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Iceland Geothermal Project Completes Deep Drilling In Volcano

Iceland Geothermal Project Completes Deep Drilling In Volcano thumbnail

Geologists and engineers have successfully drilled into the heart of a volcano in Iceland, as part of a project aimed at assessing the economic feasibility of using deep unconventional geothermal resources to deliver renewable energy.

Drilling so deep into such a hot borehole poses many difficulties, but if researchers manage to overcome the challenges, fewer geothermal wells would need to be drilled in the future because the energy content of fluids so deep into the ground is much higher than conventional geothermal steam.

The Deployment of deep enhanced geothermal systems for sustainable energy business (DEEPEGS), funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, considers unconventional geothermal resources as those that are superhot, up to 550 degrees Celsius (1,022 degrees Fahrenheit), and very deep—more than 3 kilometers (1.864 miles).

Earlier this year the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) at the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland completed drilling at a depth of 4.659 kilometers (2.9 miles) where it recorded temperatures of 427 degrees Celsius (800.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The drilling, which began in August 2016, created the deepest volcanic borehole ever. Geologists and engineers aim to find if the so-called supercritical fluid—a condition in which water is so deep in the ground that it is neither liquid nor gas—can be used for efficient energy production.

Supercritical fluid has a much higher energy content than conventional high-temperature geothermal steam, scientists concur, but drilling so deep into the heart of a volcano is difficult to achieve and control.

According to the project’s partners, this drilling project could result in the opening up of new areas for geothermal energy utilization and the enhancement of the performance of current production zones in Iceland. If supercritical wells are able to produce more power than conventional geothermal wells, less drilling of geothermal wells would be needed around the world, which would lead to “less environmental impact and improved economics,” the project partners say.

However, a lot more research, testing, and flow simulation will be needed, and the final results on the technology and economics of production from the well will not be known until the end of next year at the earliest.

The purpose of the IDDP-2 project is research and the drilling completion is only one phase of the project. The next steps will be to do further testing and research on the well, and most importantly flow tests and fluid handling experiments will be conducted within the next two years,” said the partners, which include Norway’s oil major Statoil.

The next stage of the project involves pumping cold water into the well, which will open it up in order to tap into the steam at the bottom to provide a source of geothermal energy.

Naturally, drilling such a deep and hot well poses many difficulties, according to the project partners. They claim that “using conventional drilling methods was not an option for many aspects of the project so new methods had to be developed to ensure the progress of the project”.

The drilling had many challenges to overcome, but the major unsolved problem was a complete loss of circulation below 3 kilometers (1.864 miles) of depth, and that “could not be cured with lost circulation materials, or by multiple attempts to seal the loss zone with cement”.

It’s not by chance that Iceland is the site of the deep geothermal drilling project. In the island country with population of just over 300,000, geothermal power facilities generate 25 percent of the total electricity production, according to Iceland’s National Energy Authority.

Although it is home to just over 300,000 people, Iceland makes the top 10 of ‘geothermal countries’ list by ThinkGeoEnergy with 665 MW of installed capacity. The U.S. leads the world in terms of electricity generated from geothermal energy in absolute figures, with California providing 74 percent of the U.S. geothermal electricity in 2015.

10 Comments on "Iceland Geothermal Project Completes Deep Drilling In Volcano"

  1. rockman on Wed, 26th Apr 2017 1:50 pm 

    “…with California providing 74 percent of the U.S. geothermal electricity in 2015”. Essentially from one project: The Geysers.

    Which is the world’s largest geothermal field. Unfortunately the unique combination of factors contributing to its development are extremely rare.

  2. Plantagenet on Wed, 26th Apr 2017 3:52 pm 

    The Geysers geothermal wells tap a steam field over a small hot magma body.

    Iceland has many volcanoes and many magma bodies. This Icelandic project drilling into an active volcanic field may open up a whole new class of superheated steam resources.


  3. bobinget on Wed, 26th Apr 2017 4:27 pm 

    Advances in oil and gas drilling should make finding geothermal almost anywhere.

    Image result for how deep can oil rigs go
    Depending on the rig type, offshore rigs are rated to drill in water depths as shallow as 80 feet to as great as 12,000 feet. The greatest water depth a jackup can drill in is 550 feet, and many newer units have a rated drilling depth of 35,000 feet.May 8, 2014
    Oil and Gas Offshore Rigs: a Primer on Offshore Drilling – Drillinginfo

    Costs are coming down. An ultra deep well two years ago cost 16 million. Today, a person can get backyard geothermal heat for under 2.5 million. Or, go to Home Depot and shell out $250. for a water heater.

    Seriously, this is a grand time to pick up a vertical only
    older oil rig on the cheap.
    There’s plenty of cracks (called ‘faults’) that are ready for easy drillin.

  4. rockman on Wed, 26th Apr 2017 11:25 pm 

    As I said: “the unique combination of factors contributing to its development are extremely rare.” Having hot rocks is only one of the conditions. There are VERY FEW areas with ALL THE NECESSARY CONDITIONS. Drilling has never been a limiting factor: the Geyser was drilled 4 decades ago with less sophisticated rigs then available today.

    To understand the limitations, especially water resources, study the Geyser’s web site: details there. There’s a very good reason no one has developed a geothermal field bigger then The Geysers in the last 40 years: very rare suitable locations.

  5. Cloggie on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 3:55 am 

    Iceland is ahead of the rest because for them it is easy to acquire geothermal energy, because it is so near the surface, thanks to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge:

    The truth is, if you drill deep enough (2-3 km) you replicate the conditions.

    The previous Dutch government has announced recently that they intend to replace the current natural gas based space heating arrangement with geothermal.

    But hey, drilling is soooh 19th-20th century. Shooting holes for geophysical purposes is the new rage:

    (Perhaps Rockman can elaborate a little on this on)

  6. Cloggie on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 4:09 am 

    Several geothermal projects are operational in Holland, most if not all in greenhouse environments:

    (all Dutch language videos)

    Overview operational projects:

    Many more projects are in the pipeline.

  7. brough on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 5:24 am 

    Iceland must the only nation on the planet that has more energy than it knows what to do with.
    Shame thermal energy is difficult to transport and even more difficult to export to other countries. Fortunately, they also have an excess of hydro-electric, care of US corp. Alcoa’s aluminium smelter on their east coast. This is due to be contected to the UK/Scottish grid sometime after 2022.
    Many thanks Cloggie for links on geothermal. I was a geothermal skeptic, after my local councils half-arsed attempts. I will spend my weekend reassessing my views on such matters.
    Some years ago the local Worcester/Bosch rep. tried to sell me a shallow/sub-soil system that required 1kWh of electrical imput to get 3kWh of thermal output, which I thought was a bad return. Maybe deep drilling is the answer. It’ll give my neighbours something to think about.

  8. JuanP on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 7:51 am 

    “Although it is home to just over 300,000 people, Iceland makes the top 10 of ‘geothermal countries’ list”
    That is a tiny bit more than daily global population growth. Iceland is less than completely insignificant and irrelevant. Uruguay with around 3,400,000 people is completely insignificant and irrelevant. Iceland’s population is 11 times smaller than Uruguay’s! Their population is about 1/1,000th of the margin of error of the world’s population, which right now is around 300 million people. If all the people in Iceland disappeared today nobody would notice.

  9. Cloggie on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 8:08 am 

    If all the people in Iceland disappeared today nobody would notice.

    Yes, but Iceland has now a mighty new friend:

    Perhaps Erdogan will be next.

  10. rockman on Thu, 27th Apr 2017 8:44 am 

    brought – “Some years ago the local Worcester/Bosch rep. tried to sell me a shallow/sub-soil system…”

    Years ago I saw a video of a shallow (200′) low temp geothermal project. I don’t recall the economic details but were very good. Would supply thermal energy via water heat pump to a nursing home under construction in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Can get very cold there in the water so drawing heat from 75°F water that recirculated (IOW no water supply issue like with The Geysers). Certainly not flashy like a hot geothermal. But at best there are only a few of those areas on the planet. OTOH there are millions of potential small scale commercial low temp sites in the world. Collectively they could provides thousands of times as much energy as hot geothermal.

    The shallow wells and infrastructure are very cheap. But I never see the idea being pushed by anyone. Maybe just lacking local pilot projects for proof of concept. One area where I wouldn’t mind seeing the govt foot some of the bill to seed such developments.

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