Scientific breakthroughs have been known to come by accident, not necessarily after a nice, long study: look at Newton’s apple! This is roughly what happened at the Krafla volcano in Iceland: instead of testing geothermal energy harvesting, the team of researchers discovered the amazing power of magma.
Actually, what started off as an unforeseen, unpleasant accident turned out to be more than they had expected. A consortium of US universities (UCDavis, Stanford), American and Icelandic governments and Iceland’s GeoSurvey and Landsvirkjun Power set out to apply a geothermal test.
The plan was to drill 15,000 feet under, but before they could reach that depth, volcanic magma broke through the wall. Researchers had drilled only a 6,900-foot-deep hole into the earth, out of which 30 feet got filled with the melted and extremely hot magma.
Their “present” gave them the idea to see what the power of the magma was all about – the results were very exciting: the temperature of the flowing magma was 1,652 °F, greatly exceeding the geothermal one, which means young volcanic rock found in Iceland and other parts of the world could act as an energy source.
All that is needed are relatively shallow bodies of magma; for the rest, the deeper they go, the more the temperature and pressure rises. What is found is “supercritical water,” a dense, hot and clear fluid.
Also, the kind of steam that is released is very promising, since it is 5 times more capable to produce power than geothermal water. For example, high-pressure dry steam originating from a zone on top of the magma had a temperature of 750 °F. The “adventure” finally ended with the drill being finished after all and transformed into a production well. It was the kind of expedition where all is well when everything ends well.