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DOE Announces $29 Million Investment in Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Sept. 14, 2016
The funding is for instrumenting, characterizing, and permitting candidate sites for an underground lab to conduct research on enhanced geothermal systems.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced $29 million in funding under the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) program for projects awarded to teams at Sandia National Laboratories and The University of Utah.

The funding will be for each team to fully instrument, characterize, and permit candidate sites for an underground laboratory to conduct cutting-edge research on enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). The Sandia team will be working on a site in Fallon, Nev.; the University of Utah team will be working at a site in Milford, Utah.

“Enhanced Geothermal Systems can help us tap into a vast energy resource with the potential to generate enough clean energy to power millions of homes,” Franklin Orr, undersecretary for science and energy, said. “In supporting this technology, the FORGE program is advancing American leadership in clean-energy innovation and could ultimately help us meet our climate and sustainability goals.”

The Energy Department, with the support of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, awarded funding to the two teams after a competitive first phase of research to evaluate potential EGS underground research sites. The candidate sites in Nevada and Utah will use this new funding to prepare for the competitive third phase of the FORGE effort, which will designate one of the sites as the headquarters for the future underground field lab.

EGS have the potential to unlock access to domestic, geographically diverse, and carbon-free sources of clean energy by using heat from the earth to generate renewable electricity in areas without naturally occurring geothermal resources.

EGS are the means by which resources are accessed from deep beneath the surface of the earth, where there are hot rocks ideal for geothermal wells, but little naturally occurring liquid to generate steam. Pumping fluids into the hot rocks creates pathways that carry heat to the earth’s surface through wells, where the fluids become steam to drive turbines and generate electricity. Investing in EGS technologies today could lead to more than 100 GW of economically viable electric generating capacity in the continental United States, representing an increase of two orders of magnitude over present geothermal capacity, which stands at 3.5 GW.