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National Labs Prioritize Study of Enhanced Geothermal Systems for Commercialization

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory yesterday said it will lead a $9 million project to remove technical barriers to commercialization of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) for electricity generation.

Berkeley Lab will partner with seven other DOE national labs and six universities and use the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota to create small-scale fracture networks in crystalline rock 1,500 meters below ground.

Lead image: Berkeley Lab scientist Tim Kneafsey demonstrates how he places rock samples, from the Brady Geothermal Field in Nevada, into a stress permeability apparatus, which tests how long a fracture can remain open. Credit: Marilyn Chung | Berkeley Lab

“We will be putting instrumentation within tens of meters of the fractures and will be able to detect fracturing at a higher resolution than what has ever been done before,” Berkley Lab’s project leader Tim Kneafsey said in a statement. “The goal is to work towards increasing our understanding of fracturing and fluid flow in EGS, which could provide a significant amount of electricity as a large quantity of accessible hot rock lies untapped across the U.S.”

According to Berkley Lab, EGS could eventually provide more than 100 GW of economically viable electric generating capacity in the continental U.S.

“Although geothermal energy production is already used effectively, there is a lot we need to learn about how to create and develop an EGS reservoir,” Kneafsey said. “This project will seek to understand the relationship between permeability creation and heat extraction in crystalline rocks under certain stress and temperature conditions.”

Funding for the first year of the project, called EGS Collab, is provided by DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office. Other national labs partnering in the project include Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, Idaho, Los Alamos, Pacific Northwest, Oak Ridge, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Berkely Lab said that findings from the project will support DOE’s existing FORGE — Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy — program.

“The success of FORGE will be accelerated by the EGS Collab testing and activities,” Kneafsey said. “Using test beds at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, we’ll be able to refine and further develop thermal-hydrological-mechanical-chemical (THMC) modeling approaches, investigate fracturing methods, and improve novel monitoring tools.”

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