customized and targeted responses to mitigate the issue. The first phase of the research effort was awarded $770,000 in support for 1 year. The study could receive another $1,374,000 over 2 additional years for a second phase of research that would involve deployment of the integrated monitoring tools and methodology at a test site in Newberry, Ore.

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