Sustainability | Renewable Energy

New Drilling Technology Could Help Power the Globe

by Jane Marsh

For decades, oil companies have focused on finding new reserves of fossil fuels. However, as we move into a new era of climate change awareness, it’s time to start thinking about tapping into the Earth’s other natural resources.

One particularly promising area is known as enhanced geothermal. This process involves drilling deep down into the Earth and releasing steam from inside geothermal reservoirs. It produces clean energy, lessens dependence on fossil fuels, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions over conventional power generation methods.

Why Use Geothermal Power?

Geothermal power derives energy from the natural heat of the Earth’s core — making it one of the most renewable sources in the world. In fact, there are more than 10,000 megawatts of geothermal capacity worldwide — enough to power approximately 10 million homes.

Geothermal harnesses heat from rocks, water, and steam beneath the Earth’s surface. It’s carbon neutral and widely available for use.

Geothermal power plants don’t rely on wind and solar energy, so they provide a reliable source of electricity on cloudy days or after dark — where other generation forms fail.

How Does Geothermal Power Work?

Geothermal takes advantage of natural heat reservoirs just below the surface of the Earth’s crust, drawing out steam and hot water to drive turbines for electricity generation.

Drillers access these reservoirs by drilling deep into the ground. As you might expect, geothermal uses more water than other types of renewable energy — but it’s still a relatively low-impact process.

Once drillers pump the water out of underground wells, they can use it to drive turbines and generate electricity.

There is a catch, though. Drilling is required to access the reservoir, which makes the process slow, inefficient, and more expensive. Plus, the deeper you drill toward the Earth’s core, the hotter it gets.

This makes it challenging to reach those depths because the hot temperatures tear the drill bits into pieces. However, a new drilling method could increase geothermal output and make it more sustainable.

A New Drilling Technology That Has the Potential to Replace Fossil Fuels

The drilling technology called “laser in-situ kerogen conversions” (LISC) could be the next step in powering our planet. The technique uses lasers to drill deep underground and gets its power from plasma. The plasma is created by a magnetic field, generating electricity that drillers can use to power the drill itself.

Drillers can utilize the lasers to blast holes into bedrock with a high-powered beam. It then heats rocks’ temperatures high enough to crack the ones filled with water or solids like sand or graphite.

When these materials are subjected to pressure from deep underground, they become hot enough to break down into hydrogen or methane gas — where we gain an endless energy source.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Laser Fracking

Laser fracking allows you to accelerate the natural process of gas extraction. It’s much faster than traditional drilling — a single fracking well takes only two weeks to complete compared with months or years for other methods.

Since laser fracking doesn’t require any water, it could solve problems caused by drought while also limiting environmental contamination.

However, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about laser fracking. This is the first time anyone has tried this method, and many experts have expressed skepticism about its feasibility. For one, the lasers used in this process are costly. As you can imagine, building a giant laser system isn’t cheap.

It’s also possible for this technique to cause earthquakes. Fracking involves injecting fluids into rock formations at high pressures, which cause them to crack and release natural gas. This process has been linked to several seismic events over the past few years, including one in Texas that registered a magnitude 4.0 earthquake in 2018. So far, researchers haven’t found any evidence that laser fracking causes quakes — but they’re still looking into it.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

Despite some of the challenges laser drilling presents, this new technology could be the game changer for the future of energy. Drilling into geothermal sources is tricky and expensive, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. 

These sources offer an almost limitless supply of renewable energy. Until now, scientists haven’t been able to tap deep enough into the reservoirs to make them viable for large-scale use. Once they get past this bottleneck, everything will fall into place.

Laser drilling will enable people to harness the heat below their feet to energize homes, power factories and even run cars.

The next step is to build a plant that can use the technology on a larger scale. If all goes well, this new drilling method could make geothermal energy an affordable solution for countries worldwide. People will no longer need to rely on fossil fuels, which are running on low reserves.

Harnessing the Power of Geothermal Sources

Laser drills may not be the all-in-one solution for the world’s energy needs, but they could certainly power many of them. It’s an exciting time for engineers and scientists worldwide as they continue researching how to harness natural resources. This new drilling technology will enable producing more efficient, clean energy sources.


Article by Jane Marsh

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of

Environment.co


 

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