Researchers from Stanford University have identified DNA-embedded nanoparticles as key to unlocking cleaner energy sources.


According to a new study by Stanford scientists, combining synthetic DNA with microscopic particles could help harness the geothermal energy.

During an experiment, researchers used embedded synthetically derived DNA molecules between silica nanoparticles and an additional silica shell.

The particles were then injected through packed sand at various temperatures in order to assess their survivability through the journey.

Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences study first author Zhang said that the particles were able to survive temperatures as high at 150 degrees C, validating its ability to survive the extreme environments of geothermal fields while allowing for better mapping.

Zhang added: "Currently, reservoir fracture networks are still poorly known despite advances in seismic imaging, tracer testing, and other imaging and sensing technologies.

"Nanotracers are able to carry much more information about the reservoir, from temperature distribution to fracture geometry.

"By encoding each batch of tracers with a unique DNA signature, we could get a much clearer picture of the temperature distribution and fracture geometry that we need."

According to the researchers, the initial study marked a significant step ahead in meeting the goal of characterizing geothermal resources which is difficult to exploit.

Stanford Geothermal Program director Roland Horne said: "Each enhanced geothermal system is unique based on the underlying geology and fracture geometry.

"To develop those systems properly, we will need to know how those fractures join together and how the temperature field is distributed. DNA-embedded nanotracers could be a powerful tool that would help realize geothermal energy’s global potential."

According to estimates, geothermal energy could contribute to 5% of the world’s power supply upon optimizing enhanced geothermal systems.

"Five percent of 22,000 billion kilowatt hours is still a lot of energy," Horne added.

Image: Spherical nanoparticles embedded with DNA. Photo: courtesy of Yuran Zhang/ Stanford University.