As physicists work in the nuclear fusion industry to release unlimited clean energy by harnessing the power of the sun, they have inadvertently invented a tool that could allow geothermal power plants to deliver unlimited clean energy by harnessing the power of the sun. Earth.
This tool is a large millimeter wave laser drill that will allow engineers to dig more than 20 km into the earth’s crust to harness the heat from the planet’s core.
Another connection to nuclear fusion is that this laser drilling technology is being developed by a spin-off company called Quaise from MIT, which also operates a nuclear fusion reactor in Massachusetts.
The bottom line is that this idea is not science fiction, and Quaise has the money to commission several full-scale demonstration machines by 2024, and hopes to have a 100 megawatt supercritical geothermal plant in service by 2026.
20 km into the earth’s crust, temperatures soar to 500°C, a level that redefines the area from traditional drilling temperatures of around 200°C. At this point and at this depth, groundwater becomes “supercritical”, a state of matter where it is neither gaseous nor liquid.
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“A power plant that uses supercritical water as its working fluid can extract up to 10 times more useful energy from each drop compared to non-supercritical plants,” a Quaise spokesperson told New Atlas. “Aiming for supercritical conditions is key to achieving power densities compatible with fossil fuels.”
A recycling masterclass
It is perhaps ironic that humans seek to harness the energy of the sun and stars in a nuclear fusion reactor when there is 20 billion times more heat under our feet than the world’s energy consumption. Barely 0.03% of the world’s energy is provided by geothermal energy despite this wealth.
A virtually limitless source of energy exists in the form of this supercritical fluid snaking through the planet’s crust and mantle, and just 0.01% of it would provide far more power than the world uses.
However, to achieve this, we need better drilling technology, and Quaise benefits from the work done in a 1970s technology called a gyrotron. When they need to heat water in a plasma at the heart of a nuclear fusion reactor, scientists must generate between 90 and 150 million degrees Celsius of heat. This was done by both lasers and supermagnets.
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The gyrotron is one such laser, and it generates electromagnetic waves in the millimeter wave spectrum, shorter than microwaves and longer than infrared or visible light. Designed, invented and tested in the USSR, the device is excellent for rapidly heating a plasma without substantial energy consumption.
So, by accessing already existing energy with already existing technology, Quaise has proven to be remarkably efficient. They’ve raised $63 million in funding – a pittance in the nuclear fusion field, but they’re looking to truly cut fossil fuels before the end of the decade.
Their planned next step could be the biggest recycling trick in the industry. As coal-fired power plants continue to be shut down around the world, their already established giant infrastructure for converting steam to electricity, their large electrical distribution equipment and their talented workforce could simply be taken over by Quaise, which could simply replace coal. components with those intended to exploit supercritical water.
“There are over 8,500 coal-fired power plants somewhere in the world, totaling over 2,000 gigawatts of capacity, and they’ll all have to find something else to do by 2050,” writes New Atlas’ Loz Blain.
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Blain argues that it may be more revolutionary than nuclear fusion, and the beauty of the design, if it works, is that the technology originally designed for fusion reactors could end up putting them out of work.
The fusion reaction requires at least a decade of further development before it can be deployed commercially. The financial investment required over this period will also be substantial.
12-15 miles below the Earth’s surface, no matter where the drill or the old coal plant is, the heat will be about the same.
Dozens of countries currently struggling to switch to greener energy sources would not have to make the transition, meaning hundreds of millions of acres of land have been saved from needing to be covered with turbines and solar panels, which produce huge amounts of electricity. -waste, and do not produce electricity if the climatic conditions do not lend themselves to it.
In fact, the world would be ready for a paradigm shift. Since unlimited clean energy could be obtained in most countries, this would detach them from geopolitical concerns about oil-rich countries and their human rights abuses. On land and sea, birds and wildlife would be spared from any massive spills of polluting oil that would become a thing of the past.
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