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Milestone for man-made geothermal well.

Milestone for man-made geothermal well

Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have plumbed more than 2-1/2 miles into a New Mexico mountain and brought up enough heat to run a small commercial power plant. In the first month-long test of this "hot dry rock" geothermal energy system, which ended june 18, the engineers pumped 290 gallons of water a minute into the system, hating it to 375[deg.] F.

"This is a major milestone," says Michael Berger, head of LANL's Energy and technology Office. "It is a successful test of the world's largest man-made geothermal energy system."

The promise of such systems is that they can be built almost anywhere, not only in places where there are underground steam fields. "Anywhere in the country, if you drill deep enough, you can find hot rock," Berger says.

The idea behind hot dry rock systems, first proposed in 1970, is to tap into the hot rock, use hydraulic pressure to crack open a reservoir of fractured rock and then pump water through to extract the heat.

The LANL scientists first tested the idea in the mid-1970s by digging a small system about 8,500 feet deep. They were able to heat water to about 316[deg.] F and to use this heat to run a power plant and produc a small amount (60 kilovolt-amperes) of electricity.

The built the second system -- the one just tested--to see whether the idea would work on a scale large enough to be commercially useful, and they have found it does. In the May-June test, water heated in the system's 4-billion-cubic-foot reservoir carried about 10 megawatts of thermal power, and LANL scientists think they could double that by plugging leaks in the wells and letting the system operate longer, which would allow the reservoir to fill completely. Twenty megawatts of thermal power could produce about 4 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply a town of 4,000, Brown says. So far, however, the scientists have not run the larger system through a power plant.

They also are looking into the possibility of using the water as process heat for industry. In a study for the Ore-Ida company, for example, LANL scientists showed they could use the heat to boil water for making Tater Tots.

A year-long test of the system may begin next summer, Brown says.
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Author:Murray, Mary
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 28, 1986
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