The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or popularly known as the Berkeley Lab will take the lead role in conducting experiments and field study for commercialisation of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS).

Geothermal energy is estimated to have a potential to power 100 million American households. The lab will be joined by seven other US Department of Energy (DOE) national labs and six universities to develop field experiments to understand and model rock fractures, an important element in geothermal systems.

The study is part of a $9m project aimed to remove technical barriers in the commercialisation of geothermal systems.

Scientists from the team will work at Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in South Dakota to create small-scale fracture networks in crystalline rock, some 1500m below the ground.

Berkeley Lab’s Tim Kneafsey, the lead of the project stated that they will place instrumentation within tens of meters of the fractures so that they will be able to detect fracturing at higher resolution.  

Presently, electricity production from geothermal is limited to only few locations with particular geological characteristics. These places include active volcanic centres or at places with high temperature gradient, such as Nevada in the US.

At such locations, the three important components of geothermal energy including heat, fluid and permeability are present.

With EGS, it is being said that a fracture network can be enhanced to bypass the geographic limitation of conventional geothermal energy. It is being claimed that the EGS has the potential to generate more than 100GW of electricity in an economical way.

Kneafsey said: “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.

“This project will seek to understand the relationship between permeability creation and heat extraction in crystalline rocks under certain stress and temperature conditions.”

Image: Berkeley Lab takes lead on geothermal project. Photo: Courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.