Iceland were already at the forefront of tackling resource and emissions targets by solely using renewable energy to power the country, but their new technology is leading the way in renewable energy production…
Renewable energy can be made by drilling into hot rocks which are heated by magma within the Earth’s interior. The project is located on the Reykjanes peninsula in South West Iceland and began on 12th August 2016. This area consists of old lava fields and was last active around 700 years ago but can still be used to harness energy from the Earth’s interior as it is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which is a boundary where new magma is continuously produced.
At almost 5km, the ‘supercritical zone’ is reached which is where molten rock mixes with water. Water heated at such depths is then brought back to the surface at 400-600°C. It forms superheated steam which isn’t a liquid or a gas but has the ability to hold more energy than both which is why it is such a valuable discovery. It can then be used to produce electricity once purified .
The project is run by the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project or IDDP who are a collaborative company comprised of scientists, the government and the energy industry. Their aim is to determine whether it is feasible to produce energy using supercritical steam fluids to improve overall power production. Based on geothermal technology, which is already a well established form of renewable energy, the IDDP have taken the next step by drilling twice as deep as necessary for previous geothermal technology to create the world’s first enhanced geothermal system. IDDP-2 was completed on 1st February 2017 after drilling halted at 4569m where temperatures reached 430°C. Over the coming months, cold water will be pumped into the well to open it up in the hope that once the water heats up again, temperatures will exceed 500°C. This would make IDDP-2 the world’s hottest borehole!
The project began in 2003 with the drilling of IDDP-1 in the Krafla caldera. IDDP-1 raised concerns after the borehole filled with magma at just 2.1km and could not be completed. However, hitting active magma whilst drilling is rare but risky when drilling directly into the Earth’s interior. The magma only impacted the drilling operation itself, which was minor in comparison to surface eruptions produced naturally from Iceland’s volumes of volcanoes. IDDP-1 was not a complete disaster because it still provided valuable research by proving that this technology was capable of heating water and producing energy which left IDDP-2 to take the next step and generate electricity.
In comparison to geothermal technology, these superheated wells can produce 10 times more energy and even have the capacity to power 50,000 homes which could make IDDP-2 an international superhit due to the enormous amounts of energy one well can produce! Following on from the success of IDDP-2, another well is planned at the Hengill volcano and should be generating power by 2020. If this form of energy production can be harnessed at other young volcanoes across the globe, it could revolutionise the renewable energy sector and make a significant cut to carbon emissions. Could this be the answer to all our problems? I say full steam ahead!