AltaRock clears hurdle in quest for ‘next generation’ geothermal resource

Newberry Caldera showing Paulina and East Lakes, and Big Obsidian Flow. (USGS photo by Lyn Topinka)

AltaRock Energy, an enhanced geothermal systems firm, is showcasing results of a technical and economic feasibility study, which the company says paves the way for the development of the first SuperHot Rock geothermal resource in the U.S.

Details of the study — conducted through a collaboration between Baker Hughes and the University of Oklahoma — will be released at the World Geothermal Conference, among other events, next month. The analysis determined an engineered geothermal system in SuperHot Rockresources (>400 °C>) could cut in half the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) when compared to a conventional EGS resource target (200-300°C).

The study also determined that SuperHot Rock geothermal could produce 5-10 times higher energy density per well with 1/10 the water requirements and surface area.

“The next generation of geothermal power, SuperHot Rock geothermal, will require development of engineered reservoirs in deep basements where hotter ‘supercritical’ temperatures can yield up to 10 times more energy than a conventional geothermal well,” said Geoff Garrison, vice president of research and development at AltaRock. “Once proven in the field, SuperHot Rock geothermal resources will ultimately provide competitively priced, carbon-free power to far greater markets than can currently be reached by affordable geothermal power.”

AltaRock Energy anticipates formal demonstration of the first SHR EGS well system by 2025 at Newberry Volcano near Bend, Oregon, followed by commercial development by 2030.

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Last week, the U.S. Dept. of Energy announced $12 million in funding for seven research projects to advance the commercialization of enhanced geothermal systems as part of the Biden administration’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The selectees include:

  • Cornell University: $2.3 million
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: $1.7 million
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology: $2.3 million
  • Montana State University: $1.5 million
  • Oklahoma State University: $1.0 million
  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park: $1.0 million
  • University of New Mexico: $2.0 million

“Tapping into geothermal energy — a clean and reliable energy source underneath our feet that is available in all corners of this country — is a key part of our plan to expand and diversify America’s clean energy market,” Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement. “The ground-breaking solutions we’re anticipating from the selected national laboratory and university research teams will help America achieve a clean energy economy while creating good-paying jobs and bolstering America’s energy workforce.”

DOE believes geothermal power generation could increase 26-fold, adding 60 GW of clean energy by 2050, with improved technology.

The U.S. leads the world in geothermal electricity generation with seven states producing 17 billion kWH, according to the Energy Information Agency. Geothermal electricity makes up .4% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation.

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