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Mineral Exploration

Unlocking Earth's Superhot Energy for green and sustainable power generation

Publication date: 07-05-2024, Read time: 3 min

Deep superhot rocks hold immense promise as an inexhaustible baseload source of electricity, as demonstrated by their successful utilization in countries like Iceland. But not every nation has active volcanos in its territory. With growing global interest in sustainable energy solutions and new high-tech drilling methods, unlocking the power of superhot rock resources worldwide emerges as the favored pathway for nations seeking reliable and eco-friendly energy alternatives. Let's delve into the exciting realm of superhot deep geothermal exploration and its promise for a universally accessible energy future.

1. Rising interest in geothermal energy

Governments worldwide are eyeing geothermal energy as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels due to its cost-effectiveness, 24/7 reliability and low environmental footprint. Technological advancements are driving exploration towards deeper and hotter geothermal resources, which are needed for perpetual baseload power supply (i.e. generation of clean electricity).

2. The source of high temperatures

Earth's internal temperatures are controlled by various sources, primarily radioactive (heat generating) elements within the crust and the thickness of lithospheric or tectonic plates. Other factors like underground hydrothermal circulation and mantle convection also play a role and contribute to an intricate heat flow pattern around the world.

3. Where to find superhot rocks

Superhot rock energy comes from geothermal systems at temperatures of around 400°C or greater. These temperatures are found at shallow levels in volcanic regions (e.g. Iceland, New Zealand), but at > 10 km depth beneath most continental regions. Conventional drilling technologies are not suitable for reaching these depths or temperatures.

4. New drilling technologies 

New deep drilling technologies are being developed capable of drilling to such depths and sustain the high temperatures, effectively making geothermal energy available everywhere. However, subsurface temperature varies considerably around the world and better estimates of where superhot conditions can be found at a reachable depth are needed to unlock this power source.

5. Novel approaches to geothermal exploration 

Utilizing new data fusion methods and computer simulations, scientists are now calculating the depth to the 450 oC isotherm worldwide to identify areas with potential superhot geothermal resources. A new report indicates that if tapping into just 1% of the superhot rock resources in Europe can provide 2.1 terawatts of energy capacity – or enough to meet Berlin’s annual electricity consumption nearly 1400 times over.

What we do at ITC 

Through multidisciplinary collaborations with relevant industry, NGOs and academic partners, ITC staff develop modelling capabilities and data fusion paradigms to inform deep geothermal exploration and estimate the local potential of superhot rock energy in nations around the world. We also study social factors and perceptions that influence the creation and adoption of socially-responsible and sustainable practices of this type of energy. 

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, check out this Geoversity course on Geological Remote Sensing for Mining and Exploration

Mineral Exploration Remote Sensing
Last edited: 08-05-2024

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