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Improving Geothermal

August 13, 2009

Chemical innovations could make geothermal power a bigger player in alternative energy.


Goosing up geothermal. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Geothermal energy, or heat from the Earth’s interior, is a clean, reliable fuel source. But only a smattering of geological hotspots provide easy access to that heat. Now, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory fellow Peter McGrail and his colleagues are trying to make geothermal power more widely available. They’ve developed a way to amplify the heat from weaker sources, by passing it through a specially engineered, heat-sensitive fluid.

PETER McGRAIL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory):
… Such that we can extract, we think as much as maybe 30 to 40 percent more energy, for a given rate of flow through our surface power plant.

That could allow geothermal power plants to work in many new locations. Not only that, engineers could avoid drilling in volatile spots around major faultlines, which can actually trigger small earthquakes. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.